Decentralizing Liberia with one-stop service shops

June 13, 2018

Former Margibi Superintendent John Buway displaying his license plate obtained from the County Service Center in Margibi County

People living outside Monrovia know all too well the hardship of trying to access basic government services. With notoriously dreadful roads, even in the dry season, moving from the counties to the capital could cost a lot of money and take weeks out of their lives; just for a birth or marriage certificate.

Today, every county (15 of them) has a County Service Centre covering a wide range of services for the people.

Martha Tarr, a mother of three, is a resident of Grand Bassa County. She is among several women who had arrived at the centre early in the morning to obtain a birth certificate for her one-and-a-half year old daughter.

“I want to thank UNDP, development partners and the Government for bringing the centre here. Now, we will not have to travel to Monrovia to get birth certificate for our children,” Tarr said.

Tarr said the center has taken off the stress of spending money on transportation and other fees to access such services.

In its move to decentralise, the Government of Liberia has established these county centres to put the services on the doorstep of the people who need them.

Decentralization is central to the ongoing peace building, reconciliation, governance reforms, and poverty reduction programs of Liberia. The Government of Liberia has committed to delivering to the Liberian people, an improved system of governance that is more localized and more responsive to the needs and aspirations of all citizens.

The Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Internal Affairs with a European Union Grant contribution, facilitated the establishment of County Service Centres (CSCs) in all of Liberia’s 15 counties. Over a two-year span, UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Internal Affairs with funding from donors like the European Union, the Government of Sweden and USAID, constructed or refurbished 15 centres, and outfitted the buildings with all the furnishings to make them functional.

As a result of this investment, government budgets have allocated significant funding to keep these centres operational.

“Our partners have helped us with these facilities and are very much willing to do more but they are looking at us to see how we manage these facilities,” said Dr. Amos Sawyer, former Chairman of the Governance Commission.

He told the people in Maryland during the commissioning of the CSC there that development partners are willing and ready to increase support to the development drive of Liberia, but it was equally important for the people to properly manage and use the existing facilities and structures.

Minister of Internal Affairs, Varney Sirleaf says the establishment of the Service Centres speaks to the commitment of the government and a clear manifestation and determination to bring the government closer to the people and promising that Monrovia will no longer be the only center of power and source of development policymaking.

Minister Sirleaf notes that the national policy on decentralization and local governance was launched to ensure that citizens are active partners in the governance of their local communities and counties.

“Our approach was to create county service centers in all counties; a county service center is a one stop shop where documentation relating to permits, licenses, and certificates are offered at the same cost and quality as they are in Monrovia” says Sirleaf.

The establishment of County Service Centres across Liberia’s 15 political subdivisions, is considered a one-stop shop set up to ensure that major documentation services are accessible to rural residents.

Now, the centres can provide those services all in one place closer to home, which is a great step towards decentralization.

With County Service Centers now accessible to them, rural dwellers spent fewer resources and time to obtain documents like marriage and birth certificates, work permits, land deeds, business permits and registration, among others.

Services have indeed been brought closer to them and they are grateful. According to residents, the establishment of these Centers relieves them of the stress in accessing important services.  They lauded the Government, donors and UNDP for bringing governance closer to the people.

The former Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, cut the ribbon to the Montserrado County Service Centre established in Bentol. It was the last of the 15 centres to open its doors.

Having basic government services at the county-level, according to former President Johnson Sirleaf, is only one part of decentralization. Liberia’s development depends on having these one-stop shops at the heart of counties, rather than clumped together in Monrovia.

“If you can’t get a drivers’ license, it’s not working. If you can’t get a wedding certificate, it’s not working. Let’s go that extra mile to show that it’s working as it should,” she said.

To date, more than 30,000 people have accessed 21 services nationwide, raising over US$500,000 in revenue for the government coffers, which goes back into the system to provide more services.

About 70% of those receiving birth certificates are women. Citizens, mainly women are normally seen lined up with their children to obtain birth certificates.