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Governance Commission Discusses New Strategic Plan 2016-2021:Making GC more relevant in the face of 2017 Elections and Transition

The Governance Commission recently held a three day retreat at the Thinker’s Village Hotel (April 13-15, 2016) to discuss the implementation of its first 2 years of the new five-year Strategic Plan (2016-2021). The Commission’s new Strategic Plan hopes to situate the Commission in a better position to address emerging issues such as the electoral process and 2017 national elections, and transitioning of political power. The retreat also discussed the GC’s previous Strategic Plan and unfinished business including the Liberian people agenda - National Vision 2030 – Liberia rising; the History project, decentralization, public sector modernization, Liberia’s integrity system, and the completion of its Annual Governance Report, AGR.  

Day one of the retreat focused on the Commission’s five Mandate Areas making presentations covering activities, achievements, challenges, and lessons learned from the past three years, and identifying strategies necessary to addressing future plans and possible challenges of emerging activities/projects. Executive Director Stephen Manley did the overview and lessons learned from the previous strategic plan (2012-2015). According to Mr. Manley, the heavy reliance on donor funding and the absence of a mechanism to fully monitor and evaluate GC projects are major challenges to the implementation and finalization of projects’ activities undertaken by the Commission. He hoped that National government will increase funding to GC to help the Commission put mechanisms in place to address adequate staffing, and an extended monitoring and evaluation team to ensure that projects (and related activities) are fully covered as mandated by the new Strategic Plan. Government support to the Commission mainly covers salaries with a little left for operations.

Dr. Amos Sawyer, Chairman of the Governance Commission, for his part, focused more on the Commission’s strategic involvement in Liberia’s electoral process including the 2017 elections and the transitioning of political power to be realized within the next two years. According to Dr. Sawyer, GC views as an issue of priority its role (as think tank of government) including guiding the delicate transition process, especially as the president will be leaving the stage, and the multiple implications inherent in her exit, transfer of political power and UNMIL drawdown.

The Chairman’s remark was followed by presentations from the Mandate Areas. This session was moderated by Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey, the UNDP-seconded Consultant to GC who was earlier introduced by Dr. Sawyer. 

Mandate Areas Presentations and activities for the next 2 years

  1. Civic Engagement, National Identity & Visioning Mandate Area recorded as accomplishments the training of 136 people from civil society organizations, the completion of a GOL-CSO Partnership document, and the civic education curriculum. Dr. Kpangbala Sengbe said future activities of his Mandate Area include the printing of the Second Edition of the CSO Directory, the national history project, production and propagation of the Citizenship Education textbook, and the final copy of the National Vision 2030 document.

Key issues raised during the discussions were doubts about the possibility of printing and circulating of the citizenship textbooks in time for the next school year; Sufficient engagement with civil society on benefits of the National Vision 2030 so that politicians do not stray from it during and after the 2017 elections but rather make the document a part of their political platform; and a re-classification of civil society organizations in the Second Edition of the CSO directory.

National Integrity Systems Mandate Area - Attorney Bornor Varmah is Program Manager of the National Integrity Systems Mandate Area. He noted his Mandate Area’s achievements to include printing of 8,000 copies of the Code of Conduct; active participation in the National Integrity Forum (NIF) - a multi-agency working group on the implementation of the Code of Conduct (CoC); the development of a national policy on law reform done in collaboration with the Law Reform Commission and other stakeholders; completion of an assessment of the anti-corruption strategy; and organizing and implementing the holding of several Policy Dialogues in 2015. 

Planned activities for 2016 include the printing of more copies of the National Code of Conduct and training for at least one thousand people in the fifteen counties to assure of its implementation; the holding of more Policy Dialogues in 2016 on emerging national concerns; and the development of the National Integrity Forum’s strategic plan/direction.

The shortage of staff and the lack of progress in establishing the office of the ombudsman who should enforce the National Code of Conduct were cited as main challenges of this Mandate Area.

Suggestions made by plenary included that an anthology be prepared for all the policy dialogues held each year; that the private sector be co-opted in the promotion of national integrity; that ways be found to overcome the turf struggles that prevent effective collaboration within the National Integrity Forum; and that the Policy Dialogues be decentralized to incorporate local views and issues affecting local people. 

  1. Political and Legal Reform Mandate Area:

The Program Manager of the Political & Legal Reform Mandate, Area Ibrahim Nyei, named their key accomplishments as overseeing the production of a decentralization manual; Revising the draft local government bill so that it forms part of the proposed Constitutional amendments that were agreed upon at the 2015 Constitution Conference; and developing the capacity of civil society organizations on decentralization.

Future activities of the PLR Mandate Area include the training for local officials on the use of the newly produced decentralization manual; working with political parties to ensure that decentralization is a major component of their political platform; mobilizing the citizenry to vote for decentralization during the forthcoming referendum on proposed amendments to the Constitution; piloting a framework for assessing local government performance; and holding a 2016 summit on decentralization.

Comments from plenary included that much of this Mandate Area’s presentation focused on de-concentration (the first phase of decentralization) and not much said about delegation of certain powers (the second phase of decentralization), and that the newly produced decentralization manual needs to be made more user-friendly because of Liberia’s low literacy rate; engage with political parties to lift issues related to public sector reform so that same can be placed on their platform/manifestos; and engage the Legislature  so that GC gets a buy-in from that body on some public sector reforms, and champions the enactment of a Transition law for Liberia.

  1. Public Sector Reform Mandate Area - In their joint presentation, Mr. Dusty Wolokolie and Herron Gbidi, senior policy analyst and policy analyst, respectively, within the Public Sector Reform Mandate Area said their key accomplishments for the period under review were the completion of the first phase of mandates and functions review of the ministries, agencies and Commissions (MACs); the enactment of two bills into law; Staff skills assessment data collection for 14 ministries; and the completion of the Scoping Study on Liberia entrepreneurs’ participation in the Liberian economy.

Their future plans include retaining three national consultants to continue the conduct of mandates and functions review of MACs; undertaking mandates and functions review for 11 line ministries; completing recruitment of an international Consultancy Firm to build capacity in conducting mandates and functions review; the holding of roundtable dialogues to discuss benefits of reforming government institutions; working on legislation for the establishment of the office of Principal Administrative Officer; and Drafting a legislation on the establishment of a Public Service Commission or Civil Service Commission.

Challenges experienced include but not limited to slow procurement process; the need to strengthen collaboration among the tripod (GC, CSA and LIPA); and frequent changes of leadership of MACs.

Comments on the presentation from plenary included that there was no linkages or collaborations with other mandate areas; no indication of impact on public services; no mention of interaction with civil society; no mention on preparedness in managing political transition; and that there was a need for creating public sector reform champions.

It was suggested that for maximum impact, GC should be represented at the Cabinet level or have champions at the cabinet level of the Executive branch of Government.

  1. Monitoring, Evaluation, Research & Publications Mandate Area– Policy Analyst McNeil Wilson noted the following as their key achievements: The holding of three policy dialogues on Liberia’s electoral system, and support for the planning of citizens perception survey to be implemented in collaboration with the PLR/decentralization mandate area.

MERP future activities include but not limited to the production of the annual governance reports, and advocacy plan for implementation of key recommendations in the document; the promotion of an effective monitoring process for all MACs; the establishment of a document repository on governance issues; and the use of GC’s website as an online repository on governance issues.

The lack of a national policy on Monitoring and Evaluation, and a Monitoring and Evaluation funding strategy were cited as key mandate area challenges.

Plenary comments on the presentation noted that there was no mention of why the theme of the 2015 Annual Governance Report (AGR) focuses on Liberia’s electoral system and/or the importance of getting the AGR out now to focus on preparedness for 2017 elections at least 18 months in advance.

The response to that was to refute the thinking that GC should not monitor itself; that internal monitoring is a result of the implementation of the (new) Strategic Plan in a formal way. It was also noted that the policy cycle is incomplete without monitoring and evaluation to review the impact of GC’s policy recommendations. 

Plenary proposed that MERP should expand beyond its presentation of GC’s Complementarity Plan; that NIS, CENV, PLR should collaborate to conduct sensitization campaigns to inform and prepare citizens for the national referendum on Constitutional amendments; and that all mandate areas get more involved with the holding of policy dialogues. It was also recommended that Mandate Areas engage the media for coverage on the teaching and implementation of the Code of conduct. All mandate areas are also expected to working to develop a government-wide monitoring and evaluation framework.

The 2 year strategic Work Plan code named “Strengthening Liberia’s Democratic Stability, Peace and Transformation” plans to:

  • measures progress against strategic objectives;
  • Work with focal persons to come up with quarterly reports to support data collection.
  • Implement key activities to be supported/accompanied by indicators, outcomes, assumptions and key risks;
  • Will be result focused.

Communications Strategy Presentation

A robust Communication strategy was presented at the retreat. The strategy included, among other things, a proposal for the Commission to initiate a weekly 30 minute radio program on ELBC to showcase GC’s policy recommendations and strategy implementation works; erection of bill boards to show case messages on the National Vision 2030, and the middle income country goal – 2030; use of secular music to spread key messages; engaging civil society organizations to serve as champions of the National Vision; collaborate with Talking Drums Studio, Legislature, MICAT, and other MACs to work toward assuring that Liberia reaches Middle Income status by 2030. 

The Communication Unit has already put together a Brochure to showcase the works of the Commission and is working on enhancing media relations between the Commission and media institutions, as well as working on a proposal to solicit funding to financially support the proposed GC Radio program on ELBC.

Day two of the GC retreat covered presentations from Administration including the Grants and Finance Units highlighting, among other things, funded and non-funded projects of GC and sourcing for funding to address emerging issues/projects.

 The immediate priorities of the Commission are making GC more relevant by positioning the Commission for maximum participation to address:

  1. emerging issues relating to the Electoral process and 2017 elections;
  2. The transition process which follows the holding of the national elections come 2017 (transfer of power, and formation of the new government); and
  3. Propagating the Liberia rising national vision 2030.

The Commission identified its on-going and/or outstanding programs to include the production of the first volume of the Liberian new history book by 2017: following-up on government’s pledge of $1.1 million for the history project, and getting civil society to follow through on vision 2030 propagation; re-engaging the legislature to re-introduce the local government bill; fast tracking data collection process on compliance issues on the electoral process; developing an advocacy plan for implementation of recommendations emerging from the Annual Governance Report (AGR); fast tracking an “online and offline knowledge repository: and fast tracking plans for the establishment of  a national monitoring and evaluation mechanism to monitor and evaluate governments service delivery to the people.

UNDP Consultant to GC Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey observed that the Commission’s work will highly influence the context of the upcoming electoral process, and the transitional period that follows, and should therefore plan for “before, during and after the elections” taking into considerations the following issues - Political platforms and rallies, Civic and voters education, Campaign and elections financing, Elections security and Elections management, Voters’ registration and trucking, Voter expectation management, decline of women’s participation in the electoral process and the need for advocacy on this, Political party registration, Political party mergers/alliances/coalitions, Electoral fraud and dispute resolution, Temporary employment, i.e. poll workers, Political party carpet crossing, Communications, Engagements of National Elections commission, Voting dates and multiple voter registrations, Elections monitoring and vote counting, the holding of a national Referendum; continue advocacy for implementation of Code of Conduct and the issue of the office of Ombudsman,  elevating troublesome issues such as how courts can accelerate the disposition of electoral appeals, and conduct of a barometer survey before the pending 2017 elections on the electoral process. 

Transitional issues that could impact GC’s workload in 2017 include but not limited to Transition from peace to conflict, transfer of political power, and declaration and acceptance of election results.  GC maintain its neutrality by being truly non-partisan, engaging key actors such as the National Elections Commission, political parties, the media, and civil society to ensure acceptance of election results.  (GC’s mandate makes the Commission the convening authority in such matters). Other Transitional issues could include democracy education, transitioning to a new political culture, transition from distrust to trust of electoral institutions, mobilization of the people to achieve desired results, and the need to heighten advocacy during campaign periods.

GC also plans to conduct risk analysis on the electoral process and transitioning of political power over the next two years. It is believed that donors, over the next two years might focus more on funding Liberia’s 2017 elections, but there was consensus that non -acceptance of the 2017 election results, a sharp drop in donor funding, and UNMIL’s withdrawal from Liberia all pose the greatest risks.

Internal Risks discussed at the retreat include fear of winner takes it all, new government throwing out Vision 2030, GC losing its convening power, and risk of losing institutional memory; while external Risks discussed touched on job insecurity within current Cabinet, upholding existing policies, and trucking of voters from bordering countries.

Gaps & Challenges of the Commission

The Commission identified a number of gaps/challenges which continue to undermine its full potentials. Key among them are funding gaps, technical support, and study and work tours to update skills.

 

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