An Innovative Approach to Supporting Liberia’s PFM Reforms
Posted by Lesley Fisher
The IMF’s traditional approach to providing technical assistance (TA) has usually involved staff and experts traveling to a country, discussing various issues with government counterparts, and leaving a report, including recommendations, for the country to implement. This approach has been used extensively in Liberia since the mid-2000s and has been complemented by two resident experts, and numerous short-term experts, providing hands-on support in implementing the recommendations of the headquarters-based missions.
As is familiar to TA providers, officials in any Ministry of Finance have competing priorities during IMF missions. They have their regular duties to attend to, and they are often unable to devote their full attention to the visitors from Washington. There is sometimes a sense of mission fatigue: many missions have come and gone over the past decade, and left similar recommendations. Senior officials and political heads do not always have the time or inclination to study lengthy IMF reports. To quote one Liberian official, “FAD’s recommendations do not automatically translate into implementation.”
To overcome some of these challenges, the Liberian government proposed an alternative approach. At their request, FAD and the African Department of the IMF organized a two-week seminar in Washington for 14 Liberian officials from a number of ministries, the Central Bank, and the General Audit Commission of Liberia. The seminar took place from January 27 to February 9, 2016. Participants worked together with IMF staff to diagnose challenges relating to cash management, commitment control, fiscal reporting and public investment management—many of which centered on coordination between the various institutions of government and a lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities. These discussions resulted in a realistic assessment of capacity, a frank exchange of views on the reasons why TA advice has not always been implemented, and a credible action plan to address short- to medium-term challenges.
In addition to providing an opportunity for focused attention away from the daily demands of official duties, the seminar approach was very helpful in building consensus and strengthening relationships between FAD and the government officials. The Liberian delegates embraced the seminar format and committed to continuing the momentum created by the collaborative effort. They demonstrated strong ownership of the PFM reform measures discussed, and committed to share the seminar’s conclusions and recommendations with political heads and senior management in Monrovia.
A few other issues are worth noting:
- Overall, participants commented that they would like the seminar to continue on a regular basis, noting that the “participatory nature” of this modality of delivering TA was “more effective, more engaging, and more constructive”.
- The seminar approach works well in a country in which FAD has worked extensively over a long time period, and where the PFM challenges are well diagnosed and appreciated.
- Among the highest-rated sessions were presentations by FAD staff on topics that were least familiar to participants—for example sessions on FAD’s new Public Investment Management Assessment (PIMA) framework, GFSM 2014, and the challenges of enforcing PFM laws. These topics would not normally be included in conventional missions, but since IMF experts are available in Washington DC, their participation is possible with minimal disruption to their schedule and at no additional travel cost.
- Presentations by the World Bank on the recently revised PEFA and public procurement frameworks were also rated favorably.
- Liberia is a country with an Extended Credit Facility (ECF) program with the Fund. Presentations by the country team provided officials with greater understanding of the program objectives and remaining challenges in implementing the PFM-related benchmarks.
External resources from the EU and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) were instrumental in funding the seminar.
Senior Economist, PFM1 Division, Fiscal Affairs Department, IMF.
 The Ministries of Finance and Development Planning, Agriculture, Education, Health, and Public Works.
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