A World Bank mission visiting Liberia has said the country's transitional government must crack down harder on corruption and show greater transparency in its finances if it is to secure donor funding to help the country recover from 14 years of civil war.
The mission, led by Shengman Zhang, the World Bank's managing director, also warned that there was no prospect of the World Bank lending more money to Liberia until the country's current loan arrears of almost US$450 million had been paid off.
Zhang told reporters on Saturday that the World Bank and other donors wanted to see "more progress and stronger action on the part of the government, to the extent possible, in institution building, governance and anti-corruption (measures)."
“We will watch very closely, we will assist as we can, but at the end of the day, we will see whether the country is serious and whether the government is serious to make reforms,” he added.
Donors have complained repeatedly about endemic corruption at high levels within the Liberian government.
Last month, police chief Chris Massaquoi was suspended after he was found to have misappropriated an electricity generator meant for police headquarters in Monrovia for his personal use. But few other abusers of public funds and property have been brought to book.
Jacques Klein, the head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and US ambassador John Blaney have repeatedly criticised the broad-based administration led by Chairman Gyude Bryant for failing to crack down on corruption and impose good governance.
Bryant's failure to put in place a credible functioning administration has resulted in the continuation of a UN embargo on exports of diamonds and timber.
The trade ban was originally imposed to stop Taylor buying arms with the foreign exchange earned by selling these commodities, but it remained in force following his forced resignation over two years ago.
Last December, the UN Security Council decided in December to extend the export embargo on diamonds and timber exports for a further six months because the government in Monrovia was not yet capable of exercising proper controls over the logging and mining industries.
The cabinet is dominated by representatives of the three armed groups left standing when Liberia's long and bitter civil war finally ended in August 2003.
Supporters of former president Charles Taylor now share power with the two rebel groups that fought against him: the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL).
The World Bank has been at the heart of international efforts to rebuild Liberia's shattered infrastructure and coordinate inflows of foreign aid.
It backed a donor conference in New York 12 months ago which pledged US$520 million of aid for reconstruction.
And despite the suspension of its own lending to Liberia, the Bank has provided the country with $29 million of grants since then.
However, not all the promised international aid to Liberia has materialised.
Abou Moussa, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Liberia, said only 69 percent of the aid pledges made a year ago had been honoured.
“We have received US$ 359 million dollars so far from the donor pledges…. [but with] so many crisis in the world today, there is a need to continuously highlight the plight of Liberia to donors so that it can not be forgotten,” he stressed.
Zhang stressed that donors were unlikely to cough up promised cash unless the Liberian government cleaned up its act. “There have been a lot of promises but none of it is guaranteed unless the government ends corruption, institutional weakness and lack of capacity,” he said.
Liberia’s Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Christian Herbert, promised that the government would heed the Bank’s demands, adding “we will play our role as government to meet up with the benchmarks of the World Bank”.
Bryant announced the establishment of an anti-corruption commission in January. This will be comprised of human rights activists, religious leaders, political party representatives and lawyers, but so far no concrete action has been taken to set it up.
A team of experts from the US treasury is currently working with Liberia’s financial and revenue generating agencies to seal off corruption holes.
Zhang insisted that it was too early for Liberia to push for relief on its $3 billion external debt, despite calls by the government for the entire debt to be written off.
“Liberia is in an early stage of recovery. I do not think we have come to the point of debt relief,” he said bluntly.