The NEWS (Monrovia)

Liberia: New Year's Message By President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

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Photo: Liberia Govt
President Sirleaf addresses students at Columbia University

Season's Greetings, my fellow Liberians:

As we ring in the 2013 New Year, let us pause to give praise and thanks to the Almighty God for his multiple blessings upon a bountiful nation that is being transformed to lift all Liberians.

At the beginning of each New Year, we look back on the year just ended, and look ahead to the year that will be, filled with promise, possibilities and potential, as well as challenges.

We can report that, with the support we received from regional institutions and global partners, 2012 marked the ninth consecutive year of peace in a country that had experienced over a decade of war and destruction. Our country is still fragile, yet the record of continuity in peace and democracy is clearly present. And as we begin to use our natural resources better, reduce poverty and bring forth a more educated population, any risk of a reversal will diminish. Let us be grateful to God, to Liberia's friends and partners, and to our resilient Liberian people for the peace that we enjoy today!

The year 2012 saw the culmination of a long journey towards finding ourselves as a people. Liberians from all spheres of society and the Diaspora converged in the central city of Gbarnga, Bong County, at a three-day Vision 2030 National Conference and discussed the country's future. It provided the space for us to unite in a sense of common identity, ideals and purpose, and to take control of our destiny.

The overarching event was the launching of the National Vision 2030 and the process of transformation that will lead to structural reforms in the way we manage the economy and carry this country forward. To implement that Vision, we agreed an Agenda for Transformation -a five-year slice of the 2030 Vision -and a Strategic Roadmap for National Healing, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation that will lead to "many peoples of one nation, united in a sense of common identity, purpose and ideals." Also in Gbarnga, we reminded the Liberian people, particularly the youth and civil society, that they would have the responsibility to implement the Vision, develop our country and promote all of the freedoms of a democracy and an open society.

Some people have asked why are we talking about 2030 and spending resources to do so, when we've got so many burning issues facing us today? Yes, we acknowledge that all of the roads in Liberia are not yet paved; that every community does not yet have electricity and pipe-borne water; that some people don't see the country's economic growth reflected in their income; and that the 20,000 jobs that were promised per annum have not materialized, all at once, from the government.

However, if you compare what existed when we started in 2006 and what we have today, it is clear how far we've come. We inherited a country in shambles, with a collapsed economy, dysfunctional institutions, displaced people, destroyed infrastructure, and very few basic services. Our people had lost all hope and had learned to live through mere survival. Compare that grim description to the Liberia to today, where people are getting on with their lives without fear, building homes, operating businesses, educating their children and able to provide for their families.

Back in 2006, there were no lights in this Capital. We brought the first lights in July 2006. Electricity is a high capital-cost item, and because our own resources are limited, we have had to depend on donor money, and abide by their rules, in order to finance most of the infrastructure in our post-conflict nation - be it energy, roads, ports, water and sanitation, and more. It is taking long to do all the things we want and need to do because a National Budget of $80 million to start, and even at $672 million today, can only stretch so far!

I promise you that we will get there. However, remember that no country coming from where we came can get by with a quick fix; recovery and development is a gradual process, it is difficult work, and it takes time.

In seven years of this administration, we have put all of the fundamentals in place: we re-established institutions; put in new laws and strategies; adopted our development agenda; and started to reform the country under the four pillars of our Poverty Reduction Strategy. We've made progress, despite our limited resources and our low human capacity. Our biggest challenge is to change the minds and attitudes of the Liberian people through transformation.

Another major achievement for us as a country was the announcement, two weeks ago, that Liberia qualified under the Millennium Challenge Corporation Account, a U.S.-funded initiative. Qualifying for this program will enable us to access significant resources that will address some of our most critical needs, especially our energy sector.

A year ago, we declared that the first priority on our agenda would be to address the situation of our young, unemployed and uneducated youths, through vocational and technical training for the jobs that are coming in our mining, agriculture and forestry and, God willing, petroleum sectors. Our major challenge remains that demographic in a nation in which 60 percent of the population is 35 years and younger. I will address the issue of the number of jobs created by this government in my Annual Message to the National Legislature on January 28th.

For 2013, we want to see progress in the areas of reform included in the Agenda for Transformation, among them, land reform. This is vital to everything we do in our mining and agriculture sectors, as well as in maintaining peace and tranquility. We also hope to conclude reform of the concessions sector, to correct past mistakes.

We hope that 2013 will be a year of true patriotism and reconciliation that will accentuate the positive things that unite us. We will push ahead with our reconciliation program by implementing the Roadmap, which aims at accounting for the past, managing the present, and planning for the future.

For 2013, we are placing great emphasis on infrastructure, with power, ports and roads as our three areas of concentration. These, in turn, will facilitate the education, health and agriculture sectors. We expect 2013 to be a good year of demonstrable progress, so that our people will see what this government is doing, what we've accomplished not just in Monrovia, but elsewhere in Liberia.

In our sub-region of West Africa, we pray for peace and good relations with our neighbors, especially the countries of the Mano River Union. We are satisfied with the level of cooperation and the joint monitoring that Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia have at our common border. Moreover, today there's total harmony among the leadership of our sub-region, as we concentrate more on how we can improve regional cooperation and regional integration.

We are optimistic about the New Year on our continent because Africa, like Liberia, is rising, showing high rates of growth and development. Africa represents the last frontier, and today its potential is being discovered and exploited.

We also believe that 2013 will be a banner year for women everywhere. We will continue to empower women to compete at all levels for leadership in their societies.

My Fellow Compatriots:

At the end of January, our country will host Meetings of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons, which includes the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the President of Indonesia, and prominent individuals representing all regions of the world. We are working on a new global development agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals after 2015. In the same way that Liberia was commended highly when we hosted the International Women's Colloquium in 2009, we call upon our citizens to display the hospitality for which we are known, as we welcome our international guests to our home.

My Fellow Liberians:

There are basic problems that still need fixing in our country, and this New Year gives me renewed vigor and greater determination because I know the potential of Liberia, and I know that we can renew this nation if we all work together as one people, one nation, united for peace and sustainable development.

And after all is said and done, my fellow Liberians, it is in the younger generation that I have my faith and confidence, when I look at today's primary school children - those who don't know anything about a gun, and who never had to run. Wars and divisions are not part of their consciousness. They represent the new Liberia, the new generation that we must nurture, even as we try to keep peace and stability through decentralization, through the fight against poverty and corruption, and through the recognition of our shortcomings as well as our potential.

As a New Year dawns, we pray God's guidance in leading our nation in the direction of peace, reconciliation and development. We wish Liberians everywhere -and residents within our borders - a joyous holiday season. May the New Year be filled with health, happiness and prosperity for you and those you love. A Happy New Year to all.

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