Monrovia – PresidentEllen Johnson Sirleaf has openly admitted that corruption and reconciliation have remained major challenges her government is yet to unravel.
“We have not fully met the anti-corruption pledge that we made in 2006.
It is not because of the lack of political will to do so, but because of the intractability of dependency and dishonesty cultivated from years of deprivation and poor governance.” PresidentEllen Johnson Sirleaf
The President, since her ascendency, has coined several names for the menace, terming it ‘Public Enemy #1’, ‘vampire’ and now a ‘cancer’.
Disappointingly, at her final Annual Message at the joint chambers of the Legislature on January 23, the Presidentadmitted to her inability to fight corruption and reconcile Liberians.
“We have not fully met the anti-corruption pledge that we made in 2006. It is not because of the lack of political will to do so, but because of the intractability of dependency and dishonesty cultivated from years of deprivation and poor governance,” PresidentSirleaf said.
“We could not reap – you cannot reap – in government what has not been instilled in families, schools, churches, mosques and society in general,” she added.
She pointed out some gains her government had made in the fight against corruption, and boasted of setting the pace for her successors to follow in curbing corrupt. Sirleaf said despite stringent measures put in place to fight corruption; it continues to linger in every fabric of the Liberian society.
“Nevertheless, our efforts to fight corruption were recognized as Liberia met eligibility requirements for compact, under the Millennium Challenge Account, by consistently passing the rigid corruption index. Indeed, our administration has placed the nation,” she said.
She furthered boasted of creating more integrity institutions and formulating more laws and policies in the fight against corruption than any government in Liberia’s history.
Sirleaf said, assets declaration regime, a National Code of Conduct, a Financial Intelligence Unit, and the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission are signs of the government commitment in the fight against corruption.
“To go further, we have proposed the establishment of a Special Corruption Court, and the passage of seven anti-corruption bills that could be fast-tracked before this administration ends.”
Like this year’s address, PresidentSirleaf has often called for the establishment of a corruption court but all to avail. When Bong County Senator, Jewel Howard Taylor, proposed the setting up of the same court in 2015, many thought the Presidentwould have buttressed the lawmaker’s move.
Sirleaf’s adminstartion has been embroiled in corruption allegation since its inception, and her critics have lashed at her for shielding the alleged culprits. But on Monday, she insisted that all the anti graft measures taken by her administration point to her government’s will to curb the ‘national cancer’.
Responding to a wave of recent condemnation of the government’s rigid tax regime, the Presidentsaid: “High tax concessions must apply and Liberians must be willing to pay their taxes.”
Kicking off her Annual Message PresidentSirleaf vaunted about being proud of her contributions to Liberia in the past 11 years.
"I am 78 years and I've fought Liberia's battle for more than 50 years," she said.
The Annual Message is in keeping with Article 58 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution, which, among others, mandates the Presidentto present the administration's Annual Report on the nation's state of affairs, as well as Legislative agenda on the fourth working Monday in January of each year for the next session. The Liberian leader final annual speech failed to address core issues including the deplorable economic condition of the state and viable ways of curbing an endemic corruption.
PresidentSirleaf is challenging citizens to vote responsibly in the upcoming legislative and presidential elections.
The Liberian Leader in an effort to have a smooth transition proposed a two day electoral forum with all political parties thus putting Dr. Amos Sawyer in charge of convening such meeting.
“I have asked Dr. Amos Sawyer, Chairman of the Governance Commission, to convene the meeting. Apart from having played a leadership role in crafting the current Constitution, he presided over the Interim Government of National Unity and has served as election monitor in multiple places on the continent. He will be the best person to lead such a process. As soon as we work out logistics, in the next few days, Dr. Sawyer will be asked to proceed,” Sirleaf said.
“We must never forget, however, that in our small, interrelated society, where virtually everybody knows everyone, and papa has made too many stops before getting home, it will take the collective will to subject ourselves, our family, our friends and our colleagues to the rule of law, ” the Liberian leader said.
Opposition Party Criticizes Speech
But Liberty Party Political leader Cllr. Charles Brumskine frowns on PresidentSirleaf’s proposal adding that the rules shouldn’t change in the middle of the game.
“I want Liberty Party to react tonight to something that the Presidentsaid, that is appointing Amos Sawyer of the Governance Commission to call standard bearers and political parties to talk, we can’t have the Presidentof Liberia choose the rule at the eleventh hour, I want the Presidentto rescind that part of the annual message but we will respond to the rest of it later on,” Cllr. Brumskine said.
Brumskine continues: “I asked the vice chair for political affairs to get the Presidentaddress, so that we can prepared our response in a reasonable time.”
PresidentSirleaf considered the upcoming elections as the greatest test to Liberia democracy adding that forum will provide a solution to a peaceful election.
“As we move toward the greatest test of our democracy, the coming elections, we note that despite calls from the National Elections Commission, campaigning for the 2017 elections seems well under way.”
“As we prepare for open campaigning in a few months, I propose a two-day electoral forum, with all political parties and registered independent presidential candidates, to discuss issues pertaining to the electoral process and arrive at a common ground for the campaign and its aftermath.”
‘Papa Making Many Stops’ – PresidentSirleaf
Putting bread on the tables of many families under this regime continue to be an uphill task, but the Presidentpointed the arrow in the direction of fathers as been responsible.
PresidentSirleaf said: “I pledged that papa would come home with something to sustain his family; that we would make our children smile again; that we would build capacity and empower our youth to enable them to participate meaningfully in our nation’s reconstruction.
Everyone vividly remembers our pledge that, under our administration, corruption would be public enemy number one, that we would wage war against the scourge regardless of where it existed or by whom it was practiced.”
Reacting to that portion of the Presidentaddress to the nation, former Labor Minister, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe described the statement as an excuse for the government inability to provide jobs.
“I think her statement that papa made many stops before reaching home is just an excuse route, because the main point is papa has no job so how will he come home when he has nothing in his pocket to take to his family,” argued Cllr. Gongloe.
Education Reform amid Messy System
The educational sector which was termed as a ‘mess’ was boasted about when Sirleaf reported that several educational reforms ranging from increase in enrollment to the much talked about Public Partnership Program for public schools.
“In our desire to make higher education available throughout the country, we re-established and reconstructed the William V.S. Tubman University in Harper, Maryland County, as the second national university, and constructed new facilities at the University of Liberia’s Fendell Campus".
"We also established Community Colleges in seven counties, with the intent to expand to others. However, our effort has not produced the desired results due to resource constraints and poor management,” she said.
In her effort to cut down cost and solve mismanagement PresidentSirleaf placed the underfunded university of Liberia in charge of all community colleges, something critics say is doom to failed and increase the educational mess within tertiary institutions.
“Moving away from what is reported to be the international trend, we now propose to make all Community Colleges campuses of the University of Liberia.
This will be more cost-effective and will allow common rules and policies, under a common high leadership.
The Straz Technical College of the University of Liberia, in Sinje, which is performing well, attests to the need for this change.”
Rape, Still a Menace
Sirleaf noted that rape has and continues to stand in the way of many young women in achieving their potential.
“As I pointed out last year rape continues to be menace to our girls and sometimes even babies are victimized,” she pointed out.
Opposite of the Past
Recounting, PresidentSirleaf said, her administration inherited a country devastated by the civil unrest adding that the current story is a complete opposite to the past.
“In 2006, we inherited a broken health system; hospitals, schools and clinics, in dilapidated structures, lacked drugs, and the number of doctors, nurses and other health practitioners was woefully inadequate. Three counties had no functional health facility.
Eight had no Liberian medical doctors. Doctors earned US$30 or its Liberian dollar equivalent, and the average nurse’s salary was US$18 or equivalent. Only 41% of the population had access to any form of basic health care.”
Sirleaf said, the construction of the Tappita referral hospital is campaign promise fulfilled.
“I am pleased to have fulfilled a 2005 campaign promise to the people of Nimba County who now enjoy services in the most modern health facility in Tappita that is also used as a referral hospital for neighboring countries,” Sirleaf said.
Poor Economy Condition
Citing reasons for the terrible state of the economy, the Liberian leader attributed the decline in major export commodities for the current state of the economy.
“We have relied essentially on the export of iron ore, rubber and logs, through operations of concession agreements, for support to the economy.
Over time, diversification was achieved through promotion of coffee, cocoa and oil palm.
As a result of the delay in more aggressive and timely action to diversify, the economic shocks of 2013 and 2014 had devastating effects on export earnings and revenue generation,”
Suggesting a way out of Liberia’s economic nightmare, PresidentSirleaf in the eleventh hour of her two term administration now thinks agriculture is the best option in moving the country forward and transforming the country economy.
Sirleaf averred that the government is moving agriculture from substantial to commercial but the Presidentfell short by stating how.
“Moving agriculture from substantial to commercial farming, for the first time we know who our farmers are, where they are farming,” she said.
According to Madam President, Liberia is moving from the age-old centralize and personal form of government to a decentralize one.
“To move our country from centralize and personalize system of governance, we decentralize the Independence Day celebration, we gone one step furthered we have established county service center,” PresidentSirleaf said.
PresidentSirleaf assured Liberians that birth and marriage certificate can be obtained at the county level.
“In our first two years in office, we took two major steps as demonstration of our commitment to move our country from an over-centralized, personalized system of governance.
In 2006, I took the Oath of Office here, on these Capitol Grounds. In 2007, I introduced the County Development Fund and called for rotational celebration of Independence Day in the counties,” said the Liberia leader.
“These were firsts in the history of our country, and were meant to demonstrate commitment to a decentralized governance system that allowed participation of the representatives of the people, and the people themselves, in decisions and the establishment of priorities that affect their lives.”
Sirleaf furthered that her government have gone one step further by establishing County Service Centers in four counties.
“An increasing range of public services, such as birth certificates, driver licenses, business registrations, marriage licenses and other documents, are being provided, making it unnecessary for citizens and business people to travel to Monrovia for that purpose."
"I will be commissioning three additional Centers in the northeast and two more in the southeast early next month. Before this administration ends, there will be fully operational Service Centers in all fifteen counties,” Sirleaf said.
The Liberian leaders in her comments also boasted of strengthening the prosecutorial arm of the Ministry of Justice, and established a Presidential Task Force to assist in reviewing and implementing recommendations resulting from internal and external audits.
At the same time she applauded the press for reporting grave corrupt practices in her government.
She said: “Today, our vibrant press and concerned citizens unearth hidden deals which are being investigated.
More importantly, we have increased compensation of public servants at every level, and have introduced systems that limit discretionary compliance of Public Financial Management Laws and Policies.”