Liberia’s tumultuous recent past all but destroyed the professional civil service in the country and paralysed the government. Despite these formidable challenges, the country has made great strides in becoming more accountable and transparent. This is not to say, however, that the country doesn’t have its fair share of problems – it does. With rich natural resources and a heavy reliance on foreign aid, the opportunities for corruption, nepotism and straightforward theft are huge. Fortunately, the government is trying to address the problem and in 2010 passed a landmark Freedom of Information Act. Civil society, meanwhile, is keen to ensure that both government and foreign corporations are held to account. These were some of the transparency organisations we met while we were in the country during a recent West Africa trip:
- Liberia Media Centre is a medium-sized and well established organisation with some 50 staff in four offices across Liberia. In the 2011 elections they monitored the results at 60% of the polling stations and used SMS to collect results in real time and publish them on their website. They had results within 3 hours of the polls closing (the commission took 48 hours). Their work, however, didn’t simply end with the election. After her inauguration, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson made 85 promises for the first 150 days of her term. After 100 days LMC published a report (on and offline) stating that only 19% of those promises had been met. The outcry this created contributed to the government ramping up its work to ensure that by day 150, 66% of the promises had been met. They have built on this work to develop a platform to track government service delivery against promises made. The project has now been expanded to monitor all projects around budget tracking alongside the open budget initiative. They have also built a site to monitor the budget by tracking allocations, expenditures and implementation of Public Sector Investment Projects (PSIPs) focusing on schools, roads, hospitals and electricity infrastructure. In addition, they run an SMS platform that allows Liberians to request specific budget data for free and a separate platform that’s used to report on human rights violations e.g. mob violence and rape. The breadth of work and professionalism of the LMC was clear and they were able to provide a very good insight into some of the transparency and accountability issues affecting modern-day Liberia.
- CENTAL is the local chapter of Transparency International in Liberia. They actively engage with government at the highest level, but also highlight corrupt or non-transparent processes. They have worked to monitor contracts and procurement in the education sector, and are currently using scorecards to monitor education effectiveness and school boards at the county level. In addition, they have worked to expose corruption in other sectors, including forestry. The case of CENTAL illustrates the need for a multi-pronged approach to corruption. Tackling corruption at the very highest levels is vitally important and helps promote systemic change, although everyday people are often most hurt by small incidents of petty corruption – the bribe to the policeman at the checkpoint or the facilitation money to a doctor to get a sick child seen. Tackling these very different kinds of corruption needs a very flexible and adaptable approach.
- Accountability Lab is a new organisation working to tackle corruption in the university sector. Their work shares some similarities with that of another of our grantees, Not In My Country, and we hope that some of the lessons learnt in Uganda can be shared and used in Liberia too.
There are doubtless lots of other great accountability and transparency organisations using tech as part of their work in Liberia. Unfortunately, our week-long trip didn’t give us time to meet everyone, but if you think there are others we should be speaking to, please leave a comment below.