Monrovia – The Banker Magazine, a subsidiary of the Financial Times Magazine has named Liberia’s Finance Minister, Amara Konneh, as its choice for Africa Finance Minister of the year.
The Banker’s Finance Minister of the Year awards celebrate the officials who managed to restore economic stability and even growth to their countries following a turbulent few years.
In a letter addressed to Mr. Konneh, the publisher wrote “I am delighted to tell you that for our January 2014 edition, you have been chosen as “Finance Minister of the Year, Africa”.
Konneh is the first Liberian Minister of Finance to win the prestigious honor and joins ranks with award recipients from six other continents.
Among them are Luis Videgaray of Mexico (Global and Americas), Michael Noonan, Ireland (Europe), Cesar Purisima of the Philippines (Asia-Pacific) and HE Sultan bin Saeed Nasser Al Mansouri of United Arab Emirates (The Middle East).
While maintaining that Liberia remains one of the world’s least developed countries and its institutions and infrastructure are weak, even by sub-Saharan African standards, the Banker acknowledged the work of Minister Konneh and other officials are doing in Liberia, through a robust program to reboot the recovering economy.
“Liberia’s estimated $2 billion economy is once again buoyant, growing 8.3% in 2012 and almost as much last year” the Banker says, and “that Liberia has made impressive gains in other areas, too: between 2011 and 2013 it climbed eight places to 174 (out of 187) in the UN’s Human Development Index and has risen 10 positions in the World Bank’s last two Ease of Doing Business reports, taking it above Tanzania and Nigeria”, the Magazine noted.
Much of this success has resulted from the government’s focus on developing its security services and attracting outside investment to revive the economic sectors that thrived before the war struck in 1989.
“As a post-conflict country, a major part of our strategy in the past five years was to ensure that peace and security were sustained,” the magazine quoted Mr. Konneh.
“Together with our development partners, we invested heavily in improving the national police services and the army.”
“For the economy, the goal has been to resuscitate the traditional sectors, such as mining, forestry, rubber and palm oil.”
The expectation is that these investments will contribute to much needed revenue to finance economic infrastructure and social development programs, and create employment.
The efforts the Banker says are paying off. “Mining, which in 2006 accounted for just 2% of gross domestic product (GDP), now makes up 10% of the economy, thanks mainly to more than $1billion of investments in iron ore production by ArcelorMittal,” the magazine noted.
Mr. Konneh, who started his role in February 2012, is trying to take Liberia through its next phase of development.
He has implemented plenty of reforms, including pushing through measures to increase the use of the local currency in what is still a heavily dollarized economy by increasing government spending in Liberian dollar.
He intervened strongly in 2013 to stabilize a worsening exchange rate situation by selling an additional US$10 million to the Central Bank of Liberia to shore up reserves and he pushed policies that have increased government transactions in Liberian Dollars.
Economists believe this will mop up the excess Liberian Dollars in the economy while at the same time helping to build up US Dollars reserves.
In 2012, Konneh introduced the country’s first medium-term budget, which has a four-year expenditure outlook for critical infrastructure projects, arguing that Liberia could not carry out its policies while only preparing one year in advance.
He says this will help ensure that his expansionary fiscal plans, which have led the budget deficit to rise from 0.5% of GDP to 5.5% in the past two years, do not get out of hand.
“Because of our desire to invest in public sector programmes, a budget deficit is to be expected,” he says.
“There is pressure on our budget. But it’s not because of irresponsible spending. We have serious infrastructure challenges that need to be addressed.”
Liberia has a long way to go and Mr.Konneh, whose family was killed in the Liberian civil war fled Liberia as a refugee when he was a teenager to escape the violence, has no illusions about the scale of the task. But there is little doubt that substantial progress has been made so far, the Banker concluded.
Speaking to FPA by phone, Minister Konneh said the award was a tribute to the work and dedication of the staff of the Ministries of Finance, Planning and Economic Affairs, the Economic Management Team and his colleagues across government.
“We are flattered by this recognition and thank the President for her preferment. We hope this will re-energize the workforce and create the impetus necessary to drive our development agenda forward. There is no time for celebration; we have a lot of work to do,” he says
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