On Monday, July 2, a high-powered United States bipartisan Congressional delegation, headed by Congressmen David Dreier and David Price, held bilateral talks with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Monrovia.
This visit represents the eighth by a U.S. Congressional team since the ascendancy of Madam Sirleaf to the Liberian Presidency.
The Liberian leader officially welcomed the U.S. delegation to the country and expressed satisfaction for the visit. She used the occasion to brief the delegation on major undertakings by her administration since her return from the United States a couple of weeks ago.
President Sirleaf cited the submission and current scrutiny of the three-year National Budget, the focus on meeting the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) indicators for Compact status, and addressing the security situation along the border with Côte d'Ivoire as the major efforts since her return from the US.
For the long term, President Sirleaf told the Congressional team, a new development agenda "An Agenda for Transformation," has been concluded and focuses on critical areas such as education - including technical and vocational - job creation, the economy, health, infrastructure, security, reconciliation, power/energy with emphasis on the hydro, commerce, foreign relations and more.
On the security situation along the border with Côte d'Ivoire, President Sirleaf informed the members of the U.S. Congress that at the just-ended ECOWAS Summit in Yamoussoukro, she and her Ivorian counterpart, President Alassane Ouattara, exchanged information on how to effectively deal with the security situation along the border.
Following the short brief, President Sirleaf then engaged in an interactive session with the Congressional delegation, affording them the opportunity to comment on and raise questions about Liberia's overall governance process, as well as the progress and challenges faced by her administration.
The Congressional team sought clarity on issues such as land tenure, the advancement of democracy, the relationship with other branches of government, International Monetary Fund/World Bank support to Liberia, dual citizenship, energy, unemployment, progress in oil exploration and the drawdown of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
Congressman Dreier also informed President Sirleaf that the House Appropriations Committee has recommended a U.S. Government assistance package to Liberia totaling US$124,276,000 - the same amount as for fiscal year 2012. [It may be recalled that the Administration had proposed a 15 percent cut in funding to Liberia.]
The Congressman also said that the Committee's recommendations support programs that address the need for sustainable agriculture, energy including hydroelectric power, and education, including vocational training. He noted that his Committee supports a holistic approach to Liberia's justice sector, with enhanced focus on areas such as Immigration, Corrections, Parole and Plea Bargaining, Investigation Capacity, Prosecution, Capability and an Intermediate Criminal Justice System.
President Sirleaf thanked members of the Appropriations Committee for the critical support to Liberia as it moves towards a new development agenda, noting that the U.S. has always stood by Liberia in meeting the needs of the people. The areas covered by the assistance package represent major ones under the new development plan, she said, adding that the support will go a long way in helping the Government meet its development goals and objectives.
Responding to some of the delegation's inquiries, the Liberian leader indicated that the oil exploration process is proceeding well, but that there was the need for reviewing the laws, including the ones creating the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) as well as the Petroleum Law of Liberia.
She admitted that employment is still a problem, but believed that the mobilization of over US$16 billion in investment will help reduce the rate once concession agreements are fully operationalized.
With regard to the Mount Coffee Hydro Plant, President Sirleaf told the delegation that the United States, Germany, Norway and others are working with Liberia to rebuild the facility, but was quick to point out that it must be achieved with or without outside support. She noted the need for harmonization of the different procurement procedures to fast-track the project.
On UNMIL and the general security situation, President Sirleaf told the delegation that even though the drawdown plan is on course, it was agreed that the approach will be practical in observing and monitoring the situation and that a Liberian team is closely working with the UN on the implementation process.
On the education front, she informed the delegation that during her recent visit to the U.S., it was agreed that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will support the country's technical and vocational education program, and that she had proposed that young Liberian college graduates be deployed alongside Peace Corps Volunteers assigned in Liberia for mentoring and improving the education sector.
Members of the Congressional delegation included: Rep. David Dreier (R-CA); Rep. David Price (D-NC); Rep. Edward Whitfield (R-KY); Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR); Rep Gwen Moore (D-WI); and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA). Also present were the Chargé d'Affaires of the U.S. Embassy-Monrovia, Ambassador Michael Arietti; the Deputy Chief of Mission, Karl Albrecht; and USAID Mission Director, Patricia Rader.
President Johnson Sirleaf was joined by Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan; the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Dr. Edward B. McClain, Jr.; the Minister of State without Portfolio, W. Conmany B. Wesseh, Sr.; Presidential Legal Advisor Cllr. Seward Cooper; and Deputy Foreign Minister Sylvester Grigsby, among others.