30 January 2013

Liberia: Taking Two Points From President Sirleaf's Annual Message


President Sirleaf on Monday fulfilled a constitutional mandate by delivering her Annual Message to the National Legislature. Article 58 of the Liberian Constitution says, "The President shall, 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. In presenting the economic condition of the Republic, the report shall cover expenditure as well as income."

In her two-hour message, the Liberian leader touched on many issues during the course of last year. Additionally, she also informed the body of the many challenges facing the government and also bills she intends to submit before them for their consideration.

Of the many issues the President spoke about, or what she plans to do this year, are the issue of a bill to be presented to that body for a "National Tourism Authority," and also a bill for the establishment of a Road Infrastructure Fund through a legislative process that will be submitted to the Legislature.

On the issue of the road, the President noted that "an improved road network and road conditions will accelerate Liberia's overall economic growth. However, we are mindful that the quality and usability of our road network, impacted by the unusually prolonged and heavy rainfall resulting from climate change, continue to present a huge challenge for unhindered development and sustained growth. Moreover, given the vast need after decades of neglect, the lack of adequate and sustainable funding will continue to constrain government's ability to reconstruct roads and bridges."

To this, the President said this will enable the country to generate the funds to support construction and maintenance of roads and that the establishment of this autonomous Road Authority will manage the country's road access. She noted that with this, a window of opportunity will open to Liberian road construction companies through this action, meaning that Liberian companies will be given the opportunity to partake in such development initiative.

Although the President did not elaborate on the issue of tourism, as she did with the road authority, it is generally believed that this proposal to separate the tourism, as an autonomous agency from that of the Ministry of Information, Culture and tourism is to make that industry very effective and attractive. For too long there have been incessant calls for government to take away the tourism section from the Ministry, as a separate agency to develop the country's rich tourism program.

I have developed interest in the country's tourism program because of what I have seen in other countries and how those countries are generating substantial income from their tourism. During one of my visits to the United States, I visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. The museum is so built in a way that anyone entering there will believe that Mr. King is still alive. There, souvenirs are sold. It is also a source of employment. Also, my visits to China, Malaysia and Turkey have heightened my interest in the tourism program because of what I saw and the money being accrued from that industry. This is why whenever I returned, I always highlighted those tourism programs in those countries, something, I believe we can develop if we are serious or set up the proper institution or authority. Thank God the President has mentioned this and hope that it will not be business as usual.

Like the Martin Luther King's Museum, we can also transform the Providence Island, where the freed slaves landed in the 1800's into a big tourism site. In this country, if we had developed our tourism program, we would have surpassed others who are today boasting of having a good tourism industry. But we have egregiously failed do to so. However, with this latest pronouncement by the President to make this separate, there is hope that all will be done to improve this industry.

Indeed, with our rich cultural heritage, coupled with historical events and happenings, as well as natural features such as Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount County and the Kpatawee Water Fall in Bong County, we are bound to succeed. Besides, we can even consider the Sanniquellie Conference, the birth place of the former Organization of African Unity (OAU) with the late William V.S. Tubman of Liberia, the late Sekou Toure of Guinea and the late Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Like the Martin Luther King's Museum, the scenery can be created as to what transpired at that conference. Also, we can include the old structure of the Providence Baptist Church on Broad Street, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1847. These are just few of the areas we can utilize.

On the Road Infrastructure Fund which will certainly come into being through a Legislative process, I agree with the President that this will enable the country to generate the funds to support construction and maintenance of roads and that the establishment of this autonomous Road Authority will manage the country's road access. Indisputable, as she said, this will be a window of opportunity to get Liberian road construction companies.

Regarding the issue of this authority, it is my prayer that it will be like in other countries where the toll system is developed, whereas vehicles plying certain streets or roads are compelled to pay some fees for use of that facility. Such funds when generated will be used to manage and maintain those roads. Today, we have the city parking, which is independently responsible for parking in the city. More importantly, given the high rate of employment, this project will create job opportunities for many and keep the roads in better condition. I recall many years ago when similar project started in Liberia, but did not produce the desired result. But this time, we can learn from the past mistakes to ensure the success of this road funds.

For me, I have taken these two issues because of their usefulness at this time. This in no way should be misconstrued as suggesting that other issues raised or spoken of by the President are not germane to our national development.

Let me close by thanking the President, as we will follow up on these. However, my only regret about the Annual Message is that she never mentioned anything about the controversial oil issue. I think the President should have given a status report on this oil industry. With the latest report from Africa Petroleum and the noise in the public, something should have been said to give as true picture on the matter. I consider this as an oversight, given the enormous task involved in presenting an annual message. Bye for now!

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