Quoting extensively from Chapter II of the Liberian Constitution entitled "General Principles of National Policy," President George Manneh Weah yesterday in his first State of the Nation address said he cannot be expected to report with authority on the expenditure and income of the Government of Liberia for the previous year, which was administered by his predecessor.
The reason, he said, is that "I have been President for only one week." He also admitted that "It is customary that the State of the Nation address gives an account of the President's stewardship of the Government for the previous year, and then sets out his legislative agenda for the ensuing session.
"Additionally, the President is expected to present the overall economic condition of the nation, which should cover both expenditure and revenue... during the transition process, certain information has been provided to us on both income and expenditure, containing balances, which we now inherit to carry forward."
The President said the total revenue collected in the calendar year 2017 amounted to US$ 489.1 million, which is a 13 percent decline over revenue collected in 2016, which was 565.1 million, and noted: "I cannot vouch for the accuracy or completeness of this information, in the absence of verification by a full and proper audit conducted by a competent authority."
President Weah blamed the lapses on "the delays in the recent electoral process, which had the effect of reducing the transition period from three months to three weeks.
"Nevertheless, and in spite of the above-described situation, it is possible to inform you that the state of the economy that my administration has inherited leaves a lot to be desired. This is plain for all to see, for we are all affected by it. Our economy is broken, our government is broke, our currency is in free-fall, inflation is rising, unemployment is at an unprecedented high, and our foreign reserves are at an all-time low," he said.
Weah continued: "This is the challenge that we face. In order to overcome these constraints and reverse these trends, we, the Executive, will have to work in close collaboration with you, the Legislature, as separate but coordinate branches of Government, to find solutions to these obstacles to our progress and development."
He promised that his administration will propose and introduce appropriate legislation for "your consideration and approval that will be based on the four pillars of our platform, namely: power to the people, economy and jobs, sustaining the peace, and governance and transparency."
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
"We shall focus on reviews and revision of our education system, improve health and sanitation, promote and strengthen gender equality, and provide for youth re-orientation and empowerment through training of all kinds, and the creation of jobs."
ECONOMY AND JOBS
"We will introduce new legislation and policies which will be intended to achieve sustainable economic growth, develop and expand agriculture, and address our very large infrastructure deficit, with particular emphasis on road construction and the provision of affordable and adequate electricity for all our people."
SUSTAINING THE PEACE
"Under this pillar, we shall examine ways to improve the judiciary system to ensure that the basic rights of all Liberians are protected. To that end, we will propose legislation that will be intended to create new processes and avenues to ensure that all our people are fully reconciled."
GOVERNANCE AND TRANSPARENCY
"We will request you to draft legislation that will focus on the decentralization of institutions and systems of governance, review and build upon the current Code of Conduct in order to increase accountability of public officials, and reduce the incidence of corruption."
Weah vowed that in an effort to make Government more efficient, "we will submit to you a draft legislation to re-structure the cabinet of the Executive branch to make our ministries more effective in addressing the specific requirements of our various sectors."
President Weah said: "What I have just presented to you is a broad and general indication of our legislative program. However, and more specifically, I would like to inform you that my immediate strategy for reducing poverty, increasing youth empowerment through job creation and training, and improving the productivity of our economy, is to embark upon a comprehensive road and highway construction program that will link all county capitals with all-weather paved primary roads."
The President promised that the roads "will be built to the highest international standards, and linked to paved secondary farm-to-market roads that will enhance agriculture, trade, and tourism in Liberia. Particular priority will be given to a coastal highway that will run from Buchanan to Harper, which will eventually end the complete isolation of southeastern Liberia, a condition that has existed since the formation of this country."
On the government's medium term projects which, he said, will take several years to complete, "It is the intention of my government to prioritize the planning and raising funding for this important development goal, which has been estimated to cost approximately three billion dollars. This is going to be very challenging, but I am convinced that, with the assistance of friendly governments and institutions, this can be achieved before the end of my tenure."
Meanwhile, Weah finally announced that, "The State of the Nation is peaceful and full of promise. We are at peace with ourselves, we are at peace with our neighbors, and we are at peace with the world. There is hope that this newly elected government will bring the change that our people deserve, and will usher in a new era of prosperity and growth."