2 January 2013

Liberia: Pres. Sirleaf Reveals Biggest Wish -As She Enters 2013, Zestful

With the year-end launch of the 2030 Vision Plan in Gbarnga, Bong County, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says her administration is entering 2013 with hope for a progressively transformed Liberia.

The president however wished that the Liberian people or the international community would notice the strides her administration has recorded during the last 12 months and acknowledge the commitment and diligence put into these strides.

She made the disclosure and expressed the wish during an exclusive interview with former presidential press secretary Cyrus Wleh Badio over the weekend.

That her administration was able to bring the Liberian people together in Gbarnga, Bong County, recently, to put aside their political differences and launch the 2030 Vision, she said, indicated that the nation was gradually putting behind itself the strife of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Not only will the 2030 Vision transform Liberia, she said, but that also it will provide needed support to the nation’s qualification for the Millennium Challenge Corporation Account. This achievement will enable her administration to access significant resources to address the energy needs of the country.

In the coming years, the president noted, her administration will redouble its efforts in meeting some goals set by MCC for pre-approved nations to tap into the account. MCC’s goals include land reform, school enrolment, law and order, corruption control, improved trade policy, and standardized fiscal policies.

The president expressed optimism that having met most of these goals, Liberia’s chances are brighter. However, she cautioned that her administration, supported by the Liberian people, would have to sustain and improve upon such gains, if Liberia is to outbid its competitors for MCC support.

“So, we don’t know yet how much money there will be for us, but what we do know is that we can now start the program that will lead to the allocation of resources [from MCC],” she told Mr. Badio during the interview.

She revealed, “We will be forming a core team that will start working on all the things that we need to do. A team will come from the U.S. in January to look at the programs that we’re working on. It’s a three year program, and the funds will come in keeping with the progress that we’ve made under the program that has been agreed.”

While that is in the shadows, the president said her administration’s job plan is still on course and was in no way diminished by the palpable anxiety amongst unemployed Liberians.

She dismissed critics’ allegations that the administration has failed to deliver on her 2011 campaign promise as sheer lack of understanding.

“When we say we’re going to create 20,000 jobs, it doesn’t mean that the government will go tomorrow and employ 20,000 people. It means that the government will create the conditions for jobs to be created all over the country by different groupings,” the president said.

Her comments shocked observers who believe that the ‘different groupings’ are supposed to be from the private sector, which after more than seven years of democratic rule, has yet to get off the ground.

“In that case, unemployment will remain with us for the next six to ten years,” said one civil society leader who preferred anonymity.

Critics say corruption and graft in government has undermined all official efforts to instil confidence within the economy as a way of attracting genuine foreign investment and jumpstarting the private sector in earnest. They point to the rigmarole in the mining, oil, and forest industries as exemplary.

However, the president said such were unwarranted pessimisms as various institutions of government were creating jobs in expanded programs to augment those being created by the private efforts and the mining, agriculture, and construction industries – amongst others.

“On my small farm I have got whole 27 persons who I pay from my own resources – that’s job creation. And you’ve got thousands of individuals like that; making farms or doing small businesses. All of that adds up,” she said, noting the need for the Ministry of Labor to compile the nation’s employment data in order to give the government a clear picture of how much more efforts need to be put into job creation.

“I hope that by the time I give my annual message, we will gather all the statistics from all the companies, all the individuals, public corporations; to be able to say in my Annual Message, to date, we have created so many jobs, so we know where we’re headed for our target,” she said.

The president said this level of optimism and urge for forward march does not mean that she was not disappointed by both the internal confusion and some of the wild criticisms levied against her administration, mainly at the onset of her second term.

She said while these confusions were settled amicably, she has had to painstakingly thicken her skin against some of the criticisms in order to steady the ship of state and keep the focus.

“I have absolutely no fear. I know my conscious is clear; I do what I can. You may not like me, you may not like some of the things that I do, but I do what I have to do, in keeping with my conscience, my principles, my policies, I do what I have to do,” the president said, thanking God for being her guardian.

Boasting that she has been in the game of politics for “long time”, the president said Liberia was in steady hands and that it would be a short while before Liberians begin to see progress in all areas of national development.

“I hope we can conclude the reform of our concession sector because we’ve made some mistakes, no question about it. To some of the areas, we have given the duplications. Some of it has been as a result of the lack of capacity; some of it has been upright intentional, and, in some cases, illegal. So, we need to straighten that out,” she said.

Of course, she said, this will require extra efforts in reconciling the people through governmental and non-governmental frameworks that involve various methods, including the TRC-recommended “palaver hut” approach.

Regarding infrastructural development as a reconciliation tool, the president said the administration was in the advanced stages of the planning process and that it has since begun the implementation phase.

“We hope 2013 will be well on the way in improving those areas and in completing the planning. Obviously, we’re not going to build every road or the hydro is not going to come on in 2013, or some of the interim solutions of installing some extra generators, some of them may not all come on in 2013. But I think they will be well advanced on the way to being able to get those facilities working,” she said.

He noted however that when progress finally comes, it would be demonstrable: “...people will see...what this government is doing, what we have accomplished not just in Monrovia, but I urge people to go around the country and see some of the things that are happening there.”

Meanwhile, President Sirleaf says her greatest wish for the New Year is for sincere Liberians and members of the international community to acknowledge the achievements her administration has and continue to make in restoring socio-economic sanctity to Liberia following years of turmoil.

“I just wish somebody would just say, ‘Thank you, Madam President for what you’re doing. That probably the best gift that they could give me.  I’ll take that one to heart; and I can sleep on that satisfied, when you talk about caring, that someone cares, that we too, are doing our best. That’s all,” the president said.

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