Read on for highlights, reflections and anecdotes from my summer internship in Monrovia with Liberia's Ministry of Finance. Comments are very enthusiastically encouraged!
Friday, June 1, 2007
Finance Ministry Internship
This summer I will be interning with Liberia's Minister of Finance, Antoinette Sayeh. The seeds of this internship were first planted in September when I heard President Sirleaf speak at (her alma mater) the Kennedy School of Government, where I currently study. Deeply inspired by the President’s visionary leadership, I decided moments into her speech that I would go to Liberia and support the work of her government. As a student of international development and someone deeply concerned about poverty, I have long been interested in spending time in West Africa, the poorest region of the globe. Liberia, in particular, promised a fascinating case study of the prospects for good governance and sound policy delivering development in a post-conflict environment.
In the face of so many urgent social sector needs -- resurrecting schools, training doctors, vaccinating children -- the finance ministry's mandate of financial management and budget discipline can seem impossibly inhuman and technical. Yet establishing an efficient, accountable, and corruption-free public administration is essential to the attainment of all other development goals and to the government’s gaining legitimacy among the people of Liberia. Previously, the finance ministry was the hub of the country's most egregious corruption and plundering. In striking contrast, the current Ministry of Finance under Minister Sayeh has set a remarkable record in less than a year that includes balancing the budget, increasing government revenues by nearly 50 percent, and establishing sound public financial management. This prudential financial management is crucial to Liberia’s objective of attracting international donor assistance to finance its cash-strapped poverty reduction strategy.
My work will focus on a range of development-focused policies, including: Debt relief Private sector development and employment creation Addressing constraints to access to finance Investment code and tax reform
One of my primary projects will focus on the issue of Liberia’s external debt and the pursuit of urgently needed debt relief from the donor community. Liberia’s mammoth outstanding debt of nearly $4 billion was accumulated during corrupt military regimes in the 1980s. Today it serves as a formidable obstacle to essential social sector spending, while at the same time distracting limited human resource capacity from priority government tasks. Clearance of arrears and resolution of the debt problem is thus a top priority of the Ministry of Finance.
Before graduating from the MPA/ID program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in 2008, I spent a summer internship in Monrovia as a special assistnat to Liberia's Minister of Finance, Antoinette Sayeh. A big thanks to the NGK fellowship and the Women and Public Policy Program for the generous financial support and sponsorship.