Monrovia - In his first attempt at a presidential quest, businessman Benoni Urey is raising eyebrows with his brash style and no-holds-barred stance on the issues.
“It is a compliment comparing me to the President of the United States of America but there is some aspect of President Trump that needs improvements. I hope it is not those aspects that they are attributing to me but I think President Trump is a great leader” – Mr. Benoni Urey, Presidential Candidate, All Liberia Party
At last week’s first presidential debates in Liberia, the standard bearer of the All Liberia Party was engaging, at times polarizing and provided the platform the lightning rod persona compared only to US President Donald Trump.
It is a comparison Mr. Urey told FrontPageAfrica on the eve of the debates, he embraces with reservations as he embarks on his quest for the Liberian presidency.
He (Senator George Weah) is an extremely nice person but being nice, playing football does not give you the experience and the know how to run a country. But some of these people, some of the most educated Liberians, they want to stay behind him, hoping that they can become minister one day to just steal, they are not looking at the good of the country – Mr. Benoni Urey, Presidential Candidate, All Liberia Party
In this exclusive interview, the ALP leader speaks bluntly about his rivals, the rugged political terrain and his plans to transform Liberia if given the chance by voters after the October 10 ballots are cast.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: We have more than a dozen persons running for the Liberian Presidency. Why Should Liberians entrust you with the presidency?
BENONI UREY: Well, because I’ve been here with them. Of all the candidates running, I am about the only one who has been here with them, who has shown them vividly what I can do. Most Liberians have experienced my managerial skills, they have experienced my commitment to development, they have experienced my love for Liberia and they know what I’m capable of doing. They have seen the works of my hands and they have heard and listen to my accomplishments
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: You look at the field out there and many Liberians are unsure whether this crop of candidates has what it takes to transform this country. What sets you apart from the rest of the field?
UREY: My accomplishments, my experience, my love for Liberia and my comprehension as it relates to the problems of Liberia and my involvement in not only the economy of Liberia; but in all social aspects of Liberia: Religious, organizational, all. They have experienced my involvement in them.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: The issue of corruption has come up a lot in this country, particularly as it relates to the outgoing government. What’s your plan to eliminate graft in this country?
UREY: The talk of corruption has been going on for more than fifty years. We must not only talk about Ellen’s government but let’s go back to Samuel Doe. He executed 13 persons and one of the crime was corruption. Tolbert declared war on corruption and none of these leaders were able to successfully tackle corruption. But we believe that we will give it our best shot and we believe we will accomplish something and the reason for that is that we have to do what these leaders did not do.
They did not put together the requisite structures to fight corruption. Maybe they did have a commitment to fight it but having a commitment to fight corruption will not necessarily win the battle, but putting the necessary structures in place. Take for example, you have to create a fast track court to fight corruption and you have to ensure that whoever heads that court or courts – because you might have to do more than one in other counties would be committed to the fight on corruption – and not only that. There are other structures that one must put in place to ensure that corruption is really gone after. In addition to that, we must set example.
We believe that if the president or head of state of Liberia would have arrested, prosecuted ten corrupt government officials, it would have put some fear in this country and people would have been afraid to get involved in corruption. If you had arrested a few of them, prosecute them, put them in the orange suits and parade them through the principal streets of Monrovia, people will know that when you steal from the government and the people of Liberia, this is where you will find out that people will fall in line.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: But the problem with that Mr. Urey is that – the President herself mentioned one time that part of the problem with that is when you do these things, people come and beg for their friends, families or loved ones. What if you become president and someone high-profile comes and beg for an accused. How would you react to that?
UREY: The structure that we are trying to put in place – anyone who comes and plead for someone who has been accused of corruption will be arrested.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Even if it is one of your relatives?
UREY: Yes, and I’m prepared to set the example – with my relatives. You know, we have said to you before and we want to reiterate what we said to you. We are prepared to risk our lives to ensure that we straighten out this country. Even if we have committed crimes before, we are prepared to put our lives on the line to get this country going. And, you know, if one of my relatives will set the first example, so it will be. We will do that. And that will signal to the Liberian people that this is the end of corruption. And if I accomplish nothing in my administration, I want to accomplish that.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Many people are comparing you to Donald Trump. The way you talk, the way you campaign, everyone is making the comparison to Donald Trump. Do you accept that – is it something you embrace?
UREY: Well, it is a compliment comparing me to the President of the United States of America but there is some aspect of President Trump that needs improvements. I hope it is not those aspects that they are attributing to me but I think President Trump is a great leader. We might have differences on some line but he did in America is something worth emulating, he took the campaign to the people and the majority elected him and I believe the American people should accept the will of the majority because that is what democracy is all about. But say as you may, there are problems and we hope that they can overcome the problems because the world looks up to America and Presidents all over the world look up to the United States of America. I, am no exception to that. I also look up to President Trump and I believe that given the chance, he will move America forward.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What do you think would be you most asset to Liberia, if you are elected President?
UREY: My experience with Liberians, my knowledge of the culture of Liberia, my education, my experience, and my patriotism. I think I am a nationalist when it comes to this country and I have shown it in a lot of instances and I’m not critical of the rest of the candidates neither am I saying I am holier than thou. But I believe most of what I have is in Liberia. I’ve lived in Liberia all my life, except for a few years when I went to do my masters at the University of Southern California in the US. I came in the same month of my graduation. I’ve been in this country, I’ve lived with the people, I’ve been with them through good times, through bad times. I speak a dialect, so when you talk about reconciliation, I give you an example – when one speaks about reconciliation, you have to know the people you going to reconcile. How can you bring someone from the United States to reconcile the differences between the Krahn and the Gio and Mano? You are not even a member of the traditional society; how can you reconcile them?
But I’m a part of them, I live with them, I know the culture, we’ve been living in this culture together, most of them I know. So, if you talk about reconciliation, it is so easily achieved with the right people and with the right knowledge. So, that is why I believe I am the right person for the job. Liberia will be reconciled; it will be reconciled in a few months. Secondly, you must recognize that when you speak about reconciliation, you cannot speak about reconciliation when everyone is hungry and don’t’ have a job. We have to speak about a government of inclusion where the Krahn people have a part to play, where the Gios, Manos and Mandingos, they all have a part to play in it. Nobody will want the country to go into problems, all of them will come around the table and we will reconcile Liberia to move this country forward.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: You are about to embark on a southeast tour. I’ve just come from there and the roads are in very bad conditions and most people in Grand Kru, Sinoe and Rivercess in particular feel that they have been abandoned. How do you hope to alleviate the plight in those areas?
UREY: I have been to the southeastern region many times and the problem is so grave – and I mean, the people are suffering. And we believe in the decentralization of governance in this country. I give you an example; they say people in Rivercess, the people in Sinoe are all rich diamonds and other resources. And none of these resources are taken back to the counties. They pay taxes to government. All the taxes, all the monies from these counties brought to Monrovia and only a few people benefit from them. Look, the monies made from these counties the majority has to go back to these counties so that these people can experience development. It’s like the federal system. You know we have to adopt what we have with that of the federal system. Take for example, superintendents, they must be elected, they cannot be appointed and let the people be responsible for their resources. What is this joke about county development funds where you give a few greedy people in the legislative branch of government money to steal. The money will go back to their counties. And the first few months of the administration we’re going to start doing that by executive orders until we pass it into law because you know executive orders are good for one year and if we can’t get it one year we will reissue another order and do it for another year until we can give back to the people. You know when we talk about it is time for the people to take control of the country we’re not talking about a revolution or speaking tribalism because who benefits in Monrovia, just a few bunch of people and they are from all ethnic groups and all tribes, in fact most of them are in the legislative branch of government and that’s almost totally indigenous.
We want to take the money from the corrupt few in Monrovia and take it back to the people. Eighty percent of the budget is what, reoccurring expenditures. How do we justify that, how? Everywhere in the world, a larger portion of the budget in put toward infrastructure development on the people but if you take 80 percent you got to be joking. Also, salaries, I’m going to accept a fifty percent decrease in my salary – and I expect that everybody else will do it until this country can get on its feet and that money from there we will use it to develop the counties. Look how much difficulty you encounter, driving from Monrovia to Sinoe, something that should take four hours, probably took you four days. And what does it take to pave a few miles of roads. In fact, we have mortgaged the resources of this country for a lot of things that are not in the interest of the people but building those roads would be in the interest of the Liberian people and these are things that we must tackle immediately.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: If you look at the economy – when you look at some of the posters, it reads: “The Papay Can Fix it. Once President Sirleaf leaves office, you know the price of iron ore is going down, rubber and other natural resources are losing value. How do you intent to fix the economy amid limited resources if elected?
UREY: Well, it might not be limited – it may not be what we expected but there are still some resources and in situations where resources are limited, you need more prudent management of the economy to ensure that the resources are properly utilized. Yes, our economy is based on the extractive resources, we have to look at other sources of revenue and we have to make this economy agro-based. When we say agro-based, we need to invest in agriculture and we need to invest in creating finished product to be exported. Even the unfinished product, vegetables, fruits, Ghana is exporting a lot of it, Ivory is exporting it, Guinea is exporting it, so why can we export mangos? Why can’t we export oranges? You know, we can do it. So, it’s not whether we can do it, but we must do it. We must find a solution.
So, if our economy is agro-based, we also must get involved in industry, especially mini industry where we can put finishing touches to our products and be able to export it to our neighboring countries. The population of Liberia is about four million. There’s nothing you can do business wise with four point something million dollars, so, what we’re saying here is that we’re going to get actively involved in the Mano River Union. You need to read the documents that created the Mano River Union. In fact, I had the privilege of meeting the president of Sierra Leone and he also shared the views I shared that we need to revamp the MRU because of you add the population of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and take for example we’re producing soap in Liberia. If Mano River decides that Liberia will supply soap for the entire Mano River region, you will have a market for it – if you add the population of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, you will have a good market. If you want to produce eggs and you say Guinea will produce all the eggs for all the Mano River, you will have the population of Guinea, Liberia and the Ivory Coast so the market is there, you don’t have to go outside of West Africa but most importantly here, what has happened to our country here, most of the businesses are closing down because our governments appear to be the most business unfriendly government I’ve seen in Liberia since I was born, you know we have the head of the Liberia Revenue Authority(LRA).
She’s actually involved in creating the unfriendly business atmosphere that has hindered the progress of doing business or the economy in Liberia. You don’t generate revenue by increasing taxes, you generate revenue by creating an enabling environment where people will freely and willingly come and invest in the country. The more people come the more taxes and revenue you generate but if you have four major businesses in Liberia and you continuously increase taxes, what will eventually happen? They will close down. And you provide no incentive for Liberian businesses. There were times when Liberian businesses were doing so bad, they couldn’t make it. What the government should have done was to infuse some money into the Liberian businesses or give them some tax haven where they can continue because once they pay taxes, they will continue to employ Liberians. But they don’t look at it that way because they don’t’ have the requisite training and experience and they don’t know what is really happening in Liberia and this is where we have our advantage. Most of the candidates, they have no experience in that area, they have no education in that area.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Who Do You Fear the Most: Weah or Boakai?
UREY: Both of them are jokes, both of them should not be running for president of Liberia and I believe the Liberian people will wake up and not vote for them.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Who would you prefer in the second round?
UREY: Any one of them. I’ll beat them flat – if there’s a second round.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Let’s look at your running mate. What was the thinking behind your selection?
UREY: You know, we were in search, not only me, all of our supporters; all of them, we were for once, we were searching for somebody who think the way we think, who could probably succeed us when we step down from the presidency, who share the vision for Liberia and we were looking for someone honest, someone who have lived in Liberia and know what life is in Liberia. We also wanted somebody who shares our values and beliefs, religious beliefs – and we saw all of that in this young man. We did not want someone who would be concerned about money, money, money, but someone who’s willing to sacrifice for his people. And you know he comes from a family of people who have sacrificed for Liberia. His father, Moses Duopou, his uncle Thomas Quiwonkpa, all of them, they all people who sacrificed, who made the ultimate sacrifice for Liberia. And he is an extremely smart young man, educated and willing to learn. The rest of it, if he does have shortcomings which everyone one will have I think his positives outweighs his negatives and I haven’t seen any negatives that concerns me and plus he is from Nimba County also. It is a highly populated county and we believe that the Nimbaians are people who believe in changes. They always want the best for Liberia and the first time I met and spoke to this guy, he never one time talk about himself, it was always about helping Liberia and his people in Nimba. I interviewed a lot of people from Nimba but it was always about himself. But he was basically concerned about the people.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Where does your strength lies in these elections, which counties do you think you have a strong base and following?
UREY: I would say three or four of them. Nimba, Bong, Margibi and Montserrado.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: And who do you see as your closest threat in this race?
UREY: You know, it’s a difficult thing. I don’t see them as a threat, I see them as having some votes in it. I think George Weah. You know, there’s a few fanatics about Ambassador Weah, you know, I know Weah very well, we’ve gotten along very well. He’s my good friend, my younger brother I would hate to say anything negative about Weah because we all worked together in CDC but I would hope that he would that he would realize his shortcomings and say, in the interest of Liberia, let somebody else do it because I know deep down in his heart, he knows he’s not prepared for the presidency but what is really disappointing is the amount of people around him that are not telling him the truth, who are educated and more prepared than he is. But because he’s a popular young man, he plays sport but you know playing football is different from running a country. He is an extremely nice person but being nice, playing football does not give you the experience and the know how to run a country. But some of these people, some of the most educated Liberians, they want to stay behind him, hoping that they can become minister one day to just steal, they are not looking at the good of the country. I tell you one thing, Weah looks more for the good of the country than the people around him. So, left alone, he probably would make the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What about you, who are some of the people you have advising you?
UREY: I tell you one thing, whether they do or not, they know me and I have made it crystal clear to them, if you came to ALP to steal or thinking you coming to get a lot of money, go somewhere else and we’ve already started setting examples with a few of them we caught stealing, we let you go. Even though we have not gone public to say this guy stole but we let you go and that we will not compromise – even at the extend of the presidency, we will not compromise that.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Any final message for those going to the polls in October?
UREY: We would like to appeal to our people that this decision on October 10, 2017 will be the most important decision you will make in your life, you must wake up, it’s not about you loving somebody or you wanting something from that person, it’s about the good of the country, they must look at all the candidates and evaluate us. We must never vote based on what we want but we must vote on what the Liberian people want. If you vote come October 10 and you go into that voting booth, it’s only going to be you and God and if you cast the wrong vote - and a few months after that, a few years after that, your mother gets ill and you have to take her to the hospital, her kidney is failing and there’s not dialysis equipment - and she dies, you killed her. If your children cannot get good education and they turn out bad in life because of that vote you cast, you are responsible for your children. If you going on the road and one of your relatives jump into a pothole and they die because they could not avoid the pothole, you killed them. I’m giving you these scenarios to let you know how important it is.
If your sister home or your brother home is broken up because they can support their home, you broke their home; if you cousins or other relatives become prostitutes because their parents cannot afford to give them their needs, you caused them to be prostitutes. This is how important the votes you will be casting come October 10 is. The choice is ours. They will be coming to you again with stolen money, stolen vehicles. Yes! Take the money, and in return boo them. They think you are stupid; you must never allow them to think that you are stupid. This election is about making Liberia work again. We will fix Liberia, we will get Liberia working again, we will put more money into the pockets of people, we will create jobs for Liberians and we will get the wheels of Liberia turning again.