BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa â€“ The embattled head of the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is calling on the country to move away from focusing on its traditional exports and diversify into other sectors.
Konah Karmo, the head of the secretariat of LEITI, says the country should try to attract more foreign direct investment in the areas of agriculture, manufacturing, and the service industry.
Karmo was head of the secretariat of LEITI when President George Weah took office. Weah then appointed Gabriel Nyenkan to take over, prompting complaints from civil society and international NGO Global Witness that the president lacked the legal authority to make the appointment.
He noted the negative impact that the decline in the extractive industry has had on Liberia, noting that these impacts are due to global factors external to Liberia.
â€œI am talking about the effect of the global downturn in the price of commodities. It is no incentive for people to come and engaged in the extraction of resources, if you put more and you canâ€™t get,â€ Karmo told The Bush Chicken in a phone interview. â€œIt is always about profit motive and so you cannot take all your investments and put in with no return on your investment, especially when the impact is beyond your country. If you export, the pricing will affect the ability to raise enough revenue or to be able to generate enough return on your capital or investment.â€
Karmo noted that although the extractives sector has been the traditional backbone for the Liberian economy, the country now needs to step away and look at other more productive sectors.
Due to the high consumption of rice by Liberians, Karmo said placing a high emphasis on investing in producing Liberiaâ€™s staple food will be especially important in ensuring that the local economy is boosted. Liberians spent over US$110 million on imported rice in 2016, according to statistics from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
â€œIf we produce more rice, that means that the amount we have been using to import will be used here to diversify the economy in other forms,â€ he said.
He also recommended that Liberians should engage in cocoa and coffee production. However, Karmo said in order to make this transition, much needs to be done to support Liberian entrepreneurs.
â€œBut by and large, we have to address issues of governance. You know, once you have the environment that creates those kinds of enabling conditions, then you will be able to attract people to come and invest in those areas,â€ he said.
Karmo stressed that developing the agriculture sector also requires infrastructural development because of the role that good road systems play in transporting produce to markets.
â€œI also think that as we do the infrastructure, it should go hand-in-hand with our desire to have the sector that we call agriculture working so we can start concomitantly investing in agriculture as we build the roads. As soon as you get the road completed â€“ maybe in the next three years â€“ you already have the people prepared to harvest and bring their produce to town,â€ he added.
During a recent trade and investment conference in Grand Bassa, Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh, who served as a proxy for President George Weah, said Liberia had three key requirements for a good investment environment â€“ political stability, the existence of the rule of law, and predictability. He said the country was ready to provide an enabling environment for investment.
Featured photo by Sampson David