A TIME FOR TRANSFORMATION

 

 

 

By: H.E. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro-Tempore, Honorable Legislature, my dear partner, Vice President: Let us remind ourselves how far we’ve come during this decade of peace. When we came into office in 2006, we were only able to look to the first 150 days of our Administration. Then we drew up an Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy that took us to 18 months. From there, we developed our first full Poverty Reduction Strategy, “Lift Liberia,” that we implemented over four years. Each of those plans built upon the achievements, and learned from the mistakes, of previous ones, and each plan raised our ambitions to a higher level.

National Vision 2030 – Liberia Rising

Our planning and forward-looking approach culminated last month, when we met in Gbarnga to agree a vision for how we want Liberia to be in 2030. Many leaders of the three Branches, political parties, civil society and young people participated. Vision 2030 was not written by my office nor does it belong to any one group or party. Instead, it is the product of a consultative process over many months that involved over 10,000 people, in all fifteen counties and 154 districts. Students, youth leaders, business communities, women organizations, persons with disabilities, religious and traditional leaders, farmers, teachers, health workers and local community opinion leaders were among the participants at the district level, concluding at a National Conference where delegates endorsed a new long-term National Vision, Liberia Rising – our long-term vision of socio-economic and political transformation and development. I accepted the Vision on behalf of the youth of Liberia, who will inherit the country we are building today. A National Vision rekindles our commitment to work together with an important sense of patriotism, innovation and dynamism, to recognize that the development of our common patrimony will be neither significant nor sustainable unless it is broad-based and inclusive. We must accept the reality that Liberia will neither develop nor modernize unless we work together as a team in cooperation and unity. This teamwork will involve all of us – the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive, as well as politicians, civil society organizations, students and partners in and outside the country. After more than 165 years as an independent and sovereign republic, we have accumulated a huge backlog of tasks left unattended. Our new Vision must take us on the path of self-confidence, mutual respect and true patriotism. It must embed in us a strong sense of nationalism to always put Liberia first. The new vision places us in position to deal with one another in equity, equality and justice for all without discrimination. The development and growth of our country has not matched our age. That tells us that something is seriously wrong. It is incumbent upon us to discover what is amiss and to correct it. However, this cannot be a task for the Executive alone; and neither can it be shifted to the Legislature or the Judiciary. As citizens of Liberia, it is the duty and responsibility of all to serve the general interest of our country. The answer to a peaceful and prosperous nationhood is harmony, oneness in purpose, and a commitment to forge ahead. These attributes are woven into Vision 2030.

The Vision Statement, adopted by Liberians, is the expression of our faith in the future of our country, our love for country and our commitment to mobilize resources to achieve our aspirations as expressed: One People, One Nation, United for Peace and Sustainable Development.

Agenda for Transformation In formulating our National Vision 2030, we developed two plans critical in achieving the goals set out in the Vision – the five-year Agenda for Transformation (AfT) and the Reconciliation Roadmap. The Agenda for Transformation was formulated through extensive participatory consultations in all regions and districts in Liberia, as well as the Diaspora, to allow the Liberian people to determine their priorities and make their input into the development agenda for the country. They identified investment in infrastructure, particularly electricity, roads, ports, and Information and Communications Technology (ICT), followed by health and education, as the leading priorities for transforming the Liberian economy. To ensure that growth and development are inclusive in Liberia, the AfT also paid special attention to issues of fragility, social cohesiveness, marginalization and youth development. The Agenda for Transformation represents a departure from our economic development experience, described as one of “growth without development.” We have learned the lessons of the past, leading us to steps that shift our economy from its dependence on natural resources to one that has a broader base, creates more jobs, a place where everyone, especially Liberians, can do business, and where the country’s wealth is shared more equitably. By adopting the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) to guide public investments, the government is demonstrating its commitment to the implementation of the Agenda. This represents a major paradigm shift in resource allocations from annual increases in recurrent expenditure to increased investment in capital projects for development that will benefit all Liberians. The AfT is estimated to cost approximately US$3.36 billion over the five-year period (2012-2017). As the government commits to making significant investment in the AfT through effective management of various revenue streams, we are confident that Liberia’s development partners will support us to achieve its goals and objectives.

The Liberia Development Alliance (LDA), which we launched last Wednesday, is a platform that will move Liberia from activity-based to results-focused interventions in implementing the Agenda for Transformation and toward achieving our National Vision. The LDA will thus coordinate the development initiatives of the private sector, development partners and civil society, to ensure that they align with government’s priorities. Reconciliation Roadmap Honorable Legislators: The second plan that we will implement over the next five years is the National Reconciliation Roadmap. The cleavages that led to decades of war still run deep, but so too does the longing for a reconciliation defined by equal opportunity and a better future for all Liberians. True reconciliation means a process of national healing, and learning the lessons of the past to perfect our democracy. It means economic justice and the spread of progress to all of our people. It also means creating opportunity; it means ensuring gender equity and the promotion of women; it means giving our young people the skills they need to prosper and create the lifestyle they choose. We will continue our progress so that we walk over the bridge of reconciliation. Through reconciliation we will reduce, if not completely remove, the obstacles in our paths. Whether our disagreements are social, economic or political, whether old or new, we must muster the courage to face up to the situation to let bygones be bygones and agree that it is time to embrace one another with new minds, a new spirit and a new attitude. Our commitment to reconciling the Liberian nation is genuine. Our resolve and action are not based on political expediency. We strongly believe that our country will be better off when Liberians are reconciled. The actions we have put into place to address this question manifest our earnest desire for a truly reconciled and united Liberia that goes beyond party, social, religious and gender lines. Decentralization Policy Honorable Legislators: A year ago, in Salala, Bong County, we launched the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance, aimed at ensuring greater participation of the Liberian people in decision-making and in the provision and delivery of public services at local levels of governance. Throughout the year, the Governance Commission and the Ministry of Internal Affairs led a process of public education and information dissemination that has encouraged deeper ownership and participation of the Liberian people in this unfolding program of decentralization. There is no argument amongst Liberians as to where our country should be headed. We have a shared vision – Vision 2030. We have also agreed that, over the next 18 years, the government should be fully decentralized and that Liberia should become a peaceful and politically stable middle-income country. A National Policy on Decentralization and Local Government is being implemented

A National Policy on Decentralization and Local Government is being implemented, with the shift from centralized to localized governance. Nevertheless, the challenges of the Decentralization Policy are many: the present local governance structure is bloated, and difficult to manage. For example, there are more than 149 cities – 33 in Sinoe, I think; 93 Administrative Districts; 251 Paramount Chiefdom Chiefs; more than 689 Clan Chiefs; 1,410 General Towns Chiefs; and 250 Township Commissioners. Moreover, the government has to deliver services to more than 16,000 towns and villages. As if these statistics were not daunting enough, the boundaries of all these localities overlap, leading to confusion over jurisdiction and administrative authority in the system. Consultations continue in the drafting of a new Local Governance Act that will define the legal basis for reducing the number and harmonizing the boundaries of all of the localities within the structure. Such an Act would also identify the point of interface of the contemporary statutory governance structures with the traditional chieftaincy configuration. As we seek socio-political harmony in Liberia, we must continue to recognize and restore the authority and dignity of the traditional chiefs and elders. We must also support the process to bring about the election of county officials, including city mayors. To advance the Decentralization Policy, the Administration has completed the Decentralization Roadmap and Implementation Plan. It is creating a computerized National Locality Directory with the names and global-positioning-system coordinates of all neighborhoods, towns and villages, which will also provide the platform for effective housing and population census, establishment of a national address system, implementation of a national identification registry, conduct of a progressive voter registration, and the maintenance of an effective immigration and security control system.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro-Tempore, Honorable Legislators: The transformation of our country will be successful only when certain reforms are effected – our Constitution, land matters, institutional and governmental restructuring, the private sector and Liberianization. Our experience shows over the last 27 years have illustrated that the 1986 Constitution is inadequate to address current realities of this nation and the aspirations of its people. When Liberians gather, you hear us discuss and debate the power of the presidency, educational qualifications, the tenure of office for elective public offices, citizenship, gender equality, equal distribution and access to national assets, economic opportunities, and many other issues with constitutional implications. To respond to these concerns, in August 2012 I established a Constitution Review Committee with the mandate to review our Constitution through discourses, debates and consultations on various provisions, to determine recommendations for subsequent amendments. Six eminent Liberians were appointed to lead this process. The Governance and Law Reform Commissions serve as technical arms to the Committee and their Chairs serve as ex-officio members. We had anticipated that the review process would be concluded to include the Referendum requirement during the 2014 elections; however, the Committee has advised that more time might be required. We are reviewing this position. The administration and management of land and governance of our natural resources continue to pose major challenges and will become one of our principal areas of concentration during 2013. The recent Private User Permits (PUP) debacle is a glaring example of the need for major reform of our land and natural resource governance systems. We acknowledge these challenges and recognize the need to address them in a comprehensive manner, and have taken significant steps in this regard, principally through the creation of the Land Commission which is tasked with developing policies, legislation and

regulations that ensure equal access to productive land for all Liberians; ensure security of tenure and the rule of law with regard to all land transactions; facilitate the development and implementation of institutional framework, the use and management of land, and promote investment in land and land resources. We are pleased to note that the Land Commission has completed and presented to us a draft Land Rights Policy, which is now being validated through a series of five regional consultative meetings. We expect that the National Land Rights Policy will be completed by the end of February. The Policy is transformative as it clearly establishes, for the first time, distinct categories of land rights which ensure that all Liberians have equal access to land within the framework of clearly defined policies. The Policy will call for the recognition of customary land rights, along with private, public and government of land rights, thus providing new opportunities for economic empowerment of rural communities, advances in national cohesion and reconciliation, establishing conditions conducive for improving communities in the governance of natural resources, and strengthening rights for all other tenure categories.

The Commission will also be piloting, through Land Coordination Centers, an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system in six counties shown to have a prevalence of land disputes, namely, Bong, Lofa, Margibi, Maryland, Montserrado and Nimba. It is hoped that this study will result in the adoption

of a mediation and arbitration national framework which will be introduced, thereby enhancing our   ability and capacity to resolve land disputes in a manner that is accessible, affordable and expedient. Recognizing that the present land administration institutional arrangement is antiquated and inadequate, the Commission has begun developing a comprehensive Land Administration Policy, which will look at policy, legal and regulatory as well as institutional arrangements for reforming and improving land administration in Liberia. Working closely with the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, the commission anticipates that a draft Land Administration Policy will be completed by June. The Land Commission has also been working with other ministries and agencies to assist concessionaires to obtain land from tribal authorities consistent with international best practices of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Most recently, an agreement was concluded between the citizens of Sarbo District, River Gee County, and the Cavalla Rubber Corporation for establishment of a rubber plantation on 4,000 hectares of land. This agreement is historic and groundbreaking in that for the first time, such an agreement was negotiated on the ground between the citizens of the district and the concessionaire. This exercise should assist the Commission to develop policy, legislation and regulations for working with local communities, which can be mainstreamed within the concession granting process.

Among its other activities, the Land Commission will be undertaking an inventory of tribal certificates, in Order to address the issues of land rights, including rights held under public land, customary land and the other two categories of tenure (i.e., private and government land). The Commission will validate the authenticity of tribal certificates that have been collected, and those that are authenticated will be processed into deeds. Given the importance the government attaches to land rights, reforming the institutions and laws that guide us in creating an equitable and just policy on land rights use, management and administration, we are pleased to inform you that a special task force dealing with cross-cutting issues of gender and land rights has been formed, with the Ministry of Gender and the Land Commission as co-chairs. This task force is expected to focus on making considerations of women’s access and rights to land an even more integral piece of the Liberia land policy and institutional development process. We pledge our support to the work of this body. Recently, the land dispute between ELWA and the government was resolved, thanks to the efforts of the Vice President who mediated in the matter. In the settlement, ELWA, recognizing government’s need for the land, consented to relinquish 11.2 acres, in exchange for being granted a Title Deed to the remaining portion of the land. Efforts are under way to conclude the processes that will enable us to commence reconstruction of the Ducor Hotel and the E.J. Roye Building as public properties. As the National Vision gives true meaning to governance as a partnership between the government and the people, we have charged the Governance Commission to work with civil society to devise strategies that will ensure their full participation in implementing certain programs flowing from the decisions of the National Vision Conference. We trust that these modalities will be completed without delay so that civil society’s full involvement can be accelerated. In that regard, the first Comprehensive Directory of Civil Society Organizations nationwide was completed and launched. The analysis that resulted in the Directory covered 1,452 CSOs, the majority of which are not registered, and have limited capacity and self-generating potential. This indicates a clear need for the establishment of guidelines to monitor their activities. To advance civil society’s role in implementing Vision 2030, discussions are under way to develop a Government-Civil Society Compact which, when approved, will commit both to work together constructively and productively for the transformation of our National Vision into concrete reality. We look forward to the acceleration of this initiative and the conclusion of the Compact for our review in the next few months. The Compact should call for mutual accountability and respect. We must make it clear, however, that while we accept and are prepared to support their watchdog role, we will not allow them, or external entities, to go so far as to undermine our nation’s sovereignty. One of the low-hanging but very important fruits identified for immediate implementation following the adoption of the National Reconciliation Roadmap is the project to revisit the historical narrative of our country with a view to developing a comprehensive all-inclusive history that tells the story of the contribution of all of our people to the development of our country and, in doing so, assist in strengthening our common identity.

Led by the Governance Commission with the support of the Ministry of Finance, preparatory work has been completed for holding a landmark conference that will involve Liberia’s leading historians resident at home and abroad, and the custodians of our oral traditions, to launch, in the coming weeks, the Liberian National History Project. In addition to playing a key role in formulating the National Vision, the Governance Commission is embarking on a series of programs, in 2013, in line with the promotion of the Agenda for Transformation and the National Reconciliation Roadmap. These include decentralization and reorganization of the structures and institutions of government. To ensure a leaner, more efficient and more effective public sector, the program of rationalization and restructuring is to be accelerated.

We will submit to your honorable body legislation which, when passed, will reorganize the ministries and agencies of the Executive Branch to sharpen their missions and mandates, reduce overlaps, streamline structures, and strengthen the focus and performance of their core functions. Government’s efforts to restructure the Executive Branch will also extend to creating a more meritorious and more professional civil service. Thus, among the measures we will be taking this year will include the establishment of a Civil Service Commission, as required and provided for in the Constitution. As such, civil service reform will include the insertion, in ministries, of a non-political career professional position of Principal Administrative Officer to coordinate and ensure the implementation of the directives and policies of the government. A completed study on State-Owned Enterprises will guide our reform of the sector, including governance and compensation. Reforms requiring legislative action will be submitted to you. Enhancing integrity in public life has been a preoccupation of this administration since 2006. Measures towards that end have included the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission and its subsequent strengthening; and the drafting of a Code of Conduct and its submission to the Legislature for enactment into law as required by the Constitution. To further demonstrate our government’s commitment to the fight against corruption, we have encouraged a vigorous public discourse and public education regarding its debilitating effects on our national life. We have encouraged collaboration among government agencies, private sector entities and civil society in forming and promoting a National Integrity Forum, which is engaged in enhancing public consciousness, education and efficacy in the fight against corruption. The Governance Commission and the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission along with the Center for Transparency are among the lead entities in this important endeavor. This year, we will redouble support for such citizen-centered initiatives in the fight against corruption. One important measure taken through this Forum has been the publication of an anti-corruption barometer which reflects public perception of the strengths and weaknesses on the efforts of state-based institutions with a mandate to fight corruption. Moreover, because the punishment side of our fight against corruption still performs far below our expectations, we will also ask your reconsideration of our recommendation for amendment to the LACC Act to provide that institution with direct prosecutorial power.

Consistent with this administration’s desire to further strengthen the democratization process and the performance of institutions of governance, the Governance Commission, with support from international partners, is building its capacity to be able to deliver Governance Performance Assessment Reports as of this year and as required by its mandate.

Honorable Legislators: Together we have begun efforts to reform the hydrocarbon sector, to manage Liberia’s petroleum resources, in an environmentally responsible manner, to optimize returns for Liberia, and to ensure equitable benefits to the Liberian people now and in the future. All of these measures are critical in ensuring that the government performs with greater efficiency and forges a stronger partnership with citizens and, with the support of regional and international partners, implements with discipline the coherent packages of programs that will accelerate national development and attain a more unified and reconciled nation.

Honorable Legislators, Fellow Liberians: It is, indeed, time for transformation – transformation in the way we do business in Liberia; transformation in the way our partners do business; and transformation in the way our business laws are enforced in Liberia. Today, over half of our real GDP growth will come from the expansion of the iron ore mining sector, and extractive and capital-intensive operations. The large foreign investment mobilized has helped kick-start key sectors of the economy, such as mining, agriculture and forestry. However, experience tells us that foreign businesses alone cannot build a healthy economy. Unless government can take tough decisions on how to use investment strategically, we could once again fall into the trap of experiencing growth without development. While growth and maturity of the private sector is necessary for our transformation, it will remain insufficient until our goals of industrialization and Liberianization are achieved. We will thus identify the sectors where we have comparative advantage on the local, regional and global markets, and forge strategic public-private partnerships for transformative and targeted investments that will stimulate local production and create jobs for our people.

CONCLUSION

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro-Tempore: it is the conclusion.  In my Annual Messageto the Sixth Session of the 52nd National Legislature, I informed your Honorable Body and the Liberian

people that in response to the expected effects on population growth, climate change and the expectation that rising sea levels will threaten coastal cities, including Monrovia, in the decades to come, we had decided to commence the process that could lead, eventually, to relocating the Capital City to Zekepa, where the boundaries of Grand Bassa, Bong and Nimba converge. Two years on, we have commenced the research and planning that will enable us to make the decision as to how to proceed with the Zekepa project. A small Task Force has been set up and charged with conducting the research, technical analysis, master planning and design that will be essential to the comprehensive development plan for the proposed city of Zekepa. This is not a quick project. This is a long term project. The Task Force will spend the next six months in the primary stage of research, after which I will consult with your honorable body regarding a greater national involvement and the way forward in achieving this objective.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro-Tempore, Honorable Legislators: Our commitment to freedom of the press and free expression, as well as the civil and political rights of all of our people will remain unshaken. Yet, as a people, we should recognize that the exercise of freedom carries with it both a responsibility and a duty: to preserve and secure our national peace and security and stability; and respect the freedom, rights, and privacy of our fellow citizens. Our Constitution is clear and unequivocal on this. I will therefore be submitting to you, for your timely consideration, draft legislation consistent with the Table Mountain Declaration, which affirms our commitment to support press freedom. It is also time for transformation of our media.

We will all agree that improvement is required in the manner in which we inform and communicate our progress and challenges to the people. As a result of this inadequacy, perceptions are formed on the basis of misinformation, rumors and, many times, false accusations. We continue to partner with the media – print and voice – encouraging respect for their independence and freedoms to join the forces for positive change. Sometimes it works, but most times it does not, because the media lacks training and financial support. We take the position that government should help the media to enhance their professionalism without prejudice to the important role which they play in exposing and challenging wrongs in government and the society at large. Specifically, I suggest that we take responsibility to construct and equip a media house that will provide the facility to access worldwide information and to have them benefit from distance learning. The structure could be built on the site of the demolished Government Hospital on Ashmun Street, where the new National Library will be built. With your concurrence, budgetary allocation for the construction will be included in the next fiscal year budget.

Honorable Legislators: We recognize that economic transformation must be accompanied by improvements in socio-economic indicators for Liberians through a process that increases citizens’ participation in all sectors of the economy. This process of Liberianization must be accelerated to increase our participation in the workforce and as owners of productive assets. Economic output that is manifested in higher growth numbers but does not benefit Liberian business is business as usual and is unsustainable. We must therefore design and implement programs that increase Liberian participation in all productive sectors of the economy. Our model of Liberianization will include training and entrepreneurship development through business incubation, ranging from enterprise engaged in imports of consumer goods, to warehousing, trade financing and manufacturing, to agricultural production through support to smallholder farmers. We will aggressively pursue Liberianization in the mineral sector by demanding local content not only in the provision of goods and services during exploration and production but, in value added, but also in ensuring that Liberians participate as equity owners during the development and exploitation of our natural resources. We will implement measures to ensure that Liberian vendors and suppliers of services get a greater percentage of public expenditure dollars, by strict adherence to procurement regulations for Liberian businesses. You will recall that, as part of the 2012/2013 budgetary process, the Administration announced that 25 percent of all amounts appropriated for furniture will go to Liberian-owned businesses. We must now consider how we may add to other expenditure items into Liberianization of this process. We agree that it is time for Liberians to become more engaged in the import, wholesale and distribution of externally produced consumer goods. We will therefore engage financial institutions to aggressively support Liberian entrepreneurs by working through the Liberian Marketing Association, the Liberian Business Association, the Petty Traders Association and other business support organizations. However, until we acquire the necessary energy efficiencies, we will best explore means to provide further incentives to enable to meet this gap caused by high electricity costs.

Honorable Legislators, in previous decades, we fought for political freedom and the right to vote and participate in a democratic process. It is now time for economic freedom, which can only be achieved through citizens’ increased participation in our economy through the robust implementation of an aggressive Liberianization model. However, there are things that need to be done. We are prepared to make the hard decision to achieve this goal. But as we pursue the goals of Liberianization, our citizens must be guided by the principles of business ethics, such as honesty, trust and creditworthiness. No country can improve the lot of its people, if business relationships are categorized by a lack of trust and refusal to pay legitimate debts. We urge our citizens to prepare themselves to move into profitable areas of the economy through a process of learning, apprenticeship and, above all, a burning desire to make substantial contributions to our economic growth and development. Our citizens must be prepared to relinquish long-standing business relationships and forego vested interests, if our Liberianization is to be real and realized.

Honorable Members of the Legislature: I have already briefed you about the Monrovia Meeting of the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Framework, starting tomorrow with the technical sessions. We call for the support of all Liberians to make the Meeting a ringing success. We welcome suggestions on crafting a post-2015 development agenda, critically infusing the perspectives of Liberia as a rising post-conflict success story.

Mr. Vice President and President of the Senate, Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro-Tempore, and Honorable Members of the Legislature: In my last Annual Message, I stated that the country was at a crossroads, and urged that we choose the right path. I say to you today that we have chosen the right path. We have set our priorities. The journey to transform our country has begun. Let me close by quoting from our renowned professor and historian, Dr. Elwood Dunn, transformation through the prism of Vision 2030 requires thinking differently, speaking differently and acting differently. It means a paradigm shift, a new narrative about development and synergistic relationship. The responsibility to achieve this transformation is ours. If not us, who? If not now, when?

God bless the works of our hands and save the State! I thank you.

ANNUAL MESSAGE to the Second Session of the 53rd National Legislature of the Republic of Liberia Theme: “A Time for Transformation” by H.E. Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf President of the Republic of Liberia Capitol Hill, Monrovia Delivered Monday January 28

Editor’s note: The above speech is an excerpt. To read the entire speech please visit www.emansion.gov.lr

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