By Othello B. Garblah
No doubt Liberia remains grossly underdeveloped despite being endowed with rich natural resources. The country sits 12 places among the poorest countries in Africa with a GDP per capita amounting to US$676 and 10th place globally with a GDP (PPP) of USD$1,798.
Last week, citizens of this tiny West African state went to the polls in crucial presidential and legislative elections. Their desire to elect leaders that would lift the country from its current poverty status and set the stage for economic growth and development was demonstrated on October 10.
The outcome of this election is crucial. Just as the winner is expected to muster the political will to adopt drastic policy changes to tackle the country’s development challenges.
One of Liberia’s major challenges right now is the road network. The country has a poor road network that cuts off nearly half a million of its citizens in the southeastern region during the rainy season annually, making travels to the region very difficult, if not impossible. Inflation is high at this time of the year in the southeast.
The introduction of at least US$2.5 billion road program legislation with a US100 million per annual commitment in the National Budget to tackle specific kilometers of road each year would be key to beginning massive road connectivity and rehabilitation in the county.
For example, say from Buchanan, Grand Bassa County to Cestos City, Rivercess which is about 75 to 90 kilometers, and at US$1 million per kilometer, for the first fiscal year of 2024, US100 million should be drawn from that Legislated amount and allotted in the budget for just that stretch. The following year, an allotment of the same amount should be made to jump-start work on the Cestos to Greenville, Sinoe County corridor and the same the following year from Greenville to Barclayville and from Barclayville to Pleebo, Maryland County.
Under such a legislated national road program, within six years, the government would have allotted and made available US600 Million targeting road networks across the entire country.
Such a program when legislated is binding on every elected president and succeeding governments, to carry out construction work linking major towns and cities following the construction of the main intercounty roads over a six-year period. This national road program will address the southeastern road problem as well as the Lofa road and other major cities and towns within the country to boost trade and investments.
With good road networks connecting counties, major towns, and cities, the government should introduce an investment incentives program that is being implemented in Europe, America, and other countries in Africa and the Middle East. This investment incentive program means granting investors temporary citizenship and permanent residencies for investments ranging from US200,000 upwards.
These individuals must be able to create at least 5 to 10 employment opportunities for Liberians every 5 years upon establishment of businesses.
For example, Namibia. Namibia has a residency by investment program, which enables investors in the country’s real estate industry to receive a five-year, renewable work permit and reside in the country.
The United States also has the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, which grants investors the opportunity to acquire immediate residency status. Since 1990 when Congress created this program, each year, the US government allocates a substantial number of visas for individuals who wish to make a significant, qualified investment into the country that can generate jobs for the US economy. Under this program, individuals and their immediate family members are given the opportunity to migrate to the US.
The government can begin this program by granting visa waivers to investors who would want to undertake investment feasibility studies.
The government should also be strategic in its foreign policy programs. It should know what it wants and enter into bilateral relations that would have tangible benefits for the country’s developmental needs. Any bilateral relation that would hinder the country’s growth and development agenda should be shunned.
Investing in the country’s Human capital. Redefine the education policy and award scholarships in areas that are key to the county’s developmental needs; Engineering, Agriculture, Health, Sciences, Fisheries, Mining, and fields in which the country lacks human capital.
Scholarships should be given to students in those areas to go and study abroad and students should be given a guarantee that they would have immediate employment upon returning to the country to serve.
This is how Liberians can take ownership of their own development programs, because no one else can develop this country except Liberians, and we must have the right policies to do so.