President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says despite the mounting challenges facing the country, it is, as a result of the combined efforts and resilience of all Liberians, stronger, safer, and steadier than it has been in many years.
“Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro-Tempore…, I can say, with confidence, that the consolidation of the processes of Liberia’s renewal is solid; that our Agenda for Transformation, within the context of our National Vision 2030, is sound, realistic and achievable. I salute all Liberians, and thank our development partners for this remarkable achievement,” the Liberian leader said.
According to an Executive Mansion release, the Liberian leader made the statement on Monday, January 27, when she delivered her ninth Annual Message to the 3rd Session of the 53rd National Legislature at the Capitol Building in fulfillment of a constitutional requirement.
Article 58 of the Constitution mandates the President of Liberia to present the administration’s legislative program for the ensuing session, and also report to the Legislature on the state of the Republic on the fourth working Monday in January each year.
As the event got under way, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. J. Alex Tyler, called for both Houses of the National Legislature to resolve into Joint Session for the sole purpose of hearing the Annual Message of the President of the Republic. That being decided, the President was escorted into the Chamber. Following the singing of National Anthem, President Sirleaf then delivered her Annual Message to the Nation, speaking for two and a half hours.
Speaking on the theme: “Consolidating the Processes of Transformation,” President Sirleaf reminded Liberians that although the country has a long way to overcome the challenges that her government inherited after long years of conflict, division, marginalization and exclusion, it will require commitment to stay the course in the fight against corruption and courage to ensure that rights and freedoms are protected. “Today, the bonds of the nation are stronger; the direction of our advance is clearer; and the common purpose of nation-building is compelling us to reach out to each other beyond our superficial differences in tribe, age, gender, religion and associations,” she said.
On the Legislative Agenda, President Sirleaf thanked the Legislature for passing into law several pieces of legislation relevant to the country’s reconstruction process. A total of 46 bills were passed and received during the 2nd Session of the 53rd Legislature, she observed, and called upon the First Branch, during its 3rd Session, to consider passage of other bills that have been submitted but remain under deliberation, as well as those that await ratification.
The Liberian leader said the Executive Branch would shortly submit Bills intended to enhance government’s operations, which included: the Bill to create Criminal Court “F” to fast track cases dealing with corruption and related economic and financial crimes; a Bill to ratify the Loan Agreement between the National Port Authority and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development for the rehabilitation of the Port of Greenville; a Bill to strengthen the Drug Enforcement Agency; a Bill to establish the Liberia National Tourism Authority; a Bill to ratify the protocol establishing the Community Court of Justice for ECOWAS; a Bill to Create Special Economic Zones; a Bill to Establish an Energy Law to govern the energy sector; as well as Bills to repeal all repressive laws found in the statutes and decrees of the erstwhile People’s Redemption Council.
On the state of the economy, the Liberian leader indicated that her administration has made significant advances in economic growth and development over the last eight years, but she reminded Liberians that the country is recovering from a low economic base where 90 percent of the productive capacity had been destroyed. “Coming from where we were – a broken, destroyed and nearly incapacitated country – we have made marked progress in economic revitalization and the restoration of basic social services as part of the governance pact with the Liberian people,” President Sirleaf informed legislators and her compatriots, adding that “socioeconomic conditions have improved as a result of the combined strong efforts of the national government, the people of Liberia and our development partners.”
She said that although much has been achieved in economic and social development, including the reduction in the effects of the multi-dimensions of poverty, significantly more must be done and that more will be done; that what is required is continued peace and stability and the combined efforts of all Liberians in advancing the national cause of shared growth and development.
On the depreciation of the Liberian dollar against the United States dollar, President Sirleaf acknowledged that the local currency, relatively stable since 2010, came under enormous pressure resulting in a depreciation of 15 percent. “This was due in part to deteriorating terms of trade caused by rising demand for imports and decline in exports from rubber which, along with iron ore, represents 95 percent of total exports,” the Liberian leader pointed out, noting further that the UNMIL drawdown also impacted the injection of foreign exchange into our market.
President Sirleaf stated that the depreciation was also due to speculative capital flight, which was addressed by the Central Bank of Liberia’s (CBL) intervention in the foreign exchange market to mop up the excess Liberian dollar liquidity that contributes to exchange rate volatility. Another CBL decision placed US$22 million in commercial banks as economic stimulus lending to the agricultural and construction sectors and to Liberian businesses, the President said, adding that the beneficial results of this action can only be assured through better coordination and cooperation by the leadership of the CBL and the Ministry of Finance. The President emphasized, nevertheless, that the high level of dollarization moderated the effect of the depreciation, keeping inflation at a single-digit 7.5 percent, which compares favorably with other countries in the region.
On the issue of dual currency, President Sirleaf announced that a four-year roadmap has been formulated to address the issue through a rational and gradual transition process of de-dollarization through the removal of barriers to increase demand for transaction in Liberian dollars. “A more effective coordination role by the monetary and fiscal authorities will ensure that the economy performs as planned and the roadmap is implemented as envisioned,” she assured.
Agriculture remains the key sector of the economy for local employment creation, poverty reduction, food security and income generation, as over 60 percent of the population depends on this sector for livelihood, the Liberian President stated. While her government has listed food security as a national priority, she admitted that there has been under-investment by both the public and private sectors.
“Only massive investment can fix this under-performing sector so that it can play the vital role of delivering inclusive economic growth, environmental sustainability and long-term poverty reduction,” President Sirleaf said, adding, “Our scarce budget resources cannot do this, given the many other priorities, so we will need to attract investment from the private sector, while at the same time, the private sector will not respond if there is continued harassment, extortion and unreasonable community demands.”
On Foreign Affairs, the Liberian leader told the National Legislature that consistent with the country’s national interest, the Executive continues to engage positively with all friendly countries and peoples around the world, including in the Mano River Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and the African Union, thereby upholding the ideals of peace and security, and the advancement of regional integration and cooperation. She also mentioned an increased foreign diplomatic presence in Liberia as a result of effective diplomacy, and a vote of confidence in the country’s future, mentioning in that regard the reopening of the British Embassy in Monrovia, with a Resident Ambassador after more than 20 years; and the opening of Embassies of Brazil, Sweden and the State of Qatar at the level of Resident Ambassadors.
President Sirleaf, however, lamented the conditions of Liberian-owned properties in a number of countries, pointing out that most of the Embassies are understaffed, staff accommodation is less than desirable, and because of inadequate rental allowances, many officers are forced to live in areas that are not representative of their status as diplomats of the Republic. Additionally, there is no budget provision for education allowance or medical insurance coverage for staff, and in many instances Government is in breach of laws of the host countries regarding benefits of local employees.
She underscored that the Government may need at least US$20 million in order to bring all of Liberia’s properties abroad to a minimum standard – an amount which would also enable Government to improve salaries and other benefits for staff, and make it easier to rotate, retire and clean up the Foreign Service.
Under the Security, Peace, Justice and Rule of Law Pillar of the Agenda for Transformation, the Liberian President termed the celebration of a Decade of Peace in 2013 as a milestone achievement for the nation, and added, “We are all proud of this collective achievement, recognizing that violence, which knows no boundaries or differences, shatters and destroys; while peace pools the resources of a people, leading them to greater development.”
She said with the support of the international community, especially of the United States and with United Nations peacekeeping and peace-building efforts, Liberia has rebuilt a new, ethnically balanced and professional army, now 1,980 persons strong; and has embarked upon a process to enhance the professional capacity of the Liberia National Police, immigration and intelligence agencies in line with their responsibility for security within the nation’s borders. However, much work remained to be done, she said, as she welcomed the latest UN Security Council resolution extending the UNMIL mandate to September 30, 2014.
President Sirleaf announced that at the 2014 Armed Forces Day celebrations, she will install a Liberian Army Chief of Staff, a Deputy and Brigade Commander, if confirmed by the Senate. Liberia would then bid farewell to General Suraj Abdurrahman who has served Liberia so well as the Command Officer-in-Charge.
Speaking on the activities of non-governmental organizations in the country, President Sirleaf noted that there are 997 – national and international – operating in Liberia, and added that as both government and NGOs strive to speed up the country’s post-conflict development, NGOs must ensure efficiency, transparency and accountability in their delivery of services to the Liberian people.
President Sirleaf continued: “To ensure that we achieve this partnership, the Government will require national and international NGOs to submit a report of their annual activities, and register with the relevant government agency every year; that NGOs disclose to the Government of Liberia the details of the funds pledged by donors for project implementation in the country; that funds secured for capacity building are utilized, in collaboration with the relevant Ministries or Agencies of Government; that all funds released to NGOs by a donor should be transferred from the donor to the NGOs through an account in a commercial bank in Liberia; that all vehicles owned by NGOs should be registered in the name of the organization and be clearly marked with the name and logo of the organization or face impoundment; and that all assets owned by international non-governmental organizations purchased or acquired with donor funds are the property of the Liberian people who are the direct beneficiaries. In an instance where an organization decides to close down its operations, the organization shall surrender such assets to the sector Ministries or Agencies of Government in which such NGO operated.”
On the reorganized General Auditing Commission which initiated 57 audits for 2013, President Sirleaf said that with the Constitution and laws clear on accountability in the use of public resources, she expects that the work plans of the GAC will go beyond the Executive to include the other two branches of government. She added: “We look forward to a reorganized and re-energized GAC that is media shy and committed to a good governance process which ensures the highest level of integrity and a commitment to uphold the public trust.”
Touching on the media, President Sirleaf stressed that a free media is an indispensable tool to the preservation, promotion and protection of a free, democratic society. “It can be an effective mirror for society. It is an industry that trades in news and has great impact on public opinion. It therefore has a grave responsibility to make sure information is disseminated; and that the information so disseminated, most importantly, is accurate,” she said.
The Liberian leader noted that as this is a political year, and elections are around the corner, great interests will be at stake. People will speak loudly to be heard and will want the media as their echo chambers. The media will play a major role in this year’s elections.
President Sirleaf reminded media practitioners that freedom is not free, and the price is oftentimes not measured in monetary value. “The price the nation and many innocent victims pay from irresponsible reporting damages the image of our country, damages hard-won reputations, and adversely affects national growth and development opportunities.” She added: “As we maintain our values, supporting the right of free expression, we must do so conscious that the purpose of that value is the collective enhancement of our society. We must therefore rebuff abuse of that right and recognize that the Constitution requires that we are responsible for the abuse of that right.”
With her constitutional duty fulfilled, and the National Anthem sung, President Sirleaf was escorted from the Chamber and the Joint Session of the National Legislature was adjourned.
A reception followed, on the Grounds of the Capitol Building, hosted by the Speaker and Members of the Legislature in honor of the President of the Republic.