Views from the Field No. 3 – Liberia

Posted by Kubai Khasiani

For the third in our series of “Views from the Field” Richard Allen interviewed Kubai Khasiani, FAD’s PFM Advisor at the Ministry of Finance in Liberia. Kubai was formerly a senior budget official in the Kenyan government.

RA: What have been the challenges you experienced in moving to the new position? How have you dealt with these challenges?

KK: I took over in 2011 from a PFM Advisor who had been in the position for three years, so there were already established channels of communication with the Minister and senior management which I inherited.  Many important changes in PFM had already taken place, or were in process. The country achieved the post-HIPC completion point in 2010; a Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) and a PFM Act were being implemented; and a PFM Strategy and Action Plan had recently been approved by the government. Development partners already in post were very accommodating, making it easy for me to adapt.

Following a General Election in November 2011, however, there was a complete change in the top management of the Ministry necessitating the establishment of new communication channels. It takes time for an outsider to gain the confidence of a new team. Liberia has been no exception especially when the Fund and other development partners have been promoting a PFM reform “strategy” which the new management team was not involved in crafting.

RA: Has the implementation of the PFM Reform Strategy been smooth sailing?

KK: As a fragile state, Liberia’s is vulnerable to sporadic donor interventions. It is not surprising that the authorities are attracted by new initiatives for IT systems and capacity building projects proposed by development partners. Such initiatives are generously funded and appear to offer the prospect of immediate “returns”. Unfortunately, results do not always match expectations, and often the schemes make only minimal reference to the strategic framework for PFM reform. It has taken considerable time and effort to bring an alignment of views and approaches, and for all the partners to recognize that a comprehensive legal framework, together with the Strategy and Action Plan, provide the necessary underpinning for an effective PFM reform strategy.

RA: How do you coordinate your work program with the IMF Resident Representative and FAD HQ?  Does this create any challenges?

KK: The Resident Representative, Yuri Sobolov, is responsible for day-to-day communications with the authorities on macro issues, and is the link person with the Liberia Team in the Fund’s Area Department for Africa. His interventions are very helpful in keeping the administration on track regarding the implementation of the PFM Strategy and Action Plan. I have a very close and continuous working relationship both with Yuri and my back-stopper in FAD, making the consultation process seamless. These arrangements help to ensure that reports to HQ on PFM issues have the full support of counterparts in the government, the Res Rep’s office, and HQ. They also help the Liberia Team make informed decisions during the IMF’s staff missions.

RA: What are the main strengths and weaknesses of PFM in Liberia? What areas of PFM are you giving priority too, and why?

KK: An important strength of PFM in Liberia is that there are no entrenched PFM legacies, which reduces the degree of resistance to proposed reforms. For example, the introduction of the Free Balance-based FMIS seems to have picked up faster than has been the case in many other countries mainly because there were no existing systems to fall back on. On the downside, inadequate capacity, reluctance to adopt new procedures and insufficient ownership of the reform initiatives can create challenges. To address these issues, the PFM Action Plan emphasizes the importance of sensitizing the government to important change management issues, and the adoption of a comprehensive capacity building program. The PFM Strategy and Action Plan gives priority to core areas of PFM such as budget preparation and establishing an MTEF, rolling out the FMIS, financial reporting, cash planning, and fiscal de-concentration. These priorities will help the authorities achieve over time improvements in the three pillars of PFM: aggregate fiscal discipline, improved resource allocation and better delivery of public services.

RA: How do you work with the donors? How can the working relationship be improved further?

KK: The development partners have in the past tended to work in silos, providing uncoordinated interventions in PFM across government. With the adoption of the PFM Strategy and Action Plan, this scenario has changed greatly. Donor interventions are better coordinated, and financing is now pooled through a Multi-Donor Trust Fund managed by the World Bank. Consultations are underway to establish a common Development Partner Consultative Forum that will share information on the progress of the PFM reform agenda. In addition the government’s official Project Steering Committee (PSC) meets four times a year, two of which donors are invited to attend.

RA: What is it like to live and work in Liberia? How do the conditions compare with those in your home country?

KK: The living conditions call for a lot of resilience and determination. The culture and working environment are slightly different to my home country, Kenya. Liberia is “a no family” station offering more time to devote to my work, but with diminished proximity to my family. Generally, Monrovia is lacking in many facilities. Most supplies including food are imported and therefore expensive. Internet is slow and therefore inconvenient. There are limited recreation facilities which renders most weekends quite boring. On the other hand, the advisory position has offered me an opportunity to share my skills and knowledge with Liberians in a bid to rejuvenate their public service institutions, and the capability of the finance ministry. In the process, I have also been able to expand my sphere of knowledge in PFM, and the technical and diplomatic skills that I hope to take back to my own country one day. 

Note: The posts on the IMF PFM Blog should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy.