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liberiaPopulation: 5.058 Million

HDI ranking: 175/189

HDI score: 0.480

The Republic of Liberia is a resource-rich and war-torn country in West Africa in the process of rebuilding itself after several years of civil war. In 2010 Liberia approved a National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance (NPDLG), which called for decentralization and transfer of political, fiscal, and administrative powers to local governments and ended more than a decade-long civil war. The NPDLG is the first meaningful decentralization policy adopted in Liberia after many unsuccessful attempts in the past (IREX, 2014). President George Weah’s new Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development is the latest step forward on the path to a decentralized government. Progress has been slow and is hampered by the overly-centralized construction of Liberia’s government and the hesitation out of Monrovia in regards to moving forward with decentralization reforms.

Local governance at a glance

  • Liberia is a unitary state divided into 15 counties. The counties are subdivided into 68 districts, districts into chiefdoms, chiefdoms into clans, and clans into towns or villages (VOLT, 2013).
  • County authorities, city mayors, and township commissioners are appointed by the President (VOLT 2013).
    • The president reserves the right to appoint and direct all county-level officials, including superintendents, administrative personnel, and mayors, amounting to over three thousand positions in total (Columbia Political Review, 2021).
  • Liberia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) is responsible for overseeing local administration in Liberia. It is mandated to “create a more open, responsive and accountable government” (MIA, 2014).
  • According to the amended law of March 2011, Liberia has no gender quota provision nor local level quotas (Quota Project, 2013).

Civil society actors include

Capacity building institutions

  • The Governance Commission (GC) drives decentralization and local governance policy in Liberia. GC conducts research, consults Liberians on issues affecting governance, and recommends policy and institutional reforms to improve public service delivery at all levels of government (GC, n.d.).
  • The Liberian Institute of Public Administration (LIPA) trains public officials on the function of government to improve democratic governance and the managerial capabilities of officials in all sectors and levels of the government (LIPA, n.d.).

Fiscal control

  • The NPDLG “gives fiscal sharing power broadly to the local governments to allow them to control their own tax base and policies.” Liberia’s Legislature determines “the tax base for each county” and “prescribe[s] the types of taxes, rates, fees, and fines” levied by the local governments (IREX, 2010).
  • “The bulk [of county authorities] expenditure management responsibilities are undertaken as agencies of central government, with no discretionary autonomy over allocations.” (IMF, 2012).
  • “County-level officials are sidelined in the tax collection process, while the Liberia Revenue Authority (L.R.A.) oversees nationwide taxation. Due to Liberia’s broken-down road and electricity networks, the L.R.A.’s regional capacities vary immensely, while administrative overhead is high in remote areas. Liberia’s fiscal centralization also lends itself to inadequate supervision, so tax agents are easily bribed. Many households pay no property taxes whatsoever, and coverage rates fall around 4 percent” (Columbia Political Review, 2021).

Key initiatives for participatory local governance

  • The County Development Fund (CDF) was introduced in 2006 as a means of supporting locally driven development projects in the counties. In the first year, an amount of US$60,000 was given to each county (Stability Journal, 2014).
  • The Liberia Decentralisation and Local Development initiative started in 2007 to support the decentralization process and help local governments access development funds (UNCDF, 2013).
  • The NPDLG, approved by the government in 2011, called for decentralization and the transfer of political, fiscal, and administrative powers to local governments. These ongoing governance reforms are yielding a more decentralized government (IBIS, 2012).
  • In 2014, the Ministry of Finance prepared a decentralization plan to drive fiscal decentralization and capacity building forward (AllAfrica, 2014).
  • The adoption of a new constitutional amendment by 2015 is expected to result in the enactment of a Local Government Act. Many hope it will foster decentralized and participatory local governance (DCID, 2014).
    • In September 2018, Weah signed the Local Government Act into law to overhaul the County Councils into representative bodies capable of levying taxes, approving budgets, and passing ordinances. Nevertheless, none of these measures have been enacted, neither Weah nor the National Legislature has provided a timeline, and county officials remain presidentially appointed (Columbia Political Review, 2021).
  • In 2018, President George Weah introduced his Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD). He described the PAPD as “a framework for inclusion, more equitable distribution of our national wealth, and a rights-based approach to national development. It is the second in the series of plans leading towards the goals of Vision 2030. It aligns our national plans with the African Union Agenda 2063 and the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” (PAPD).

Challenges for participatory local governance

  • Over the past many decades, Liberia has had a ”highly centralized political structure and weak administrative governance which affected governance and participatory development at the local level” (DPADM, 2004).
  • Liberia has not held local elections since the end of the civil war in 2003. Those scheduled for 2008 were canceled, ostensibly due to a lack of financial resources (Freedom House, 2011).
  • Local governments lack institutional capacity, structured local administration, and qualified staff, as well as a “system of clear, predictable and transparent financial transfers” (UCLG Africa and Cities Alliance, 2013).
  • There is no clear strategy to implement the 2010 NPDLG is hampering the attempts to fast-track the decentralization process and create a participatory local government (IBIS, 2012).
  • Liberia is severely limited in terms of its financial and human resources available to support the programs associated with decentralization reforms. The challenges of financial and human resources are common to almost all of the governance reform initiatives in Liberia, and it particularly affects the decentralization program because it has not been prioritized for further funding in the national budget. Evidence shows that most of the reform programs have been financed through foreign aid, and in most cases, government has proven incapable of assuming financial responsibilities when donors withdraw (Stability Journal, 2014).
  • Liberia is one of the most highly centralized governments in West Africa. This leads to a severe lack of oversight regarding the actions of Presidentially-appointed government actors. Corruption and the intense centralization of government power has created a lack of will among politicians, who risk giving up their power by supporting and enacting decentralization reforms.
  • “The unitary state need not be dismantled, but the counties must be provided with the power to formulate development agendas, dictate fiscal policy, and coordinate with central ministries, all following local demands. Although not a panacea to its institutional and developmental faults, a politically, fiscally, and administratively decentralized arrangement will prove constructive for Liberian democracy while less susceptible to the fraud that has long undermined governance” (Columbia Political Review, 2021).

Recent posts on this website about Liberia:


List of sources:

Actions on Genuine Democratic Alternatives (AGENDA), 2013.

Columbia Political Review, 2021

Duke Center for International Development (DCID), 2014: “Liberian officials trained in fiscal decentralization.”

Freedom House, 2011: “Liberia.”

Global Network for Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), 2013: “Security Council Resolution 1325: Civil Society Monitoring Report 2013.”

Governance Commission (GC), n.d.:

IBIS, 2012: “Country Strategy for IBIS Liberia 2012 – 2016.”

Stability Journal, ‘Decentralizing the State in Liberia: The Issues Progress and Challenges’

International Research & Exchange Board (IREX), 2010: “National Decentralization & Local Governance Policy: an Essential Step Toward Popular Participation.”

Liberia Democracy Watch (LDW), 2013:

Liberian Institute of Public Administration (LIPA), n.d.:

NAYMOTE, n.d.:

Quota Project, 2013: “Liberia.”

Republic of Liberia Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), 2014: “Liberia’s Decentralization Secretariat Program.”

Rural Integrated Center for Community Empowerment (RICCE), 2012.

UNCDF, 2013: “Liberia Decentralization and Local Development Programme. Final Report.”

PAPD, 2018

United Nations Division for Public Administration and Development Management (DPADM), 2004. “Republic of Liberia: Public Administration Country Profile.”

Vision For Liberia Transformation (VOLT), 2013: “Politics.”

Youth Partnership For Peace and Development (YPPD), 2012: