Salone News

MCC: Financial assistance with good intentions

10 November 2020 at 13:12 | 1181 views

By Our Correspondent

Maria Brewer, the American ambassador to Sierra Leone, was on Monday at State House to give President Bio the latest scorecard on Sierra Leone’s performance on the Millennium Challenge’s indicators. Sierra Leone has now scored 13 out of the 20 indicators, which means it’s getting closer to a compact.

According to the MCC website, compacts are " five-year agreements through which the United States provides grants to partner countries to support programs to reduce poverty through economic growth."

But what is MCC itself? Again we go back to their website. Here is what it says:

"The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an innovative and independent U.S. foreign assistance agency that is helping lead the fight against global poverty.

Created by the U.S. Congress in January 2004 with strong bipartisan support, MCC has changed the conversation on how best to deliver smart U.S. foreign assistance by focusing on good policies, country ownership, and results. MCC provides time-limited grants promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, and strengthening institutions. These investments not only support stability and prosperity in partner countries but also enhance American interests. With cost-effective projects, a lean staff, and an evidence-based approach, MCC is a good investment for the American people.

What is distinctive about MCC?
MCC forms partnerships with developing countries who are committed to good governance, economic freedom and investing in their citizens. MCC is a prime example of smart U.S. Government assistance in action, benefiting both developing countries and the American taxpayers through:

Competitive selection: MCC’s Board examines a country’s performance on 20 independent and transparent policy indicators and selects countries based on policy performance.

Country-led solutions: MCC requires selected countries to identify their priorities for achieving sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. Countries develop their MCC proposals in broad consultation within their society. MCC then works in close partnership to help countries refine programs.

Country-led implementation: When a country is awarded an MCC compact, it sets up a local accountable entity to manage and oversee all aspects of implementation. Monitoring of funds is rigorous, transparent and often managed through independent fiscal agents.

Focus on results: MCC is committed to producing results and ensuring that the American people are getting a good return on their investment. MCC employs technically rigorous, systematic and transparent methods of projecting, tracking and evaluating the impacts of its programs.

MCC grants are designed to complement other U.S. and international development programs, as well as create an enabling environment for private sector investment. There are three primary types of MCC grants:

Compacts—large, five-year grants for selected countries that meet MCC’s eligibility criteria

Concurrent Compacts for Regional Investments—grants that promote cross-border economic integration, and increase regional trade and collaboration

Threshold Programs—smaller grants focused on policy and institutional reform in selected countries that come close to passing MCC’s eligibility criteria and show a firm commitment to improving their policy performance."

From the above we can see that the Americans are not just giving away their money "fiti fata" or with no strings attached, as they used to do during the Cold War days. Now they are asking partner countries to ensure good governance, economic freedom and investment in its citizens. What this means is ensuring things like civil and human rights, control of corruption, free and fair elections, professional security forces, liberal market policies, providing free, quality education, job opportunities and so on.

Sierra Leone, according to a State House report on the Monday meeting has passed most of the MCC indicators or requirements and will soon get a compact agreement with MCC. It already has an ongoing threshold agreement which is being managed by no less a person as Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh.

However a big problem for Sierra Leone is only one MCC indicator, the one on land rights and access to land. Land in the country is mostly controlled by traditional authorities and it’s under what is known as Customary Law. The traditional rulers control land on behalf of the people. Land is the only "property" owned by desperately poor rural folks. It therefore cannot be sold to investors, only leased. The thinking is selling the land to outsiders will mean the rural poor would sooner or later have to work for foreigners in their plantations as was and to a large extent still is the case in South Africa where land owned by black South Africans was forcibly taken away from them, not even bought. It was the same situation in neighbouring Zimbabwe but former President Robert Mugabe corrected that before he passed away.

So the Sierra Leone parliament, traditional authorities and MCC agents, would have to sit together and find a way to deal with the land issue so that Sierra Leone could get a compact agreement. Land rights and access is a very volatile and a very sensitive issue in Sierra Leone. It was at the bottom of the extreme violence perpetrated in rural areas during the civil war.

Sierra Leone can still get a compact without the land indicator, say 19 out of the 20 indicators, which is highly possible.

Liberia has had a compact agreement with MCC for quite some time now. The Liberian police has a history of extreme violence towards ordinary citizens. But since the country signed an MCC agreement and money started pouring into the country from MCC and other American agencies, the Liberian police has largely abandoned its violence. Nowadays when citizens request a permit to demonstrate the Liberian police will speedily grant it, protect the demonstrators and even give them bottled cold water to drink. Perhaps MCC has something to do with it.

Here is MCC CEO Sean Cairncross offering more explanations on how his organisation works: