Liberia’s NGO Policy Guidelines: The Way Forward

 By: James D. Kormon, Jr

 (Email:; Mobile: +231-6-845405)

Dedicated to all those who participated in the series of consultative fora that led to the formulation of the NGO Policy Guidelines, and to our President – Africa’s First female President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

“In 2005, OECD countries invested more than USD 100 Billion to advance welfare and eradicate poverty in developing countries. …Better aid means very different things depending on which side of the development fence you are on…..But the true test of aid effectiveness is improvement in people’s lives”

(OECD, Journal on Development: 2006 Survey on Monitoring the Paris Declaration- Overview of the Results, Volume 8, No 2, 2007, p. 9).


 The end of the cold War along with its consequences, for examples, the rise in intra state conflicts and the urge to globalize the world economy contributed enormously to the increase in the number of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Dysfunctional conflicts, in particular, questioned the sovereignty of states, most especially failed states, and have equally exacerbated the need for aid and humanitarian assistance on the premise of protecting human rights. Consequently, billions of dollars are pumped in third world countries every year through NGOs.

 According to estimate from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 5.6 billion United States Dollars was transferred in 1993 from developed countries to developing countries through NGOs (Watkins K, The Oxfam Poverty Report, London: Oxfam, 1995, p.207). In 2005, more than100 billion United States Dollars was spent. Over the years, this figure has increased significantly. But aid, attested by OECD, is ineffective when it does not address the critical issue of improving the lives of people. In the case of Liberia, 76.2% of Liberians still live on less than One United States Dollar a day, despite several projects as well as empowerment and capacity building programs.

 This paper briefly presents the justifications for channeling aid through NGOs; critically looks at the Liberian context; and concludes with the way forward in fully maximizing the objectives of Liberia’s NGO Policy Guidelines. The objective of this paper is to enhance the debate on aid effectiveness as enshrined in the 2005 Paris Declaration of which Liberia is a signatory.

 Why NGOs?

 There are several justifications which range from donors’ preferences and national interest under disguise to the sincere desire to engage in humanitarian assistance and development activities. Whatever may be the intended motives; reports from NGOs to donors, most often, emphasize effectiveness, efficiency and fair play in the delivery of relief, humanitarian and development assistance. Preference for channeling donors’ funding through NGOs is therefore predicated upon several assumptions. Prominent amongst those assumptions are better track records in reaching the poor; good experiences in strengthening local institutions; and working in a participatory way, commonly referred to as Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA). Effectiveness in advocating for vulnerable groups and executing good practices, for examples, transparency and accountability are added values. Other assumptions include innovation and flexibility in responding to silent and complex emergencies, and a core of competent and well-paid staff that are far above corruption and embezzlement.  ( On the other hand, government functionaries are usually perceived as being extremely corrupt; mostly incompetent, inefficient, lackadaisical, insensitive, and poorly paid to be entrusted with huge amounts.

 But the extents to which these assumptions are factual remain debatable from one country to another and from one NGO to the next, not to even mention the individuals that are tasked with the delivery of relief and development assistance. Thus, most critics maintained that these assumptions need to be amended with modifiers such as “few”, “some” or “most”. Nevertheless, most official aid or bilateral assistance has been channeled, unlike the period of the cold war, through NGOs rather than through national governments.

 The Liberian Context

 Within the context of the above assumptions, and predicated upon the Liberian Civil War, a significant amount of donors’ funding was channeled directly to United Nations (UN) agencies and NGOs, instead of the various interim governments. Accordingly, most NGOs attracted enormous donor aid from the estimated 2.5 billion that was reported from 2004 to 2007 (UNDP, Liberia Partner Profile, Monrovia, 2006, p.9) for an estimated population of 3.2 million. Even though major progress was made and recorded in the provision of relief and other basic social services, much would have been achieved in terms of sustainability and mutual accountability if there had been effective coordination and efficient monitoring of activities. Notwithstanding, NGOs will remain to attract significant donor funding in Post-war Liberia.

 This trend is unlikely to change despite the formation of a democratically elected government, which has exhibited to a large extent the tenets of Good Governance. Consequently, it was expedient and imperative that accredited and reaccredited NGOs, a total of ninety-seven (97) international and four hundred and one (401) local NGOs be engaged constructively since the quest for more external aid and partnership will be reiterated, and a significant amount of funding might likely flow through NGOs, including an additional two hundred and fifty-three (253) NGOs that are on the verge of being accredited.

 Hence, the county consultations and the just ended regional consultations on the County Development Agenda (CDA) re-confirmed the urgent need for a consolidated effort to improve the living conditions of average Liberians, most especially in the prioritized areas of roads, education and health. This quest is buttressed by several reliable statistics. For instance, according to available / recent statistics, 76.2% of Liberia’s population (estimated at 3,096,557 in 2003) lives below the poverty line; access to safe drinking water stands at 26%; 52% lives with extreme poverty, in spite of the abundance of natural resources; whilst an estimated 85% is unemployed. Inflation stands at 16.2%, whilst National and external debts in 2005 were 3,638.4 and 3,262.5 million respectively (MPEA & UNDP, Liberia National Human Development Report 2006, Monrovia: Pre Press & Printing-Dremags Inc, p.x). Identifying the prime drivers of this consolidated approach towards development during the CDA district and regional consultations, delegates, participants and observers were quick to cite the pivotal role of major actors – the Government, UN System, donors, NGOs, and beneficiaries.

 Consequently, the possibility of ever attaining even one of the eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015 remains a major challenge for all stakeholders, including NGOs. If one were to even reference the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, then it remains a formidable task for most Sub Saharan African Countries ( But realizing the challenges ahead, the Government of Liberia, headed by Africa’s first female president – Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and major stakeholders finally succeeded in formulating a national policy on NGO operations in Liberia.

 Being one of those deliverables of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, its formulation was characterized by series of consultations, debates and revisions of several drafts prior to the validation of the document at Thinkers’ Village on the 29th of January 2008. Led by the Minister of Planning, Dr. Toga Gayewea McIntosh, the overriding objective of the NGO Policy Guidelines is to enhance the effectiveness of aid / Paris Declaration, thereby creating improvement in people’s lives. The task has just begun!

 The Way Forward:

 While the Policy guidelines are laudable efforts on the part of all stakeholders, it is expedient to note that one of the major problems in pre-war Liberia was not the lack of good policies, but the political will to implement them. Although there were Executive Orders such as the draconic Decree 88A, there were also good policies ranging from Zoning Regulations to Safety Regulations as well as several short, medium and long term plans. The late President William R. Tolbert, Jr. was illustrious for his ‘Mat to Mattress’ policy, whilst the late President Samuel K. Doe was famous for his ‘Green Revolution’. The paradox was the alertness to implement bad policies, rather than the willingness to fully implement good plans.

 Consequently, the policy guidelines should not be an end (panacea) within itself. Instead, it should be a necessary condition – a means to an end. Practically, it should guide against the mismanagement of aid and promote aid effectiveness as stipulated in the 2nd, March 2005 Paris Declaration which emphasizes:

  • Exercising National leadership and ownership on (sic) development policies and plans
  • Aligning donors’ support to national development strategies and plans
  • Harmonization of donors’ activities and minimizing the amount spent on aid delivery
  • Achieving the desired results for which aid was given, and most importantly
  • Encouraging mutual accountability between donors and developing countries.

 Even though few stakeholders may harbor some reservations on the above principles or on certain clauses within the NGO Policy Guidelines, the latter remains one of the best documents in post-war Liberia to be derived through a series of consultative processes. Thus, it is the primary responsibility of all stakeholders to support the guidelines, and when necessary help to improve it.  The consultative process is an open-ended exercise. Therefore, tolerance of views, humility and the flow of communication between and amongst all actors are very germane to the process, if and only if, we are to go beyond organizing workshops, and constructing several billboards; but deliver on the challenges of the pending Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) and the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The picture below shows an initiative which is indeed commendable.


Four barefooted kids with author (second from rear) on a flourishing NGO supported rice farm in River Gee County. These poor kids found time during the 2006 vacation period to help their parents contribute towards achieving Goal One of the MDGs. But are we really committed to eradicate extreme poverty and world hunger by 2015? The challenge is ours!

 Of equal relevance is the need to enhance human resource capacity and to ensure effective and efficient coordination – a sine qua non. Coordination would promote the sharing of information and lessons learnt between and amongst all stakeholders; and the proper utilization of scarce resources. Proper coordination would also discourage the skewing of NGOs’ activities and encourage the implementation of sustainable projects.

 Moreover, training in Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) exercises would also go a long way in instilling discipline and ensuring a high level of productivity. Most importantly, the successful implementation of the guidelines will depend on the availability of logistical support, and the integrity of personnel that will be charged with the responsibility to effectively monitor and evaluate the activities of NGOs. M&E should not be construed as the exclusive rights of any institution. Apart from formal monitoring visitations, spot checks should be encouraged. This will enable, for example, the Ministry of Public Works, to periodically verify Bills of Quantity and give updates on construction projects, for instance, a bridge project.

 To curb malpractices, discipline, focus and motivation should be institutionalized. If not, some “realists” would use the M&E exercises to harass NGOs, thereby compromising the objectives of the policy guidelines. The fear of being victims of collective guilt would deprive some qualified staffs with impeccable character from participating fully in the M&E exercises. On the other hand, the M&E exercises should not be viewed with suspicions. Instead, it should be supported adequately and be seen as an exercise that will, inter alia,

 Clearly define indicators – input, output, outcome and impact

  • Critically analyze situations
  • Ascertain whether inputs are properly utilized
  • Identify problems, and recommend solutions
  • Determine timelines of projects/activities
  • Confirm the right implementing partners (IPs) and beneficiaries
  • Ascertain the appropriateness of projects and activities,
  • Share lessons and experiences, and most importantly
  • Contribute towards the improvement in peoples’ lives


One of several unfulfilled promises in Grand Cape Mount County: Boreholes but no pit latrines or hand pumps – WHY?

 The above picture vividly shows a joint M&E exercise which should be replicated and results taken seriously. In addition to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs’ (MPEA) regular M&E exercises, joint M&E should be undertaken periodically. Findings and recommendations could help motivate NGOs; remedy unfulfilled promises; highlight incomplete projects and do away with sub standard projects.

 Concomitantly, the policy guidelines should be an instrument that will help address those concerns – transparency, sustainability, accountability, empowerment, and the Rule of Law, (just to name a few) – that were raised by beneficiaries, line ministries, and NGOs. The latter entity should be given maximum support; sectors and thematic bodies should be more proactive, and line ministries should ensure the realization of their mandates.

 When these are done – the way forward – we would have taken the first step to improve the lives of the (our) people – the beneficiaries; irrespective of which side of the development fence we are on – be it Balanced or Unbalanced Growth Model, Dependency Theory, Comparative Advantage Theory, W.W. Rostow’s Stages of Economic Growth or Harrod-Domar Saving Model. The challenge is therefore ours to take the first step, and to even formulate a development model that would take into account the social characteristics as well as the political and economic capabilities of Liberia.

  If the Asian tigers – Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea could succeed, Liberia can do likewise. Collectively, we can continue strategizing on the way forward in satisfying the (our) people’s rising expectations, and work assiduously towards the full realization of the NGO Policy Guidelines. In a nutshell, the effective adherence to the policy guidelines and its expected outcomes are equally relevant to the PRS and MDGs. THE CHALLENGE IS THEREFORE OURS!

About the Author:

Professionally, James D. Kormon, Jr. is a Development Economist. He once served as Assistant Minister for Economic Cooperation and Integration, Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, Republic of Liberia during the first term of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,President of The Republic Liberia. He has worked for few UN agencies and has also undertaken several Monitoring and Evaluation consultancies in West Africa as well as in Eritrea and Somalia. He holds a Certificate from St. Patrick’s High School, now Stella Maria Polytechnic, Capitol Hill, Liberia; a B.Sc degree in Economics with Honours in Political Science from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone and a Master degree in Development Studies and International Relations from Staffordshire University, United Kingdom.