30 January 2013

Liberia: Job Creation Causes Stir

The President's remarks on job creation received great applause on Capitol Hill Monday when she tried to explain the government's efforts at making some achievements.

As she set out to quote reports showing government had met its target commitment on job creation, she was roundly interrupted with irresistible cheers from legislators, whose outburst of emotions resonated the Capitol Building, making it more difficult for the listening audience to understand that pertinent portion of the President's annual message.

As the noise subsided, President Johnson Sirleaf was heard saying "Let me read that sentence again. Reports submitted to me suggest that we have met our target commitment on job creation, but overwhelmingly in short-term positions.

"If our objectives for jobs are to be fully achieved, we must move more rapidly on the renovation and expansion of the Monrovia Vocational Training Center and other technical and vocational training centers around the country. We must also resolve those issues that delay housing construction and investment operations which are the main sources of job creation. Additionally, we must improve our job reporting system so that we can get it right."

On other domestic matters, she said "We can boast today of a stabilization and the availability and affordability of strategic commodities such as rice, cement and petroleum products. More action is required in control of prices for a wide range of imported commodities. We will discuss with you, the leadership of the National Legislature, tough measures that must address this problem.

"To promote the more unifying force in our body politic, we allocated significant resources to the promotion of sports activities, particularly football. The results have been less than satisfactory, suggesting we need a new approach - one that focuses on the development of a young national team and directing resources to other sports. Consultations are under way with the various concerned entities to ensure commitment to this new approach."

The President received several rounds of applause when she said, "Human Development will continue to rank high on our development agenda. This includes programs in health, education, water and sanitation. The Administration has concluded a ten-year National Health and Social Welfare Policy and Strategic Plan which promotes the ongoing comprehensive Essential Package of Health Services that emphasizes full healthcare in rural areas and free health services for children under five years of age. These services are provided through 25 government hospitals in county capitals, 346 clinics and 33 health centers throughout the country."

She also said the recently completed 100-bed hospital in Fish Town, River Gee, adds to expanding facilities. With support from partners, close to 470 students are being trained in health services at home and abroad. "Much more will be needed to reduce the large capacity gap in the health sector. At present, there are 82 doctors, 308 Physician Assistants, 1,455 nurses and 645 midwives. More attention, financial and technical, will be required to be able to meet the required number. We'll also need to ensure Redemption and Phebe Hospitals continue to render service at the usual level of efficiency," she added.

"Malaria remains the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, to which we respond by the distribution of bed nets, indoor residual spraying and the administration of anti-malaria drugs.

We have also removed the tariff from malaria drugs. This has led to a sharp reduction in the incidences of malaria. As outgoing Chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), I welcome these improvements. The Ministry of Health continues to decentralize - the latest being in the area of birth registration, which was localized to all fifteen counties last year.

The health sector has been chosen to pilot the new financing scheme introduced by USAID. The Fixed Allocation Reimbursement Account (FARA) calls for advance government spending to be reimbursed by USAID, thereby assuring full accountability and equally assurance that the programs officially agreed achieved the target results. This may be a new trend among partners, and we must also ensure that we have a system to make it work."

"The government continues to expand investment in the water and sanitation sector. Currently, we are providing clean, pipe-borne water to 468,000 customers in and around Monrovia, and hundreds of boreholes and sanitation facilities have been constructed in five counties. The Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation has been reorganized and re-staffed, and there is ongoing audit which will be completed by the end of February. This will be followed by full implementation of the Water and Sanitation Policy which has been finalized, thereby meeting a condition by our partners, for release of funding for the rehabilitation of water system facilities in the five counties. As the Goodwill Ambassador for Water and Sanitation, I am pleased with this progress.

"The education sector is in dire need of reform. Although enrolment is perhaps the highest it has been in decades, the quality of education leaves much to be desired. This is due, in large measure, to inadequately trained teachers and lack of textbooks and facilities such as libraries and laboratories. Our 1.5 million students were enrolled in 11,929 schools in the country. Female enrolment, at 48 percent, continued to increase, but retention rate is low due to drop-outs caused essentially by poverty and pregnancy. A return to the boarding system is being pursued. Dialogue and negotiations are under way with a select number of boarding schools - Ricks, Bromley, Konola - for partnership that will require the government to expand their facilities. We have also renovated the William R. Tolbert, Jr. Elementary and Junior High School, an all-girls boarding school, located in Gbarlatuah, Bong County.

"A study on "Out of School Children" in Liberia identified the root causes as: traditional practices; early child marriage; peer pressure; lack of parental support; early pregnancy; child labor; distance to school; and the cost of education. The Administration has launched a nationwide consultation toward identifying possible solutions to the problem of out of school children. The rise in gender-based violence, particularly child rape, is alarming, and I urge that we work together to adopt a domestic violence law to bring an end to these heinous crimes.

"There is, however, some good news in the education sector. The West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Exams (WASSCE), an extension of the WAEC, will be piloted among 32 schools in Montserrado and Margibi Counties, and will eventually replace WAEC.

The 2012 WAEC results showed marked improvement.

Of the 25,425 Liberian students who sat the exams, 71.7 percent successfully passed for the first time. The level of success can be attributed to improvement in our own teachers capacity and to the deployment of 112 trained mathematics and science teachers in all the major public high schools, coming in part from Nigeria volunteer teachers, ECOWAS teachers and also the Peace Corps Volunteers deployed in 14 counties, Montserrado excepted, teaching English, Science and Mathematics in 45 schools. Beginning in September, Liberian college students will teach alongside Peace Corps Volunteers, under a new program which we have launched."

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