2 January 2013

Liberia: Full Text of Cyrus Wleh Badio's Exclusive Interview with Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to welcome the New Year


CWB: Madam President, we'll like to thank you for taking this opportunity to talk to ELBC. What is the one singular issue that came out of 2012 that you believe is worth building upon as a nation and people?

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (EJS):  The overarching thing that came out is, frankly, the launching of the 2030 vision, because that's meant to be a process of transformation; a  process that will lead to some very structural reforms in a way that we manage our economy,  the way we carry the country forward, so that's the most important. Added to that, was the fact that Liberia qualified under the Millennium Challenge Corporation's account, enabling us to access significant resources that will address some of our most critical needs, in this particular case, the energy sector.

CWB: I was listening to the radio the other day and people were wondering, when is the money coming? People are asking that question.

EJS:  You know it doesn't work that way with almost everything.You get a commitment and you also have obligations.  Those obligations mean you're going to adopt certain policies. You're going to formulate some programs. You're going to meet some conditions, and in our particular case, first of all, we have to maintain the level of progress that we have under the MCC score card, that has a lot to do with land reform, school enrollment, law and order, addressing corruption, trade policy, fiscal policies.  Fortunately, many of those we've passed and we have to keep passing them because the MCC is a very competitive process. If you don't stay ahead of it and keep improving in all of the areas and somebody else surpasses you, you find yourself slipping and you could lose it.  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.

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.

CWB: Now, we said that this interview will be a light interview, because it is at the end of the year; it's Christmas time. Nevertheless, the issue of jobs is not a light issue. How far has the Government gone with job creation, especially regarding the policy of government; the campaign promise that 20-thousand jobs would be created per annum? There has been a lot of talk about it on the radio and in newspapers.

EJS: Yea, I have heard a lot of talk, but sometimes people do not understand. 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.

First of all, the government itself, through some of its short term programs, through an expansion in some of its own programs, whether it is under the Ministry Public Works or wherever it is, education, or whatever,  the government itself will create some jobs. There's the private sector. The Government creates the condition whereby the private sector can go, whether we're dealing with the  mining sector, how many people they employ, the agriculture sector, how people they employ, the construction industry, how many people they employ; all of that is part of job creation; even some of us, who got our small farms and our household. 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.

All we need to do is to try to gather that information through the Ministry of Labor, to say, these are the number of jobs we created. 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.

CWB:  That actually was my next question. Are there any initial indications as to hour far we've gone regarding the numbers?

EJS: I don't want to, you know when you're on the radio in this place, when you mention something, sometimes you're just trying to guess estimate, or just trying to say what your minister had told you or the reports you got before you mention the number, the next thing you know, if that number is not 100% correct, they will be on your case. So, please don't put me through that one. Give me chance; let us put the numbers together.

CWB: Okay, Madam President, I'll respect that. We talked earlier about what happened in 2012 that is worth building upon. Allow me to now look at the other end. Any disappointments?

EJS:  I was disappointed in the way we started off in the second term. A lot of misunderstandings, lot of confusion, and that really took us away from our main focus of being able to move the development forward. But anyway, that was the way it was. I am glad that right now things have settled down.  Right now, we're all beginning once again to move in the same direction, to identify our goals under the agenda for transformation, which is a five year slice of the 2030 vision. Like I said, that disappointment was there but we've learned to accept it for what it was, and I hope now that we will not face that again - that we will all move forward the same common goal of developing our country and promoting all the freedoms that are required in a democracy and an open society.

CWB: How do you handle all of the pressure?

EJS: You know I have been in this game for a long time, so, I have got a thick skin.  I may get angry sometimes, I am human. I may get frustrated sometimes, I am also human in that regard, and there are times I may strike back, but, all in all, I have learned to take it in stride. I can say to anybody that I don't have any sleepless nights to say that I am worried that somebody said something or somebody will do something to me or something like that.

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 conscious, my principles, my policies, I do what I have to do. And I thank God that he's with me to give me the courage, the stamina, the strength; and I have learned to take it. Man, I have been in this thing, long time, Cyrus.

CWB: What are your thoughts, Madam President, for 2013, as we begin the New Year?

EJS: I would like to see us really make progress in all of those areas of reform that we have included in the agenda for transformation. I hope we can conclude on land reform, that's very vital to everything we do. The mining sector, the agriculture sector; peace and tranquility because of all the confusion over land. 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. We need to come back on the table with our reconciliation program, whether it is the palaver hut or other institutions that will deal with that. And also on infrastructure; you know we're placing great emphasis now. We say power, ports and roads, will be our three areas of concentration.  Of course, agriculture, education and health are important; these three ones would have a much better chance of reaching the potential.

And so, 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.

So, what do I expect in 2013?  I expect it to be a good year of progress for the country; progress in all the areas that we have identified as the key priority areas for our country. And I hope the progress that will be demonstrable; that people will see it. That 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.

CWB:  Madam President, my final question.  My wife and I were discussing this issue, and I thought to bring it to you.

This is the holiday period, a time sharing and giving and all of that. How does one pick a gift for a president, someone who, rightly or wrongly it is assumed has everything. How does one decide, this is what I am going to give the President, especially for the ordinary man down there, who wants to just share something with the President thinks the president has everything?

EJS: You know, 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.

CWB: Madam President, on that note I like to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to you, and for also giving me the opportunity to go to school and to earn a master's degree in international Relations while I worked here as your Press Secretary.

EJS: Oh, Cyrus. You've been a good staff member. You've been working with us; you've been loyal, you've been honest, you've been committed, and you continue to demonstrate that, and I am glad that you've had that opportunity, and you'll continue to see new opportunities opened for you that will enable you to continue to serve your country in the manner in which you have done in the past.

CWB: Thank you Madam President.

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