6TH SONA: What will Weah Say? -Pundits Make Predictions amid Expectations

MONROVIA – In line with Article 58 of the 1986 Constitution which provides that the President of Liberia should deliver before the joint sitting of the national legislature a state of the nation address every third Monday of January each year, President George Manneh Weah will today, Monday, January 30, 2023 deliver his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA) climaxing his elective six-year tenure. In view thereof, political pundits who have over the years deciphered the contents of various speeches delivered by successive presidents have opined that there may be more to this year’s SONA than should be expected, especially given the fact that President Weah will be reporting to the nation his government’s achievements and challenges at a time he is seeking re-election.

Consistent with the tradition of presidential speeches centering around on the review of the previous year, there is gainsaying that President Weah will highlight achievements recorded by his administration in 2022, touching on critical sectors of the economy including education, agriculture, health, infrastructure as well as international affairs.

In the area of health, the construction and commissioning of the ultra-modern Emirate Hospital in Bopolu City, Gbarpolu County, the dramatic defeat of the COVID 19 pandemic, the recruitment of additional doctors and health workers are issues that are expected to be highlighted; while the President’s review of the education sector during the year under review will look at the increase in the budget of the sector, the continuation of the tuition-free initiatives for tertiary institution, construction, rehabilitation and renovation of public schools; additional recruitment of teachers, among  others.

As for the agriculture sector, President Weah is expected to showcase the expansion in cocoa farming and rapid increase in the rubber trade, both of which will positively impact the country’s export earning; while the completion of the rice milling plant in Lofa County will be heralded as a giant boost for the country’s agriculture program.

Perfunctorily, President Weah will receive a standing ovation when he mentions Liberia passing the Compact of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), signaling the first time since the country was enlisted in the US development package in 2017. However, the fact that Liberia passed the MCC and was widely celebrated in government circles does not negate the hardcore reality that Liberia did not actually qualify to reap the Compact benefits.

President Weah is also expected to speak on the energy sector, showcasing the gains made, especially against the backdrop of a purchase power agreement signed with the Ivorian Energy Company and the Transco CLSG that ensures tremendous improvement and availability of power to Monrovia and other parts of Liberia in Nimba, Bong and Grand Cape Mount copies. The decisive war against power theft which has been a major challenge to distribution of electricity in the country will also have a place in the President’s speech.

President Weah’s participation in the democracy summit held with President Joseph R. Biden of the United States of America where he had the rare opportunity with other African leaders to meet Biden and discuss elections in 2023 will form part of the achievements of the SONA. The meeting, though not a one-on-one affair that the Weah government had craved over the years since he became President in 2018, was better than not being able to sit with Biden after the government spent so much on lobbyists to have Washington look favorably on the side of Liberia.

However, after all said and done with the normal expectation from the speech, pundits have submitted that President Weah may go beyond the space and probably turn the entire speech to a campaign stunt with the SONA being the biggest platform in recent time available to him where many people including international development partners are expected to attend and a good number of the country’s population both at home and abroad will be listening and following the event.

“There is no joke or guessing about it. This is a sure platform to grab and make his case for re-election by turning the speech into a campaign and a rallying point to get the audience’s attention”, Wisdom Teah Tipayson, a public policy analyst told The Analyst last week.

Perhaps a clear indication of what could be in store for the Liberian people emerged a few weeks ago when government ministries and agencies have been trooping into media houses to catalogue their achievements over the years since 2018 when the government was inaugurated. “Whether real or imagined, we have been seeing a lot of public relations stunts from the government to showcase what they have been able to do in recent time”, a lady who called her name simply as Nancy said.

Though the official campaign for the 2023 general election has not been announced by the National Elections Commission (NEC), it has however been in full swing with politicians seizing every opportunity to get their messages. President Weah on his own during most of his visits to communities and other parts of the country has been very vocal to take an aim on the opposition community, discounting them as not been worthy to challenge him in the ensuing general election where he is seeking re-election under the same political structure that brought him to power in 2018.

“We don’t expect anything less than what he has been doing and saying about the opposition community. He has actually been in campaign mood since his inauguration in 2018 and this year being the actual year for what he has been planning, it will not be a surprise if the SONA will be used to publicly campaign for his second term”, Jeftah Menzon, a social worker with interest in politics said in Ganta last night.

Mr. Mohammed Musa II, a Liberian in the Diaspora who was recently in the country said by now Liberians should know the mindset of those handling the President’s campaign towards his 2023 reelection bid, as they are keen to cash in on any opportunity that is available to the President to score some points.

“Remember the SONA is coming less than a week to the petition ceremony of the President where CDCians and his supporters will be asking him to re-contest and the SONA is a sort of rehearsal to put him in that mood for the February 4, 2023 event. You can see the momentum, and watch my words on Monday, the whole Capitol Building will be overtaken by CDCians and his supporters will all form campaign messages that may take a swipe at the opposition. Those will be pointers to what the President will say during his speech”, Musa said, stressing, “We are watching, and trust me, you will be disappointed when you disagree with me”.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the National Legislature has announced that as part of his constitutional mandate, President George Manneh Weah will today, Monday 30 January, 2023 deliver his 6th and final annual message of his tenure to members of the 54th Legislature in a joint session at the capitol building.

According to a press release from the Capitol Building, the State of the Nation Address is in fulfillment of Article 58 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia which requires the President to report on the State of affairs and present his legislative program to the Legislature on the 4th working Monday in January of each year.

“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”, the statement said.

In a joint release from the Press and Public Affairs Departments of the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate quoting the Chief Clerk Mildred Siryon, the program is expected to start at 4:00 PM (1600 GMT) in the William R. Tolbert, Jr. Joint Assembly Hall.

The release further stated that as protocol dictates, the Legislators will gather in the Joint Chamber of the Capitol Building where the Presiding officer, Speaker Bhofal Chambers will call for a motion to accept and receive the President to deliver his annual message to the august body.

Following that, the Chairpersons and members of the Executive of both Houses of Representatives and the Liberian Senate will go at the main entrance of the Capitol Building to receive and escort the President to the joint chamber to deliver his address.

It is also anticipated that the President’s message will highlight gains made under the year in review as he lays out key legislative priorities of his government in the ensuing year as well as challenges and other incidents that occurred over the years.

The joint legislative release says the program is expected to be graced by the Chief Justice and Associates Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Members of the Cabinet, heads of State Enterprises, the Doyen and Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited near Monrovia.

Others include Political parties, the Clergy, Traditional Council, International and local Non-Governmental Organizations, Civil Society Organizations, the media as well as eminent citizens.

Strict security protocols have been put in place to avoid the congestion of the Hall; therefore an appreciable number of Journalists will be tagged before entering the grounds of the Capitol, the release noted.

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