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1.2 The MRU: Legal and Institutional framework

1.2.1 Background

Through the visionary leadership of His Excellency Siaka P. Stevens, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, and His Excellency William R. Tolbert, Jr. President of the Republic of Liberia, the Mano River Union (MRU) was established on October 3, 1973 through a DECLARATION signed by the two Presidents in Malema Town in Pujehun District, Sierra Leone. The Declaration took into consideration the need to establish a firm foundation for lasting peace, friendship, freedom and social progress, as well as advancement of economic growth and cultural advancement through collaboration between the two countries within the framework of a Customs Union. The then People’s Revolutionary Republic of Guinea joined the Union on 25 October 1980, transforming the Union into a three-country instrument for multi-lateral cooperation for sustainable development. The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, which indicated interest in joining the Union and had been attending Union meetings as an observer since 2004, formally acceded to the Union on 15 May 2008.

1.2.2 Aims and Objectives of the Union

The aims and objectives of the Union are to:

  • the expansion of international Expand trade by the elimination of all barriers to mutual trade; by cooperation in trade; by the creation of conditions favorable to an expansion of mutual productive capacity, including the progressive development of a common protective policy and cooperation in the creation of new productive capacity;  
  • Secure a fair distribution of the benefits from economic cooperation;
  • The aims and objectives were expanded through the fourth protocol (1980) to incorporate areas of economic activity particularly in commerce, industry, transport and communications, agriculture, natural resources, financial and monetary matters.

The first steps in pursuance of these objectives were:                                                         

  • Liberalization of mutual trade in goods of local origin, through the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to such trade;
  • Harmonization of rates of import duties and other fiscal incentives applicable to goods of local origin, in order to ensure fair trading conditions and a harmonized  protective policy for local producers; and
  • Supporting measures, as necessary, for developing cooperation in the production of agricultural and manufactured products of local origin.

1.2.3 The Institutions of the Mano River Union and their Functions

In furtherance of the objectives of the Union, the following institutions were established:

  • The Union Summit of Heads of State and Government which is the supreme institution of the Union;
  • The Union Ministerial Council;
  • The Union Technical Commissions;
  • The Union Secretariat; and
  • Such other organizations, bodies, departments and services as are provided for by the Mano River Declaration and its protocols as amended or by resolutions of the Union Ministerial Council. 

The Union Summit of Heads of State and Government

The Union Summit of Heads of State and Government is the supreme institution of the Union. The Summit shall convene as and when deemed necessary to deal with matters submitted to it by the Union Ministerial Council.

The Union Ministerial Council

The Union Ministerial Council comprises Ministers responsible for Planning, Development, Economic Cooperation, Finance, Education, Trade, Industry, Agriculture, Transport, Communications, Energy, Natural Resources and Works in the Member States. Other Ministers of Member States may attend Meetings of the Council when matters of interest to them are on the agenda. The Union Ministerial Council shall:

  • Ensure the proper functioning and development of the Union in conformity with the provisions of the Mano River Declaration and its Protocols as amended;
  • Give directives to all subordinate institutions of the Union through the Secretariat so as to ensure the efficient and harmonious working of the Union;
  • Make recommendations to the Union Summit of Heads of State and Government on matters of policy designed to effect the efficient and harmonious functioning and development of the Union;
  • Establish financial policies, procedures, rules and regulations which shall govern the handling of the finances of the Union including but not limited to budget procedures, expenditures and arrangements for auditing;
  • Consider and approve the Annual Budget of the Union including but not limited to the Union Training and Research Establishments and to determine the contributions of each Member State thereto;
  • Authorize the Secretariat or any other subordinate institution to negotiate in all areas of cooperation with Member States, third countries and international organizations or institutions with the view to implementing the aims and objectives of the Mano River Union; and
  • Execute such other functions as the Union Summit of Heads of State and Government may from time to time direct.

The Union Ministerial Council shall be headed by a Chairman and three Vice Chairpersons who will be elected on a rotational basis so that each country has the same chance to assume leadership. The Council shall hold its Ordinary Session once a year. On the decision of the Chairman and in consultation with the Vice Chairpersons and the Secretary General, Special Sessions will be convened as and when necessary.

The decisions of the Union Ministerial Council shall be by consensus and such decisions shall be resolutions which:

  • Make recommendations to the Union Summit of Heads of State and Government;
  • Make recommendations to Member States for certain actions to be taken;
  • Give directives to the Secretariat and other subordinate Institutions.

Technical Commissions of the Union

Technical Commissions were proposed to be established with responsibilities in the respective areas/sectors below:

  • Trade and Industry;
  • Agriculture, Forestry and fisheries;
  • Transport and communications;
  • Education, Training and Research;
  • Finance and administration; 
  • Energy and Natural Resources;
  • Health; and
  • Peace and security

The Commissions shall comprise Officials of Governments and Professionals designated by the Member States. They will examine issues relative to their respective fields on their initiative, upon directive of the Union Ministerial Council or at the request of the Secretary General. The Commissions shall meet at least once a year but may hold Special meetings as and when necessary based on the outcome of technical consultations or requests from Member States.

The signing of the Fifteenth Protocol on Defense, Security, Internal Affairs and Foreign Affairs on 9 May 2000 which provided for the establishment of a Joint Security Committee now requires the establishment of a Commission on Peace and Security.

The Mano River Union Secretariat

The Union Secretariat is the technical and administrative instrument through which the Union pursues its noble objectives. The Secretariat, in collaboration with the institutions of the Union and with support from donors and development partners, prepares strategic plans for the Union; oversee the formulation of projects and programmes in support of the plan as well as their implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on activities undertaken; plans for and facilitate the holding of meetings of the institutions of the Union; approve projects and programmes in support of the objectives of the Union; represent the Union at various fora geared towards the political, social and economic development of the sub-region; and mobilizes resources in support of projects and programmes for the Union.

The Secretariat is headed by a Secretary General (the Principal Executive officer of the MRU) supported by three Deputies who are nominated and appointed by their respective Heads of State and Government to serve for four years with possibility to serve a second term based on recommendation from the Union Ministerial Council. The Secretary General shall be a national of a Member State other than that in which the Headquarters is located while the Deputies shall be national of Member States other than that of the Secretary General. One of the Deputies shall serve as the Budget and Finance Comptroller as well as oversee administrative matters while the other two Deputies will manage the programme areas of the Union. This is to ensure equitable distribution of statutory posts to Member States.

At the professional level, Programme Officers (one from each country) will be recruited by the Secretary General on a competitive basis to head various programme areas. A Finance and Administrative Officer will be recruited to support the work of the Budget and Financial Comptroller. Required professional, technical and administrative staff will be recruited to support the work of the Secretariat. The appointment and recruitment processes to fill the various positions approved by the Summit in May 2008 in Monrovia were completed in 2009 to enable the Secretariat to have basic capacity to effectively deliver on its mandate.

Ad Hoc Committees and Working groups comprising of Government Officials and Professional from Member States, shall be instituted by the Secretary General as and when necessary to address various concerns of the Union. Liaison Officers shall be appointed by Member States upon the request of the Union Ministerial Council in respect of specific projects and programmes and shall cooperate with the Secretariat in the execution of mandates given them.

The Secretariat shall establish Sub-Offices in the Member States of Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire to effectively support the work of the Secretariat. The Sub-Offices will be manned by Coordinators and supported by Administrative Assistants and drivers all of whom will be recruited on competitive basis.

The MRU Secretariat has been mandated[1] to chart the desired course of action for addressing the challenges facing the sub-region within the framework of four main pillars so that ultimately, the vision of the Union: ‘to ensure the establishment of a peaceful, stable and prosperous sub-region’ is attained. The four programmatic pillars are:

  • Institutional Revitalization and Restructuring;
  • Peace and Security;
  • Economic Development and Regional Integration; and
  • Social Development.

This strategic plan presents a roadmap for addressing the challenges facing the Union for the period 2012-2014, through projects and programmes that will be formulated and implemented within the framework of the above pillars.

Peace and Security
Institutional Revitalization and Restructuring
Transboundary Water Bassin Management.   Trade and Industry.   Infrastructure.
Implementation of Provisions of the 15th Protocole on Peace, Security and Defence.   Border Management.   Democratic Governance.   Agriculture and Food Security.   Environmental Conservation and Management.   Mineral Sector.   Youth Employment. 
Institutional capacity building of MRU Secretariat.   Enhancement of technical capacity in the public sector of Member States.     Review of Past Projects and Programmes.
Social Development
Economic Development and Regional Integration
Health.   Education.   Women and Children.

 The pillar components are provided below.

[1] The Heads of MRU States and Government, in May 2008, at a Summit Meeting in Monrovia, Liberia, and later at a Mini-Summit in Freetown, Sierra Leone on 10 December 2008 identified the four focus areas for the MRU secretariat.