GEMAP: The New Anti-Corruption Plan for Liberia

Scott R. Lyons
December 15, 2005
In response to perceived endemic corruption in Liberia,[1] the international donor community signed an innovative legal plan in September 2005 with the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) to ensure that the resources, revenue, and donated money for the country reach the population in need and contribute to the post-conflict development of Liberia. This anti-corruption plan established international financial oversight for a government system that in the recent past was supposedly wrought with patronage and utilized by former combatants for financial spoils.
Under the terms of the Government and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP), foreign experts are positioned in the key state financial and revenue-producing sectors with co-signature authority on government spending. The deal was signed to reassure donors who had threatened to pull international aid due to rampant corruption.[2] Those donors deem GEMAP to be an assistance program that maintains Liberia?s state sovereignty. Proponents have also claimed that the plan may help avoid future civil wars in the country because of the internal anger toward corruption and criminal exploitation of Liberia?s vast resources.[3] On the other hand, critics of the arrangement consider GEMAP to be a ?quasi-trustee[ship]? that seriously endangers Liberia?s sovereignty and places the country under an expatriate management or receivership resembling re-colonization.[4]
Corruption in Liberia
The history of political power in Liberia is filled with examples of corruption, lack of financial transparency, and government theft of the country's financial resources.[5] As the country is transitioning from the regime of Charles Ghankay Taylor to a new post-conflict democratic government, a series of actions of the transitional government have recently highlighted the need from the perspective of the international community for systematic financial accountability. According to reports, these actions have included a secret, no-bid deal for mining rights,[6] a scandal involving unauthorized payments totaling US$92,000,[7] diversion of US$2 million -- money designated for paying salary arrears to civil servants -- to the purchase of SUVs for use by politicians,[8] and alleged fraud and outright theft by government officials.[9]
This environment of corruption and theft is not in serious dispute[10] and affects all aspects of society in Liberia, reaching the likes of school children whose families now pay the school tuition at a central bank because of reports that successive education administrators fled the country with hundreds of thousands of dollars in school revenues. The country is rich in resources, but the populace lacks many basic services, including electricity and water.
Evolution of the GEMAP
The concepts behind GEMAP originated long before the plan's signing. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement ending the prolonged conflict in Liberia called for the establishment of commissions to ensure transparency and accountability in all Liberian government institutions and in all financial and budgetary commitments entered into by the NTGL.[11]
The initial draft of an international anti-corruption plan for Liberia called for placing foreign expatriates in government ministries, bringing foreign judges into Liberian courts, and mandating the plan via a Security Council resolution. The draft plan was rejected by the NTGL. After both international and domestic political and financial pressure, the final plan, GEMAP, included all of the previous components except the placing of foreign judges in Liberia to adjudicate cases.
GEMAP was agreed to by the NTGL and the International Contact Group of Liberia. Following the signing of the plan, the UN Security Council determined that the situation in Liberia continued to threaten international peace and security in the area, and acting under its explicit Chapter VII powers, it extended the mandate for the United Nations Mission in Liberia and stated that it "[l]ooks forward to the implementation of GEMAP by the NTGL and succeeding governments of Liberia in collaboration with their international partners . . . ."[12]
Liberia's recently-elected President, Ellen Johnson-Shirleaf, gave a mixed endorsement of GEMAP. She indicated that it is a useful agreement for government accountability and that it is more acceptable after the removal of the provision concerning foreign judges. However, she stated that she believes the agreement will not be necessary under her government leadership, which will take power in January 2006.[13]
Several other African governments are uneasy about Liberia relinquishing previously autonomous authority to its financial donors and international backers because of the precedent GEMAP might set for both post-conflict reconstruction and general anti-corruption initiatives.
The Goals of GEMAP
The goals of GEMAP focus on principles of anti-corruption and transparency in government finances. These goals include improving budgetary control, increasing contract transparency, creating an effective process to control corruption, and improving capacity building. GEMAP seeks to accomplish these objectives by ensuring that revenues due are received and accounted for, revenues are spent only in budgetary-approved manners, approved expenditures only go to the intended parties, there is competitive bidding for all government contracts, and the government has the capacity to fight corruption. GEMAP places international experts as co-signatories at the central bank of Liberia and key revenue sectors such as Roberts[field] International Airport, the Bureau of Maritime Affairs, the National Port Authority, the Forestry Development Authority, the Bureau of Customs and Excise, and the Petroleum Refining Corporation. Many of these revenue sectors have been subject to past UN sanctions, serious corruption claims, and dubious business contracts.
If successful, GEMAP should lead to the lifting of the economic sanctions for timber and diamonds that have been in effect since the Liberian civil war.[14] The co-signatory powers will be in effect for three years, but could be extended if Liberia fails to meet its obligations and objectives.
Supporters of GEMAP consider the plan to be a contractual arrangement or understanding for foreign assistance. In their view, sovereignty is unaffected because the Liberian government is still administrating state functions while the agreement simply gives permission for foreign advisors to provide functional support for government through the abilities to co-sign and conduct an audit. Proponents would further contend that the foreign experts are not assuming control of the Liberian government in a colonial or receivership manner because actual internal administration still rests with Liberian officials. Alternatively, by signing GEMAP the Liberian government likely waived any sovereignty concerns and legitimized foreign involvement in internal government administration. Further, the signing of GEMAP was welcomed by the UN Security Council, using its powers under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to extend the UN Mission in Liberia. That Mission already assists in aspects of internal government administration for peace and security reasons. Moreover, although Article 2(7) of the UN Charter rejects UN intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of member states, it contains an exception for the application of enforcement measures by the Security Council under Chapter VII.
Opponents of GEMAP would contend that the placing of foreign experts into domestic government positions is an intrusion on Liberia's sovereignty. Further, since the Security Council only "welcomed" the signing of GEMAP and did not impose enforcement measures upon Liberia, the situation arguably would not come within the exception to domestic jurisdiction contained in UN Charter Article 2(7). These opponents might also contend that the transitional government did not have the authority to enter into long-term agreements on any matter, from financial investment and utilization of resources to international oversight under GEMAP.
An additional issue raised by GEMAP will be whether the International Contact Group can mandate implementation of GEMAP within the newly elected government of Johnson-Shirleaf if she decides that the plan will not be necessary under her government. Lawfully created agreements with a government normally are binding on all successive governments. Although the agreement was entered into by non-elected transitional leaders, the UN Security Council, in the resolution quoted above, contemplated that GEMAP will be implemented by succeeding Liberian governments.
GEMAP represents an innovative arrangement designed to fight government mismanagement, corruption, and outright theft of a post-conflict country's resources in order to help restore faith in government during and after transition from interim UN and domestic administration to permanent democratic structures. The effectiveness and legitimacy of the plan over the next three years will not only affect Liberia, but could reinforce the international donor community's commitment to transparency and good governance. Whether it will succeed remains to be seen.
About the author
Scott R. Lyons, an ASIL member, is a former Institute Scholar for the Law, Peace Negotiations and War Crimes Institute and Peace Fellow for the Public International Law and Policy Group. He has worked in different legal capacities in West Africa, including Liberia.
[1] Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (2005) currently ranks Liberia as tied for 137th, among the worst countries in the world in terms of corruption. Available at
[2] The World Bank representative for Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, Mats Karlsson, said that there would be no additional international funding for reconstruction and redevelopment of Liberia until the government addressed the corruption problem and a statement by the International Contact Group stated that Liberia risked losing a $44 million assistance package from the European Commission and other funds if the country refused to implement the GEMAP. Agence France Presse, September 14, 2005.
[3] Liberia's Elections: Necessary but Not Sufficient, International Crisis Group, September 7, 2005.
[4] "LIBERIA: Anti-corruption plan causes rumpus in political circles", IRIN, September 7, 2005, at
[5] The government of Liberia has been called "predatory" with the leadership using the "state as a vehicle for exploitation". See "There is no Messiah Here", The Analyst, August 23, 2005.
[6] March 17, 2005 Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to paragraph 8 (f) of Security Council resolution 1579 (2004) concerning Liberia.
[7] "LIBERIA: Appeals for calm amid parliament corruption row", IRIN, March 14, 2005, at
[8] "LIBERIA: Government and donors fail to agree on plan for fighting corruption", IRIN, July 22, 2005 at
[9] "LIBERIA: Three government officials charged with siphoning off $3.5 million", IRIN, August 3, 2005, at
[10] Every major candidate for President of Liberia made ending corruption a fundamental component of their campaign platform.
[11] Comprehensive Peace Agreement Between the Government of Liberia and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and Political Parties, Accra 18th August, 2003, arts. XVI-XVII.
[12] UN S.C. Res. 1626, September 19, 2005.
[13] ?NTGL Has No Mandate To Sign Contracts?, The Analyst, August 26, 2005, at
14[ UN S.C. Res. 1521, December 22, 2003.