Gerald C. Koinyeneh
Africa-Press – Liberia. In a significant step toward advancing Liberia’s digital economy, the newly appointed Country Manager of the World Bank, Georgia Wallen has pledged unwavering support for the country’s digital transformation initiatives.
Speaking at the Liberia Country Diagnostic workshop on Tuesday, Ms. Wallen said the gathering reflects the World Bank, Liberian Government and the private sector’s collective recognition of the profound impact that digitalization can have on Liberia’s development, and at the same time pledged the World Bank’s commitment to bolster Liberia’s digital economy.
“We stand ready to support Liberia in pursuing approaches that will prioritize key interventions to boost opportunities, stimulate growth, foster more and better jobs, and improve the accessibility and quality of public and private services,” Ms. Wallen said.
Liberia, like many other African countries, is witnessing a growing interest in digital technology as a means to foster economic diversification and reduce poverty. And the World Bank Country Office, under the leadership of Ms. Wallen, aims to be a key partner in this transformative journey.
“We gather here today to take stock of the past, and plan for the future. We’ll assess Liberia’s digital transformation journey and to look ahead – what can Liberia’s digital transformation economy look like in the future? Today’s workshop comes at an opportune time,” she said.
She noted that the global economy is undergoing profound transformation, with “digital technologies revolutionizing the way we live, work, and interact.” She said the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this transformation, stepping up technology adoption worldwide and across sectors – including education, health, and finance. This presents both challenges and opportunities, she noted.
She also stated that in the last decade, the digital economy has grown at a rapid pace, now accounting for more than 15% of the global GDP. What do these changes mean for Liberia? How can the digital economy be harnessed to accelerate Liberia’s development, avoiding the risk that the country could be left behind, noting that in today’s interconnected world, digitalization is not a luxury but a necessity for economic growth, social development, and global competitiveness.
The event was Ms. Wallen’s first major activity since she took over as World Bank’s Country Manager in August this year. She thanked officials of the Liberian Government, especially the Minister of Post and Telecommunications Cllr. Worlea-Saywah Dunah for abandoning his busy schedules to grace the occasion.
In his remark, Minister Dunah emphasized that the government has embarked on transitioning into a knowledge-based economy and its inclusive information society with enhanced social development for all. “This is the vision we aspire to as a nation, in developing a vibrant ICT sector and this vision is captured in the President’s flagship agenda, the Pro Poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity,” he said.
He revealed that the government has embarked on working with stakeholders in the sector and development partners to develop a five-year national development digital transformation agenda that will meet the best ICT standards through which the government can achieve social economic social development as enshrined in the PAPD.
“We are beginning to build a digital economy where transactions by government institutions and private business entities will be fully technology driven. Studies have shown that a digitized economy is considered the main drivers of an economy in both developed countries and developing countries. And countries at various levels. We will help to increase capital and labor productivity, to obtain goods and services at not only lower prices but quick delivery.”
Key diagnostic findings
In its key diagnostic findings, the World Bank said Liberia has progressed in digital connectivity over the past decade, but internet usage is low, with only 8 percent of Liberians reported using the internet in 2018 according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) , well below the 22 percent average for Africa.
A bundle of at least 1 (GB) of mobile data cost US$3.33 in October 2019, equivalent to 6.7 percent of monthly per capita income. Liberia ranks 172 out of 181 countries in mobile data pricing. Liberia’s licensing regime is complex and fragmented, with multiple categories of licenses.
The World Bank noted digital entrepreneurship is nascent in Liberia as the country continues to put in place the key foundations of an enabling business environment. Liberia ranked 119 out of 137 countries in the Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEDI) in 2018.
Limited infrastructure, low level of digital literacy, and small market size have limited growth of business to consumer e-commerce ventures.
A small sample of digital entrepreneurs in Liberia shows most business ventures are new; 80 percent are operating less than a year; 56 percent employ less than five people; and just emerging; 75 percent report annual turnover to be less than US$50,000.
In a set of recommendations, the World Bank, among other things, called on the government to support rapid deployment of digital infrastructure through additional spectrum resources, flexibility in network traffic management and quality of service rules, classification of network equipment as essential infrastructure and rapid approval of network installations.
In addition, it called for special tariffs to support vulnerable consumers, and deferring of sector-specific taxes, reconsider the regulatory practices of retail tariff regulation and use of regulatory fees for domestic revenue mobilization among others.