Monday, June 18, 2012

A Heartfelt Au Revoir

Incredibly, a month in Liberia has come to an end. It is hard to believe that I have been here for four working weeks. The time has simply flown by. That is largely because the work here has been so interesting and the days have been extremely busy.

Much has been accomplished in a short time. As I mentioned previously, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry does not have a lawyer on staff. There used to be a general counsel (who was quite good by all reports) but he decided to pursue a career in the United States and was not replaced. Like most things here it was simply a question of budgetary constraints. Obviously, money is tight and every expenditure is carefully scrutinized. Thus, Liberia has had to rely on foreign assistance in so many respects – technical, training, professional, security and otherwise. They couldn’t exist without the generosity of the Western world and the NGOs.

As a result of this trip, we have been able to identify for the Liberian WTO Negotiating Team the various laws that will need to be revised (or enacted) in order to comply with WTO requirements. In addition, specific amendments have been suggested for their consideration. Since accession is not expected to occur until 2017 there is time to refine this work, but the important point is that they now have a general idea of what is required on the legal front to make accession a reality. In addition, the WTO consultants from Geneva have been here all week to prepare the Negotiating Team for their first ever meeting with the WTO on July 11. Hopefully, they will be ready for that initial test.

Concurrently with WTO accession, Liberia would like to conduct a full review of all of its commercial laws to ensure they are up to international standards. This includes their business corporation statutes, partnership laws, commercial code, international dispute resolution mechanisms, e-commerce laws, anti-money laundering laws, consumer protection laws and so on. It is a large task. This project was begun in 2009 but had to be suspended due to lack of funds. It now falls to ISLP (and me) to try to fill that gap. It is a terrific opportunity and challenge!! I will be working on that as this project continues.

One of the most rewarding aspects of working here is how grateful people are for the assistance. It is very gratifying to hear how thankful they are for any assistance the Western world can provide.

Today was the time for goodbyes – heartfelt hugs and shaking of hands all round. I will miss the Liberians as much (or more) than they will miss me. I am incredibly impressed by the personal commitment, dedication and enthusiasm I have witnessed on the part of the people I have had the pleasure of working with. They are not well paid but they work hard and for long hours to attempt to get this country back on its feet. They have my complete admiration.

The Minister asked me today if I could come back as the WTO process proceeds and I readily accepted. It will definitely be wonderful to return to Canada and my practice at Torys after a month long absence. Nonetheless, I certainly look forward to a return trip some time down the road to this lovely country to try to continue with what has begun. Hopefully, this project will assist, in the long run at least, in improving Liberia’s economic position and development prospects.

I look forward to seeing you all soon. Tonight I begin the long journey tonight back to Canada. Many thanks to those who have given me helpful (and positive!!) feedback on these blog postings.

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