25 January 2010

Liberia: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to Seek Second Term in 2011

Monrovia — President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to be elected head-of-state in Africa, announced Monday during her annual message to the national legislature that she will seek a second term during elections next year.

She said she was making the announcement now "to bring to an end all speculations" and said she would be "a formidable candidate" in the 2011 campaign.

"I know from whence we came yesterday. I know where we are today; I know where we ought to be tomorrow and I know how we will get there. Therefore, however I act, whatever I do, it will be for you, the people," she said.

This announcement was punctuated by loud applause that lasted several minutes, halted only by the president herself.

Campaigning as an underdog during the country's first post-war elections in 2005, which followed 14 years of civil conflict, Johnson Sirleaf said she planned to served only one term, although Liberia's Constitution authorizes two presidential terms of six years each. The job she began is not yet finished, she said: "Let us travel the road together knowing that the God who brought us this far will not leave us."

The campaign announcement came at the end of a lengthy review of the country's progress and problems.

"We have come a long way in our journey to economic reconstruction and national renewal," she said in her address and added: "Together, we have laid the foundation that will ensure that the sufferings and miseries of our people are adequately addressed."

"Internationally, we have moved from the status of an outcast on the international stage to one of the leading countries representing Africa internationally," she said.

But, she continued, Liberia still has a long way to go to recover from more than three decades of instability and war.

"There is no magic wand to transform our nation from destruction to prosperity."

Monday's message, the president's fifth, covered a wide range of issues ranging from her government's fight against corruption, the state of the country's economy and the Truth Reconciliation Commission's final report.

Among the accomplishments cited is an annual growth rate of 7.4% for four years and an increase of the budget from the U.S.$80 million to over U.S.$370 million - all the while maintaining "the fiscal discipline of a cash-based expenditure regime." Another achievement she cited was the reduction of the debt arrears from U.S.$4.9 billion to U.S.$1.7 billion, with the expectation that most of the rest will be forgiven later this year.

The speech itself had a number of highlights. She said government inherited the societal problem of corruption that was further exacerbated by the years of conflict, but that it has now begun to strengthen and support institutions like the the Anti-Corruption Commission and the General Auditing Commission to fight graft. She then congratulated the legislature for passage of several pieces of significant legislation and called for the body to move forward on other important measures, including the Freedom of Information act, the code of conduct governing civil servants, a law to establish the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the Investment Incentive Act of 2009.

The country is in line to receive about U.S.$10 billion in foreign investment over the next two years, and oil exploration is "well advanced," she said. "Food production, particularly rice, cassava and other staples, has increased significantly all over the country."

"All this has been achieved despite the impact of the 2008/2009 global economic recession which has impacted us, just as it has all other nations," she said.

She cited "key initiatives [that] demonstrate my Administration's unwavering commitment to fight corruption" and pointed to the new professionally trained national army now numbering over 2,000 and a revitalized police force.

"Freedom of the Press reigns supreme, regrettably, sometimes without responsibility and concern for the good of the country," she said. "There are no political prisoners and no repression against the exercise of political rights and expression. No political opposition has been forced into exile."

The country's is rebuilding its infrastructure, including roads, bridges, hospitals and schools, clinics and playgrounds; and public buildings are also being constructed, renovated or repaired throughout the country. Both the port and the airport have been rehabilitated and in conformity with international security standards, said the President.

"Enrollment in primary schools throughout the country is 605,000 compared to 540,000 in 2008, representing an increase of 11 percent," she said. "Secondary school enrollment is 183,000 compared to 158,000 in 2008, an increase of 14 percent. For the first time, subsidy has been provided to private schools which have contributed to this enrollment performance. We have provided over U.S.$400,000 in subsidy to 20 private institutions."

In the area of health, she said that prevalence rates of malaria, cholera and anemia have been reduced in children, a nationwide immunization campaign against yellow fever was completed and the country has significantly increased delivery of anti-retroviral drugs to Liberians living with HIV.

Outlining three areas "that will be defining to the future of this country" she said more has to be done to promote transparency and accountability throughout government but also in the society as a whole. She said "more needs to be done particularly in the areas of punishment under the law," and she promised to take further action herself.

"Without prejudice to their rights of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law, I must act against those, including the ones close to me, whose malpractices have put my credibility and the credibility of the country at risk."

On the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's controversial final report, the president said that, while she may not agree with all the findings and recommendations in the report, "there's no doubt that it dissects and analyzes our problems and makes recommendation for the healing, reconciliation, restoration, peace, prosperity and the progress of our nation. She proposed a strengthening of the Independent National Human Rights Commission Act of 2005 to follow up on the TRC recommendations to determine those "that are implementable or enforceable under the Constitution and laws of Liberia."

She then called for legislation that would allow Liberians living abroad to maintain foreign nationalities without forfeiting their Liberian citizenship.

She also said that the County Development Funds, which are the mechanism for dispensing funds to the country's 15 counties, must be handled "directly and solely" by the Executive Branch, to remove the roadblock created when the legislature gave itself a role in determining funding priorities.

Read the President's Entire Speech

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