The Liberian people’s thanks and appreciation also go to Her Excellency, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose 2 terms have made significant gains for peace and paved the way for economic benefits in Liberia. We understand that in her quest to get things moving faster due to the desperation of the Liberian populace following long periods of war and interim leaderships, she has not had enough time to properly include Liberian citizens’ participation in various Foreign Direct Investments through concessions. We understand also that repairing the massive destruction of at least 90% of Liberia's infrastructure and institutions during the long civil war will take much longer than 12 years to fix.
Liberia is at the cross roads with the departure of UNMIL and the dwindling goodwill of the donor community. As we prepare to launch the Liberians for Change Movement, it now becomes profoundly important to sensitize every Liberian, despite their political leanings, to seriously reflect on the best possible ways to transform the country for prosperity and preserve the gains made through the successful holding of 2 democratic elections. The onus is now on Liberians grasping for positive change, prosperity, sustainability and stability to discuss in every neighborhood how the following proposed economic inclusion policies for Liberians will shape the destiny of this great nation over the next 15 years beginning 2018.
This Master Plan for Liberia seeks to advance ideas for discussion amongst Liberians as we transition towards elections, on the endless possibilities for massive economic participation of majority of Liberians both at home and abroad.
Liberians are blessed to have 3 major agriculture concessions operating in Western and South Eastern Liberia Respectively. These operators have the means to elevate hundreds of thousands of Liberians out of poverty while at the same time creating enormous cash flows through a robust and well targeted smallholder farmer’s approach. Commitments have been made for this in their concession agreements but there is a need to ensure that a process is put in place to develop and allocate up to 320,000 hectares using land clearing equipment and agricultural extension service capacity already in country. This can be achieved through closer collaboration with these giant operators. The allocation of developed and planted land for up to 320,000 Liberians at 1 hectare per person, could be done on a priority basis over time, starting with natural born Liberians currently residing in those Counties and/or in Monrovia. If developed plots are still available, then Liberians from those counties living in West Africa can be encouraged to repatriate to own and work on those developed plots. The counties to benefit from this initiative are: Cape Mount, Bomi and Gbarpolu counties in the West; Grand Gedeh, Grand Bassa, Sinoe, Grand Kru and Maryland counties in the South East. Grand Gedeh and Grand Bassa long oil palm plantation histories and proximity to palm operators qualify them for this initiative.
This will give ownership of at least 263 high yielding oil palm trees to each of the 320 thousand Liberians over the 25 years useful life. A yield of 4 MT crude palm oil per hectare at a conservative price of US$ 600/MT implies annual income of US$2,400 per family or aggregate family income of US$ 96 Million for, say, 40 Thousand hectares developed per target county per annum, by the time the trees start bearing fruit. This would in essence, yield annual income of US$768 Million to 320,000 farm families when the trees are fully grown from the targeted palm counties near or within those concession areas. This is an extremely conservative estimate. Inter cropping of peanuts and other viable crops could sustain these beneficiaries with other incomes. Bong, Margibi and Montserrado counties would also develop 50,000 hectares, with current large private Liberian farms expanding to 10,000 hectares and small holders 40,000 hectares between the three counties. We understand that the natural rubber concessions are seriously considering switching to oil palm and cocoa given the dismal outlook for rubber. So there is even more potential support for this policy. Here, the Government will support the setup of Liberian owned processing and milling facilities, for export of crude palm oil and the value addition of derivative products like margarine, cooking oil, soap, cosmetics and chemicals for local use and export. Indonesian, Malaysian or Ivorian migrant workers would be brought to assist this solely Liberian initiative which could bring in another US$ 120 Million, excluding income from value-added processing.
At the same time, two serious commercial rice farming operators from Vietnam and Thailand will be encouraged to establish commercial rice farming in Liberia with adequate incentives to develop 40,000hectares of nuclear farms mainly in the lowland areas of Lofa, Bong, Nimba, Grand Gedeh and River Gee Counties. An additional80,000 hectares will be developed for smallholders emanating from these counties with the same approach as the oil palm smallholder ownership scheme. The estimated seed rice yield is 1.5 MT per hectare and with commercial rice operators providing strong extension services, we expect to plant two crops per annum or 3.0 MT. This equates to sixty 50 kilogram bags per year. If each 50kilogram bag of seed rice is sold at US$10.00,then each smallholder family will earn US$1,200 per annum. The annual income to be earned by 80,000 farm families will be US$ 96 Million. Again, the value chain approach would be used to ensure rice milling, parboiling and packaging facilities in joint venture with the rice concession operators.
Government would also encourage one or two major commercial cocoa operators from the Cote d’Ivoire to be positioned in Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties with another smallholder plan of not less than 50,000 hectares per county and minimum one hectare per smallholder. Only high yielding hybrid 2-year cocoa varieties would be used. Large natural rubber concessions now considering diversifying into cocoa investments would also be encouraged to support the smallholder program. Due to the scale of these massive land development initiatives, Liberia will indefinitely place a ban on logging activities to preserve our environment.
This robust and intentional policy will attract the most vulnerable component of our society and some would-be farm owners for the first time. So the Government will encourage the formation of private agronomy and extension services companies in partnership with the various oil palm, rice and cocoa concessions, to support the provision of smallholder plots and financial back stopping, with the intent to spread wealth and to ensure these companies remain sustainable. The large commercial farming companies operating the various concessions are critical to the success of this strategy due to their long industry experience and pools of agricultural extension experts. This kind of hand holding will benefit the first time farmers, who within 3 to 5 years will appreciate the level of economic improvements in their personal living standards. With this approach, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization will cease to operate the business of input distribution and become an implementing agency providing technical assistance (through technical experts) to these private agronomy and extension services companies. These companies will also benefit from subsidies from NGOs who may wish to complement the Government’s robust smallholder agriculture efforts.
All agriculture graduates from Booker T. Washington and the Universities will be absorbed in these private agronomy and extension services companies. Because these companies will receive initial subsidies, shareholdings in these companies will be opened automatically to all employees. Every agronomist and extension agent joining these private companies will be entitled to her/his own commercial plot allocated by the government to the company. Each private company will be entitled to commercial farmland to ensure sustainability and demonstrate learning and research activities also. The accreditation of these private companies will be done through the Central Agriculture Research Institute. The Ministry of Agriculture will be responsible for policy and regulation and a robust monitoring and evaluation of the Government initiatives to advise further on best ways to ensure success and scale. The current project management Unit of the Ministry will be transformed into a Monitoring and Evaluation unit. Agriculture graduates will be the only monitors employed at this unit. Monitoring and evaluation trainings will be provided to each employee of this unit before they can commence work and will be done during a probation period of not less than three months. Continuous training in monitoring and evaluation will be provided through the concessions, development partners and Government.
Most importantly, with the large scale of commercial farming envisaged, there will be a stronger cost-benefit justification to encourage toll road concessions on a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis in order to eliminate any farm-to-market road constraints in parts of the country that do not have paved roads. The same would apply to the provision of energy for value-added processing of various agricultural or other products as discussed below. Wherever the power grid does not reach, serious consideration will be given to granting renewable energy concessions on a public-private-partnership (PPP) basis to develop major or mini-hydro dams at strategic points around the country.
The Liberian territorial waters are currently being fished illegally by boats from around the world without any effective monitoring and control on rampant depletion of fish stocks, or significant revenue intake to the country. The Government will enter into partnerships with fishing companies from the European Union, United States of America, China, etc. in collaboration with the World Bank's West African Regional Fisheries Program. The objective will be to develop a robust, satellite-based tracking system that identifies unlicensed fishers who do not have onboard Automated Identification Systems (AIS), with a significantly expanded, well trained and equipped Coast Guard fleet to aggressively pursue and arrest them. The cost of developing and maintaining this control system will be covered by increased fishing revenues accruing to the country. The aim of the partnerships will be to create a new company like the Mesurado Group Fisheries to include fisher wo/men from all our fishing communities in coastal cities, other Liberians at home and in the Diaspora, plus private foreign investors, as shareholders. This company will operate a fishing fleet to supply seafood to Liberia and generate foreign exchange from seafood exports. This fishery policy initiative will not only curb the depletion of our seafood stocks from illegal fishing in our territorial waters. It will also increase Liberia's foreign exchange revenue base and employment.
Steel Products Initiative
Liberians are aware that Arcelor Mittal are alleged to have publicly and openly bribed members of the National Legislature during the ratification of their concession agreement, through the provision of 100 double cabin pickups. We have a huge bargaining chip to renegotiate with this group come 2018 to join Liberians along with American and South African steel producing firms to place a steel plant either in Nimba, very close to the ore mines or in Buchanan for the production of basic products such as steel rods, angle bars, pipes, sheets and other steel products right here in Liberia. Liberia will intentionally enlist 85,000 ordinary Liberians from towns and villages and municipal centers in Nimba, Rivercess, Bong, Grand Bassa and Montserrado Counties as beneficiary shareholders representing a significant portion of Liberia’s shares in the venture. These shares will be monetized when the operation comes to full swing. 20,000 of these shareholders will come from Montserrado County, 10,000 from Rivercess County, while the balance share allocations to citizens from Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa counties will be done in the proportions set out in the Mittal agreement for those counties. The electricity required to meet the huge energy needs for iron and steel making will be generated with American electricity companies in partnership with Liberian counterparts through a BOT concession for generation and distribution to the steel plant and the national power grid. Excess power generated will be sold to the West Africa Power pool for redistribution to other African countries.
Furthermore, Liberia will hire international geology experts to work alongside their Liberian counterparts and be placed at all iron ore mining sites to ensure that any minerals discovered other than the iron ore concession are made available to the Government of Liberia through Liberian brokerage firms for sale of said products on the international market.
Gold and Jewelries Value Addition
The opportunity for the Liberia Gold and Jewelries Association to partner with South African firms to find market access for their finished products in Europe and the United States will be complimented through a legislation that will compel the massive Gold mining “non-concession” in Cape Mount to supply significant portion of their processed gold to this group for value addition and export. This non-concession agreement needs to be halted, come January 2018 and an adequate concession agreement put in place before further operations are resumed. It is very sad to see Liberia give away potentially billions of dollars gold by extraction in such a non-transparent manner.
The government of Liberia will push through legislation to render null and void in January 2018, all exclusivity or monopoly rights of all products imported to Liberia and liberalize the commerce and trade environment with the sole purpose of giving Liberian business owners the opportunity to bring in to Liberia whatever they are capable of importing. There will be targeted funding of Liberian businesses to procure goods from overseas and give them a competitive edge in the business environment. Using the National Business and Development Advisory Center as the clearing house for Liberian business development and linkages, Liberians will be encouraged to form joint ventures with the Liberians in the Diaspora to ensure that imports of goods to Liberia are done on a large scale. Liberians will have special immunities from the National Port Authority to clear all Liberian containers entering the Port without delays and upfront payments through a collaborative network that will be set up between the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), National Port Authority (NPA), Ministry of Commerce& Industry(MOCI), Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC). Major sales will channel their sales payments through LBDI to ensure that the necessary taxes are assessed on the sale and relevant taxes levied are paid through bank deduction at LBDI. Wholesale Liberian suppliers and importers will qualify under this scheme. Liberian small importers, distributors and retailers will fall in a different category as MOCI inspectors and LRA personnel will supervise the goods-in and sales of their commodities to ensure that taxes are collected in a timely manner. Any attempt to abuse this opportunity by any Liberian will disqualify them from taking part in the scheme. Giant micro data collection stations will be placed at the LRA, LACC, MOCI and LBDI for monitoring of transactions that are financed and receiving preferential treatment from the LRA.BIVAC will be cancelled and replaced by LRA overseas agents, preferably Liberians living in those parts of the world, for all pre-shipping inspections. This will further boast our revenue capacity.
Finance and Banking
To ensure that Liberia has a requisite and official commercial banking vehicle to support robust Government economic empowerment programs for Liberians, The Government will work with LBDI to expand and have international branches in the U.S.A., Europe and Asia depending on the most strategic business hub beneficial to Liberia. Liberians living in the Diaspora will be encouraged to use this bank as their primary bank to ensure the extension of loan facilities to them for the commodities trade to Liberia and Mortgage programs for the robust housing development initiatives that will be centered around the growth corridors in the country. All banks in Liberia will be required to use the LBDI international branches as their correspondent bank for these Government schemes and all related major financial transfers will be carried out through the LBDI international branches. A robust ordinary Liberians (both home and abroad) shares ownership program to enlist one million Liberians into LBDI at One Hundred dollars per share will be instituted. This initiative will make the LBDI, a truly Liberian Owned Bank and will increase the cash base of the bank to an additional One Hundred Million dollars.
National Port Authority
The APM Terminal concession agreement will either be re-negotiated on more equitable and favorable terms for Liberia or in the worst case, be terminated come January 2018. This agreement is not in the interest of Liberia but because the agreement was signed by our duly elected and appointed representatives and ratified by our Legislature, Liberia will be prepared in the worst case to negotiate terms of payments for damages caused as a result of this breach. The National Port Authority will boom under these sweeping changes and will be able to afford to repay under a good repayment plan to be decided at the court of arbitration in Switzerland.
Roberts International Airport and Rock Town Airport
Liberia will solicit and engage major modern airport developers through BOT arrangements to build a state of the art 5-6 gates airport at Roberts International and a 2-3 gates airport at the Rock town airstrip near Harper, Maryland County. This would prepare that part of Liberia for the development of a comprehensive tourism program branded around the historic Cape Palmas area. It will include upgrading of Cape Palmas tourist sites, a Hotel & Tourism degree program plus short term specialized H&T courses at Tubman University, refurbishment of homes for lower budget accommodations in Harper, and construction of a modern resort in Fish Town with a golf course for international conferences and events. The Fish town Beach resort will be developed through partnerships formed with international resort management groups, with strong preferences towards American and/or French resort management entities.
All of the above are some of the short to medium term economic stimulus packages to jump start our economy, reduce poverty, enlarge the tax base and put Liberia on an irreversible development path with adequate fiscal returns to enable this country finance Billions of US dollars investments in health care, education, housing infrastructure, slum upgrading, and security sector improvements. They will put Liberia on a more competitive level in line with best practices in Africa and the World.
Let us be clear that these sweeping measures are to be achieved beginning from 3 to 15 years commencing 2018.
Fellow Liberians, we now call on every peace loving Liberian within Liberia and the Diaspora, community dwellers, religious and civil society groupings, members of the fourth estate and our well-meaning foreign partners to join the Liberians for Change Movement in ensuring that these sweeping economic measures dominate the debates and are the rallying call for the upcoming 2017 elections and future elections. Let every community be prepared to say to political actors coming their way, that this is what we want in the new Liberia. Let them tell you how this can be achieved in the best possible time. The time for love for one another and love for country is needed more than ever before. May the Almighty God who inspired this plan for Liberia, continue to provide us with the wisdom and understanding and Bless the works of our hands. I thank you.