12 September 2017

Liberia: Benoni Urey Says His Inauguration Day Will Be Beginning of End of Graft

Monrovia — The All Liberian Party (ALP) standard bearer Benoni Urey took to the national airwaves last Friday to outline his vision for Liberia.

Speaking to Ledgerwood on the ELBC morning show, the Presidential candidate was on fine form as they spoke about corruption, the economy and national reconciliation.

The interview comes ahead of the ALP official campaign launch on Friday at the ATS stadium, Monrovia.

The party is generating the momentum that they hope will deliver Mr. Urey into the second-round Presidential run-off.

On corruption, Mr. Urey said that his inauguration day will be the "funeral of corruption". Probed on how he would achieve this, he said:

"'If one begins his administration by setting good examples, Liberians are quick to catch on to the message." - In other words - prosecution.

He said that this was the only way to end the "entrenched" corruption that currently undermines governance in Liberia.

Holding officials to account, he continued, is the solution to the pervasive impunity that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has failed to address.

Mr. Urey has previously stated he would make the Anti-Corruption Commissioners (LACC) truly independent, with a Special Prosecutor with powers independent of the Ministry of Justice.

He would also establish a special Anti-Corruption Court to fast track corruption cases, injecting a new urgency in dealing with the issue.

Moving onto nepotism - an issue that often go hand in hand with corruption for many Liberian citizens - Mr. Urey declared it must stop.

When asked if any members of his family would serve in his administration, he responded: "No brothers, no sisters, no children."

"They won't work in my government; they can go work in the next government. And that is final and definite."

The ALP standard bearer repeatedly praised William Tolbert - the former President - for his economic farsightedness throughout the interview.

He highlighted the social programs that existed under his premiership: free prenatal care, free medical care for children aged under 5, free education, and free government exams.

Mr. Urey made it clear these are things he would implement as President.

He went on to describe how Liberia was once seen as a leading nation in the West Africa region.

He said that getting Liberia working, re-kindling industrialization and ensuring quality health and education services will make people proud to say that are Liberian when abroad - as they once did in the past.

Mr. Urey stated that solving many of the ills of contemporary Liberia lie is creating a business-friendly atmosphere.

He said that cutting the cost of business will provide incentives for enterprises and entrepreneurs which will in turn spur inclusive economic growth.

A tax environment needs to be created where people and business pay their tax willingly.

This would entail a complete change in the strategy and personnel at the Liberia Revenue Authority. Foreign investment must also be prioritized.

When asked if this would be like President Tolbert's open-door policy, Mr. Urey joked: "We have to not only open the door but open the windows and all - to make sure investors come into Liberia and the right atmosphere is created where people can freely pay taxes."

He also talked frequently about the need to take leadership and governance to the people. In a Urey presidency, superintendents and the council will be elected. County development funds - which rarely make it to their intended use because of embezzlement - will be taken away.

Instead, they will be given directly to the communities so they can manage their own money. It is about giving the poor and rural communities economic empowerment so they can enhance their lives - he stated.

Continuing to outline his economic vision, Mr. Urey affirmed his drive to push forward the Mano River Union. Opening the borders, free trade and free movement would deliver prosperity not just to Liberia, but the region as a whole.

It is the only way to compete at a regional level, he informed, remarking that the combined population of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea does not match a single state in Nigeria. For him, deepening cooperation between the three countries will be a win-win situation.

National reconciliation also took up a major part of the morning discussion. Asked whether justice will be part of it, the Presidential candidate replied unequivocally: "It has to be."

"People who have committed hideous crimes must be brought to justice if this country is to move forward."

He then went on to explain what was hindering genuine reconciliation and national unity.

"All the people that are involved in reconciliation are not really grounded Liberians."

"Some of them are not even Liberians. They're people who have been in America for 20-30 years.

"These people are not even a member of any traditional society in Liberia."

"They have never lived in rural Liberia; they don't even know two rural villages in Liberia. They don't know the problems between these tribes - how can they reconcile (the communities)?"

In his opinion, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission must be revisited.

"One group of people who contributed the most to the problem in the country were exonerated because they made sure they put their men on that committee... so we have to revisit it," he said.

Benoni Urey has never held elected office before, but has served in Government - most prominently as Commissioner at the Maritime Authority. To demonstrate the integrity he will bring to government, he claimed he left $20 million in the Maritime account at the end of his tenure - hinting that politicians currently in power would have embezzled it.

Mr. Urey took over the Maritime Authority when it was in decline, but soon turned it into one of the largest and most important sources of revenue for the government.

Mr. Urey grew up poor on a farm in Careysburg. He is now Liberia's foremost businessman and the country's largest employer.

He believes his track record of job creation and business credentials will convince voters that he is candidate that can turn Liberia around.

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