Getting Reforms Off the Ground: Roberts International Airport, Liberia, 2006-2009

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office as president of Liberia in January 2006, just a few years after the end of a 14-year civil war, the nation’s largest airport was in financial tatters. Roberts International Airport was deep in debt and reliant on government subsidies to operate, it had no auditable trail of revenues and expenditures, and it suffered from a bloated payroll, a severe skills shortage and a culture of corruption. The United States Agency for International Development had pledged support for Roberts, but corruption throughout Liberia’s transitional government between 2003 and 2005 concerned the agency. Under the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP), an agreement between international donors and the Liberian government, Liberian Alexander Cuffy, an internationally recruited financial controller, worked to stop the diversion of donor money from Roberts to private pockets and implement a system of controls to improve financial management. Between 2006 and 2009, Cuffy worked with Julius Dennis and Abraham Simmons, successive managing directors at Roberts, to implement a series of reforms to make the airport viable again. They established financial controls that helped bolster the airport’s financial position, eliminated unnecessary workers, trained the remaining staff, wrote a complete operating manual, and purchased much-needed equipment with U.S. and World Bank financial support. With these reforms in place, Roberts met International Civil Aviation Organization standards, and U.S. regulators approved the facility to handle flights to and from America. This case illuminates some of the steps required to produce an agency turnaround in a post-conflict setting.
Jonathan Friedman drafted this case study on the basis of interviews conducted in Monrovia, Liberia, during June and July 2011. Case published October 2011.
Associated Interview(s): Abraham Simmons
Roberts International Airport
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Critical Tasks
Civil service corruption
Computerization of records
Salary structure reform
Core Challenge
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Jonathan (Yoni) Friedman