28 January 2013

Liberia: Inside Ellen's Annual Message - Pundits Presage What's Likely to be Said

Photo: Liberia Government
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The glamour, pomp and orations expected to dominate today's official business on Capitol Hill owe their origin to Article 58 of the Liberian Constitution which grants the President of Liberia the duty to, "on the fourth working Monday in January of each year, present the administration's legislative program for the ensuing session, and shall once a year report to the Legislature on the state of the Republic." For President Sirleaf, it would be the seventh report to the people of Liberia, something that leaves some pundits wonder whether there is any more new agenda left to unveil following a series of ambitious plans. The Analyst pieces together what some Liberians think is expected to be said by the President today.

When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf marches to the podium later today to brief the Legislature by extension the Liberian public on the state of the affairs of the Liberian nation, there's expected to be initial petering zeal amongst listeners principally because the President had on this same day seven years ago appeared and delivered similar speeches.

Picking randomly from the files, the Analyst gathered that the President's state of nation addresses have been reducing in the number of pages and national issues covered. In 2009, for instance, the President's annual message was 33 pages. Down in 2011, the pages dropped to 22 pages, and last year when she came to the Capitol Building, the state of the nation address turned 19 pages.

In the early days of her administration, the President's legislative agendas were near inexhaustible, with each address opting for a law for every public sector at the time. At last year's address, it appeared the agenda ran out of steam; or perhaps because the Legislature outperformed the Executive?

The legislative agenda in the President's 2012 annual message left in two paragraphs, when during previous years, specifically 2011, she allotted over four paragraphs and a lengthy list of laws under consideration. Further back in 2009, the President held her audience to over a dozen paragraphs on her legislative agenda.

The annual diminishing contrasts in the length of President Sirleaf's state of the nation's addresses since 2006 appear not to affect only her legislative agenda or her Government's legislative progress and relationship with the Legislature; it has also spread over to other sectors of governance, articulated by her development agendas that include the 150-Day Deliverables (2006), Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy (iPRs), the MDGs-based PRS, and Liberia Lift, amongst others.

The narrowing pace of national agendas reflected in the volume of President Sirleaf's state of the nation addresses is giving some pundits grounds not only to predict that today's oration would be shorter as ever but also that the President is now running out of strategies, energy and vision to develop the country in the years to follow.

At an atayee forum in the Borough of New Town over the weekend, discussants were divided over what they considered would be the substance and relevance of this year's state of the nation address by the President.

James O. Kipi, a regular visitor at the center opined that nothing but repetitious phrases on national reconciliation, economic revitalization and infrastructure would dominate the President's annual message today.

"The same old rhetoric we have heard since this lady took over the Liberian presidency will come out again," Kipi said, adding: "What President will do today is a mere response to constitutional dictates; but the fact is that she is tired and her policies are worn out."

Like Kipi, another discussant, Togba Harris, Jr., contended that the President has lost control of things to complacency and glamorous international approbation.

"On the domestic front, it is total failure and I don't know what the President will say today. Look for instance, if nature had not intervened, Sinoe County and the rest of the Southeast would still remain cut off from the country. Is she also going to report on the perennial menace of chronic poverty fueled by bad road condition in the country?"

Not all the discussants were lackluster and unexcited about President Sirleaf's annual message today. An equal number of participants in the debate contended that the President's statement will be charged by words of hope and inspiration.

One person that was specifically positive about the President's development agenda as would be unveiled today is Clarence P. Nimely, a classroom teacher in the Borough. He said: "The nation's strides for transformation, which President Sirleaf successfully navigates since the last seven years, has not the least come to an end. Certainly Ellen is going to brief the people of Liberia not only on monumental achievements of the last year and chart a compelling case for robust fight against the stubborn forces of poverty, disease and corruption."

Nimely and his allies at the debate argued that recent national events, ranging from the landmark breaks made by Government in attaining support to rebuild the war-ravaged hydro and build modern highways constitute sufficient reasons why President Sirleaf's address is worth listening to.

Certainly, Nimely and others posited that President Sirleaf will today take off time to brief the nation on the status of Vision 2030, perhaps the last national transformation agenda she will leave on the political burner.

This ambitious plan, which was generated from extensive national consultation process, addresses the country's intractable problems of poverty, underdevelopment and conflict.

The nation also faces security challenges both in the drawdown plan of UNMIL, the increasingly worsening crisis in Ivory Coast and the dispatch of Liberian troops to Mali. There has been a considerable disquiet in many quarters regarding the government's decision to send troops to Ivory Coast.

Appearing before the Legislature which was divided over the decision to send troops to Mali in the face of fragile security conditions in the country, it is also expected that the President's Annual Message will provide justifications and how her Government will deal with the concerns expressed

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