The Inquirer (Monrovia)

28 May 2014

Liberia: Ellen Vows to Improve Economy

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has vowed to improve the Liberian Economy and that effort is already underway with her direct leadership.

President Sirleaf said, "Today, my fellow Liberians, I renew to you this solemn pledge: Our economy will be restored to its full potentials. This effort is already underway with my direct leadership."

The Liberian leader also said this effort will require changes in officials, prosecutions of offenders, challenges to partners, as well as reforms in policies and actions.

The Liberian leader, delivering a nation-wide address on the state of the Liberian Economy said, "It will require the various Branches of Government to continuously work together for the common good of those we were elected to serve."

President Sirleaf further said it will require new thinking and strategic repositioning and may require new and more robust partnerships with civil society and the media, saying, "and it will require understanding from our citizens to whom we owe so much."

"To continue to achieve this, as already begun, the administration is undertaking bolder and tougher measures to continue to streamline our priorities, reduce wasteful spending, create additional savings and increase revenues so as to continue to invest in roads, ports, electricity, education, health, security, water and sewer - all these things that will multiply opportunities and benefits for all of our people," President Sirleaf said.

She further said, "And yes, let there be no doubt: We will pass a budget. We will do this not because we will agree on everything the budget will contain but because the overall leadership of our country remains in total agreement on a shared responsibility to lift all Liberians. I know that we will continue to meet this duty."

Earlier the President said with many constraints and challenges, the Liberian economy has performed well over the past 6 years, averaging annual growth rate of 7 percent.

"Our annual growth rate exceeds the average growth rates of the West African region. Estimates from the IMF indicate the growth rate in 2013 to be 8.7 percent. This performance was based on an activation of operations in the traditional sectors of iron ore and rubber. At the same time, efforts are underway to reactivate other traditional sectors such as cocoa, coffee and oil palm," President Sirleaf added.

She said in the oil palm sector, Liberia is inviting the best from Malaysia and Indonesia not only to invest but also to transfer knowledge as to how these countries succeeded in transforming their economies through oil palm productions.

She noted that simultaneously, efforts are underway to diversify into agriculture and fisheries, and to accelerate petroleum exploration.

Notwithstanding, President Sirleaf said these serious efforts, the rate of growth projected for 2014 is at 5.8 percent which falls short of the growth rate projected in the Agenda for Transformation that calls for at least 8 percent annual growth rate, if Liberians are to stay on track in becoming a middle-income country by 2030.

Giving reasons for this projected decline, President said, "Firstly, all countries are interdependent. The 2009 global financial meltdown has had its toll on Liberia. While others with stronger and more enduring infrastructures are slowly recovering, it will require some time for our country to fully recover."

She stressed that for varying reasons; Liberia's negotiating teams have taken more time than previously anticipated in closing negotiations with interested investors. She said these delays have meant delays in operationalizing investments that have already been committed.

She said in some instances where the negotiations have been concluded and work plans have been drawn up for implementation, the lack of required infrastructures such as roads, electricity and ports, which sometimes require separate and difficult decisions, have also slowed the timely implementation of many of the committed investments.

President Sirleaf said the rubber sector and Liberia's traditional strength in exports and jobs is experiencing a sharp decline in production on account of replanting by major plantations.

"Additionally, demand for rubber by our trading partners themselves affected by the global financial meltdown has led to drastic reductions in the global price of rubber," the President told Liberians.

President Sirleaf also cited the issue of fraud and abuse in the forestry sector which compelled government to impose a much-needed moratorium resulting into significant loss of budgeted revenue and community benefits.

"To add to these issues - many over which we lacked complete control - community issues relating to land and benefits, have too often resulted to violence and destruction, which continue to undermine not only the operations of the investments but also the renewed confidence that Liberia is still a good destination for investment," the President said .

President Sirleaf on a serious note said, "Moreover, although core targets have been met, decline in the level of anticipated revenues on account of procurement fraud and corruption have combined to delay the payment of government's financial commitment which, in the absence of full cooperation between the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Liberia, have created stress in the banking system and the depreciation in the exchange rate."

She further said, "In the end, it should be realized, however, that the economy is not a machine subject to pulling of plugs or the pushing of buttons. The economy is people to people in private business, people in official entities, people in civil society, people in the media all of whom must play their roles without prejudice to the right to pursue their goals, but with the full realization that what each does will have consequences. We have seen that what each of us do can actually slow our bus or speed us along the way."

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