The story of UNMIL [Book]: Leading the Mission to a closeUNMIL national staff help Liberia wrest control of its resources
From his desk as Director of Mining in the Ministry of Land, Mines and Energy, Kofi Ireland was well aware of the dismal situation Liberians faced as the war ended in 2003. International sanctions had halted exports of diamonds, gold and timber, for example, which had been funding various factions in the conflicts. And even after sanctions were lifted, foreign companies shipped out Liberia’s resources with minimal returns to the Government or the communities where they were located.
Later, as a national Civil Affairs Officer with UNMIL, Mr. Ireland contributed to a demonstrable change in the way Liberia does business, giving communities more control over their resources, giving the Government more funds in royalties and taxation and giving the people of Liberia more confidence in their authorities. Following the removal of sanctions on the new Government in 2006, UNMIL assisted it to reform its natural resources sector and helped draft a new forestry law which closed loopholes and gave the Forestry Development Authority new teeth to control illegal activities. The law also provided for more community involvement in management of the sector and in the granting of concessions, which continue to be held largely by foreign enterprises. Malaysian companies, for example, dominate the lumber and agricultural sector. With the new law, Ministry officials must get the consent from districts (a subset of a county) before granting a concession.
In 2009, Liberia joined the international Extraction Industries Transparency Initiative which set guidelines for companies and governments to report back annually to communities information on profits and taxes accrued and paid. Meetings held in town halls and schools drew communities together to exert some influence, and expect some compensation, for resources taken from their area. “They began to ask questions,” Mr. Ireland said.
UNMIL also assisted the Government with the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, to get better control over diamonds and gold, increase royalties and curb smuggling. And the Mission helped draft the 2010 petroleum law which set policies on commercial exploitation.
The Land Rights bill, supported by UNMIL, if enacted, would also help communities earn income from property which is occupied by local people who usually lack titles. The bill has met some resistance in Monrovia. Also, some well-placed people from outside the communities have reportedly been attempting to establish ownership of large tracts of land in anticipation of future income.
Even with these new laws, the Liberian Government has lacked the capacity to enforce them. UNMIL worked with partners to provide training for officials and agencies and assigned staff to technical committees as mentors.
“Most agencies and ministries are stepping up,” Ireland said. “We see the difference. Productivity has increased in most of these ministries.
The presence of UNMIL has increased confidence within the Government and between the Government and the people. Before, there was the perception they were all corrupt…..I am very hopeful.”
So hopeful that Mr. Ireland is considering a return to Government following the withdrawal of UNMIL.