The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is arcane to balance the centrist-like editorial of the FrontPage Africa newspaper, Vol. 10 No. 81 of Monday, May 2, 2016 under the caption: “The Government of Liberia Wasteful Diplomacy – Time for Government to Consider Cutting Cost”.
In its editorial, FrontPageAfrica indicated that with the exception of the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China and the government of South Africa, Liberians spend millions each year on travel to a third country as visa submission points to obtain visas to travel to other countries outside ECOWAS. The Ministry wishes to inform that prior to our civil crisis all western countries with embassies near Monrovia were issuing entry visas to their respective countries. However, due to the crisis, many of them pulled out with the expectation that the crisis would have subsided in few months. When it became clear that the crisis was lingering for a long period, those countries then transferred their diplomatic and consular missions to neighboring countries, which now seem to be permanent and our crisis was happening at a time of the permutation of diplomatic representation to the “Hub and Spokes” strategy which model is based on the establishment of satellite missions with concurrent accreditation. Following the inception of this administration, a key component of government’s foreign policy objective was the return of all bilateral partners that withdrew their presence prior to the crisis and encourage new partners to establish resident missions near Monrovia. Today, there are 54 diplomatic missions accredited to Liberia out of which 27 are resident, compared to 23 accredited in 2006 and only 11 were resident. Liberia’s diplomatic representation abroad consists of 25 resident embassies, three Consulates and 25 Honorary Consuls. Work is ongoing to renovate several of our foreign missions in deplorable conditions out of years of neglect. This initiative, once completed, will further project the positive image of the country and increase its international respectability among its peers. Beyond the efforts to return resident bilateral diplomatic missions to Liberia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has continuously engaged bilateral partners for the opening of their consulates to issue visas to Liberians including during the three political dialogues with the European Union which highlighted on the agenda discussion around the issuance of Schengen visas by one of the European Union Member States to alleviate the hardship that Liberians endure to obtain entry visas in neighboring countries. This effort remains high on the agenda of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as it continues to conduct Liberia’s foreign policy. At the regional level, the Liberian Government has since 2007 introduced the use of ECOWAS Biometric Passports. This usage affords Liberian passport holders visa free opportunity to enter into ECOWAS Member States. Similarly, ECOWAS Member States using the ECOWAS Biometric Passport have similar access to Liberia. Pursuant thereto, the Liberian Government has satisfied its regional obligation for the free movement of persons. Furthermore, as resolution (AHG/OAU/AEC/Dec.1(11) on the ‘Free Movement of Person’ adopted June 1998 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso requests AU Member States to review their internal security realities and put in mechanisms to implement decisions allowing for the issuing of visas on arrival for citizens of Member States, with the possibility of a 30-day extension. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to inform FrontPageAfrica that Liberia is working out the modalities particularly in light of the latest terrorism upsurge in the region at some point when government can build up the necessary framework to begin its implementation. Modalities to allow visa upon arrival in Liberia are being worked out by the Ministry and other stakeholders in addressing movement of visitors to Liberia to access entry without hurdles. While Government contemplates this measure it will require broad conversation among all stakeholders including the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization and other security apparatus so that Government does not try to resolve one problem while posing security threats to the peaceful people of Liberia in the wake of constant reports of terrorism globally and within our region. There are available frameworks, both within the context of the African Union and ECOWAS, to allow visa upon arrival. However, many countries in Africa are yet to implement these frameworks, citing similar challenges as Liberia. When debating the question of visa upon arrival, one cannot apply a blanket policy direction. Decisions of implementing visa upon arrival only makes sense on a case-by-case basis dependent on the security and technological state of the countries concerned. Countries such as Ghana, Kenya and a few others, can easily implement visa upon arrival policy within the context of its current advantaged status of being a travel hub in the region, a balance that has been studied thoroughly. These countries have established the requisite infrastructure, and with strong security institutions, having enjoyed stability and uninterrupted socio-economic development spanning over many decades. The editorial also suggested that Government must look at ways in which it can cut down some costs associated with keeping its foreign missions abroad stay afloat. As regards Liberia’s missions abroad, this administration launched the “Hub and Spokes” strategy in the conduct of government’s diplomatic engagements, which has reduced Liberia’s international representation by about 50 percent; however, with an even more aggressive impact. This strategy has led to the clustering of Liberian representation which means that satellite missions were established with concurrent accreditation over several jurisdictions or countries. Examples of this, which is replicated around the world, are Liberia’s Mission accredited near Pretoria, South Africa with concurrent accreditation to countries in the entire South African region; or Liberia’s Mission near Tokyo, Japan with concurrent accreditation to South Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Despite these measures, the Ministry also review qualification and output of our Foreign Service personnel thus allowing the Ministry to deploy the minimum number of staff but with maximum output. The dedicated Liberians that are serving in our foreign service have all the time gone beyond extreme length to represent the Government of Liberia in ways that positively shape the image of our country in the face of limited resources. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomes constructive criticisms of its activities, it is opened to inquiries from the public on updates of our mandate which we will be very happy to provide since the Ministry is a public institution.