Encompassing, Electrifying SONA -Liberians Describe Weah’s 2023 Annual Message

MONROVIA – This year’s State of the Nation Address delivered by President Weah has triggered perhaps the nosiest of public reactions, with the opposition clashing with government apologists over whether or not the national oration was worth the time and attention of the people. One middle ground position comes from the ordinary people and independent stakeholders whose reaction appear to be clear of political spin. They also have had their take of the speech which touches on nearly all sectors of the government, as The Analyst report.

Despite swift and uproarious critiquing reactions of President George Manneh Weah’s State of Nation Address by the Liberian opposition community, ordinary Liberians and some stakeholders have praised the national oration, describing it extensive, substantive and electrifying.

The citizens sound quite unanimous in the view that the president’s address captured real time developments facing the country, and that what he reported are almost exactly what is visible and well known on the ground.

Reacting to the three-hour-and-half speech delivered January 30, 2023 at the joint chambers of the National Legislature and in the presence of diplomatic officials and national stakeholders, citizens appearing and calling on various radio talk shows contend the speech is worth the time and national ecstasy it generated because it encapsulated the fundamental issues of the day vis-à-vis transformation efforts he reported on.

While the opposition believes the State of the Nation is empty in terms of substance, and that it is misleading as far as conditions on the ground are concerned, most Liberians have expressed their satisfaction and praised the president for giving such a detailed national oration.

In fulfilment of Article 58 of the Liberian Constitution, which requires the President of Liberia to report to the people of Liberia, through the Legislature, President Weah took to the rostrum and leafed through his administration’s programs and achievements.

As the Annual Message is the last in the President’s six year term, the report covered significant developments dating to as far as 2018 when he took the mantle of power.

Introducing the speech, the President said “this year has a very special meaning for me, as it marks my sixth and final State of the Nation Address to this Honorable Body for the term of my Presidency to which I have been elected”.

“In 2017, I was given a resounding mandate by the Liberian people to steer the nation through a constitutionally guaranteed six-year term,” the President asserted. “As this year concludes that period, I am happy to apprise you, my fellow compatriots, of the enormous progress that has been made, in spite of inevitable challenges.”

Having welcome the Legislators from their annual break, President Weah reflected that 2022, the reporting year, saying that it year marked a crucial historical milestone for Liberia whereby 200 years of the founding of the Nation was celebrated.

“I need not belabor you with accounts of how much we have all been through as a People during these two centuries, including wars, pestilences, and economic setbacks and downturns,” he told the nation. “But together, we have remained strong and progressive, and have managed to always emerge triumphant and united, through and after every trial and tribulation, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, or political affiliations.”

He also informed that nation that as their President, he has made it his overarching purpose and duty to work towards preserving the peace of this Nation, ensuring always that “we do not slide back into conflict”.

“This has been the fundamental underpinning of all development and policy initiatives of my Administration,” Dr. Weah stated. “The record will show that we have achieved undeniable success in this endeavor, while at the same time always ensuring that there is strict adherence to the rule of law, and protection for the constitutional rights of our citizens, as we consolidate our democracy and develop our Nation.”

Setting the tune of his speech, the President further noted that Liberia’s well-earned credentials as a nation of peace and democracy in West Africa will be put to the test in about nine months from today, “when we head to the polls for general and presidential elections”.

These will be the fourth elections since the end of the war in 2003, and they will be an important benchmark for judging the extent of the consolidation of peace in our country, the President refreshed the nation.

Speaking further about elections, he said the 2023 elections are perhaps the most significant for being the first to be primarily organized and administered by Liberia, since the drawdown of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in 2018.

“This is our moment, therefore, to continue to demonstrate to the world that we are a peace-loving nation, and that we are capable and ready to undertake elections that include all Liberians in a free and credible process,” he asserted, adding: “Not only will our individual patriotism be put on trial, but our institutions of democracy will also be tested.

“I am of the strongest conviction that this is a test that we can – and will – pass.  As you may be aware, I have continuously reaffirmed my commitment to free, fair and transparent elections, and to respect the democratic will of the Liberian people. I remain committed to that pledge.”

What many pundits say interest them about the President Annual Message this year is that he did not leave any sector unreported, none did he report on the sectors without providing concrete things that were done during the year towards improving the social, economic and political well-being of the people.

Social Service Infrastructures

What seem dear to the hearts of Liberians, and which the President passionately reported on his the social service infrastructures, mainly roads.

Towards this end, the President revealed how the Local Government Act has established a system of  governance consisting of locally appointed and elected officials, and grants them authority and resources to enable them to cater directly to the care and needs of the citizens in their respective counties, in the areas of health, education, roads, agriculture and other development needs.

“No longer must our people always have to come all the way to Monrovia to get better services, because most of the things done in Monrovia can now be done in the counties,’ the President said.

In a related development, you passed the Revenue Sharing Law in 2022, to enable revenue-sharing between central and local governments in Liberia.  It was designed with the main objective of promoting domestic resource mobilization through fiscal decentralization for local empowerment.

Roads network

He reiterated the fact that road network of Liberia continues to remain the focus and passion of his administration, and today he was pleased to inform the nation that “we have made considerable gains in the road and transport sector during the period under review”.

According to the President, the Ministry of Public Works remains the fulcrum of Government’s development agenda through the full execution of its mandate to plan, procure and construct public infrastructure.

“It has continued its constructive engagements with our traditional financing partners, and has been successful in raising funds for the construction of new primary road networks, as well as for the implementation of several additional development projects.”

In all, the President, nicknamed “Bad Road Medicine”, reported that when his administration commenced its leadership in 2018, the total paved roads in the national road network was only 745 km throughout the entire country, representing less than 5% percent of the network.

“Today, we have increased this number to 1,375 km, with an additional 436 km paved in the primary roads category alone.”

The President spoke very fondly about another social service infrastructure, education and training of Liberia’s future leader.

Education Sector

In the education sector, the President reported that his administration spent nearly $38.9 million on tuition-free policy; renovation of public universities; WASSCE and Junior High School examinations; the “Support to Closing Teachers Salary Gaps” project; and support to the Engineering College.

The President said: “In the social development sector, we spent around $12.8 million US dollars on the County Tour Implementation & Spot Checks; the National County Meet tournament; the completion of the Omega & Duala Market projects; the continuation of the Albino Society Headquarters construction; and our contribution to the National County Projects through the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE).

He noted that the development and improvement in Liberia’s human capital has emerged as the biggest generational challenge Liberia is faced with.

He said, “Education is the cornerstone for our national development agenda and the pathway to a brighter future for our young people.

“It will empower them to create opportunities for themselves, their communities, and for our country. To this end, I have endorsed an Education Sector Plan which has been developed by the Ministry of Education in conjunction with our development partners.  This Plan, which will span five years, from 2023 – 2027, summarizes our vision for turning education around in Liberia.  I am confident that it will be a powerful tool to mitigate the current challenges in the education system, as it provides a strategic roadmap for the achievement of the key education policy goals of the Government over the next five years.”

The president said: “The Education Sector Plan will require Government to commit more than $500 million US dollars over the next five years. As Government revenue increases as forecast, my proposal is that we should devote an increasingly larger share of these new revenue streams to this new plan, in order to secure the future of our young people in Liberia”.

Health Sector

During the year under review, the President said, the Government made significant interventions in a number of sectors including Health, Education, Social Development Services, Energy and Environment.

Particularly, he said “in the health sector, we spent about $17.3 million US dollars on vaccines and vaccine-related supplies; COVID-19 vaccination administration; and drugs and medical consumables.”

He said development partners met with him during his first week in office and informed him that the Health Pool Fund, which had been paying the salaries of some 2,000 health workers, had dried up.

“They asked us to take these workers on to the Government’s payroll, at a cost of about $12 million U.S. dollars a year,” the President reported and added that “The United Nations Mission, which had been spending some $115 million US dollars annually in Liberia, was also leaving, thereby depriving the economy of these resources. By 2018, all of these inflows were gone.”

He reported on the construction and dedication of many hospitals, including a 100-bed state-of-the-art Referral Hospital known as the Emirates Hospital, in Bopolu City, Gbarpolu County.

Peace and Stability

President Weah also spoke of national stability and peace during the nationwide address.

He observed that since the end of violent conflict in 2003, followed by transitional justice processes, including the 2009 Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Liberia remains on a gradual but certain path to genuine reconciliation.

He added: “In this regard, my Government looks forward to a future of consolidating the peace, enhancing continuous stability, and undertaking reforms to address the culture of impunity and to foster national reconciliation and social cohesion.”

He as President, he has continued to preach about the virtues of peace from this high platform, as an extension of his well-known career in peace advocacy, which began long before he ascended to this Office.

This, he noted, was recognized many years ago by the international community when I was appointed as a Peace Ambassador of the United Nations.

“A further manifestation of my passion for peace was when I was invited by my predecessor, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to serve in her government as her Peace Ambassador, even while I was in opposition,” the President boasted.

“I preach peace, because I realized a long time ago that there is, and can never be, any victor in a civil war. When brothers kill sisters, and sisters kill brothers; when parents kill their children and children kill their parents; when friends kill each other; and citizens with a common patrimony turn violently on each other; no one wins.”

“Instead, everyone loses, either directly, or indirectly.  There is not one single Liberian family that did not lose a relative or friend to this terrible fratricidal war that was both senseless and brutally uncivil, almost demonic.”

He admonished Liberians that to ensure that “we never return to those dark days, we must give peace a chance to create the space in which we can begin the dialogue that will resolve our differences.  We must hold the conversations to discuss how we can maintain our peace in a sustainable manner, so as to be able to develop our country.”

“I have observed that it is mostly young people who are the ones that are used to agitate. These young people have had little or no experience of war,” he asserted further.

“We have now enjoyed 20 years of unbroken peace, and it can readily be seen that young people, who are coming of voting age for the first time since turning 18 years old,  have had no experience of war.

“They are quickly and easily manipulated to do harm and instill violence. We need to guide our young people and inspire them to reject violence and conflict as a means to express their grievances and dissatisfactions.” 

He narrated his experience about war and peace when he said: “When the rice riots took place in 1980, I was only 13 years old. That was the first time that I had ever seen violence and destruction on such a massive scale. 

“As a young man, I was confused and perplexed.  That experience left an indelible impression on me about the horrors of civil unrest that can lead to violence, and a lasting distaste for violence that is unleashed for political reasons.  The thought occurred to me at the time, that there was no political leader among the hundreds of young people who had been killed during the rice riots.”

During the period under review, the maintenance of genuine and lasting peace both in Liberia and in the sub-region was a paramount importance, according to the President.

On the foreign front, he reported the restoration of constitutional democracy, which he said remained the priority issues on the agenda of ECOWAS. The security and political situations in Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso have been of paramount concern.

He said Liberia continued to support the peacekeeping operations in Mali with the presence of a contingent of the Armed Forces of Liberia embedded within the United Nations Mission (MINUSMA) in that sister state.

“We continued to work with our colleagues to resolve the constitutional impasse in the Republic of Mali in order to restore constitutional democracy. The key objective is to restore political order through the holding of free, fair and transparent elections in the soonest convenient time.”

He said the grave security situation in the Sahel is of paramount concern to Liberia because it poses a serious threat to the peace and security of the entire West African sub-region. My Government will therefore do all within its power to support the Transition Agenda of ECOWAS aimed at bringing the republics of Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso; to peace, security, stability, democracy, and constitutional order.

Agriculture Efforts

President George Manneh Weah told the nation that he was to report that last year was a high-performing period for out agriculture sector, where more focus was placed directly on impacting rural and urban farmers, as well as those in the agricultural value chains.

This is evidenced by the delivery of implements to farmers to enable them boost local production, the President said, and added: “The Government and donor partners disbursed financial grants to farmers in the rice, vegetable, oil palm, rubber, poultry, piggery and cassava sectors, so as to expand their production and capacity in their respective value chains.”

He said the agricultural sector now enjoys the confidence of donors, whose support and presence allow for greater production of rice and other crops, and the employment of climate-smart agricultural practices that help mitigate the impacts of climate change on farmers.

He further reported that in the early days of his administration, “I signed the Liberia Agricultural Commercialization Fund (LACF).  Funded by the World Bank and the International Fund for Agriculture Development, the LACF has expanded from an initial three (3)  value chains (rice, oil palm and horticulture), to now include four (4) more value chains (rubber, cassava, piggery and poultry). The LACF is also spread nationwide and provides access to finance for commercial farms and agribusinesses.”

“I am pleased to report that $4 million US dollars, out of a total of $41.5 million US dollars, has already been approved for disbursements to selected beneficiaries, particularly rice and vegetable producers and processors.”

National Economy

Speaking about the nation’s economy, President Weah said when he took the oath of office in January of 2018, the Liberian economy was in a state of major distress, as the macroeconomic foundations were weak.

The country’s net international reserve, which had been used by the previous Government to stabilize the exchange rate, was very low, he added.

“The exchange rate had plunged into free fall, and the then Government did not seem to have the tools to deal effectively with stabilizing the currency at that time.  As a consequence, inflation was increase at an alarming rate, while domestic revenue and development assistance were in decline.”

He said the Government’s credit rating with commercial banks was at its lowest because the Government could not settle its domestic obligations to lenders. The total Government obligation to the Central Bank of Liberia was not even known because some Government debt to the Central Bank was not officially recognized. This was the bleak nature of our economy when we assumed responsibility for the leadership of the Government at the beginning of 2018.

“What we did not realize at the time is that the recipe for economic disaster had already been set.  We had assumed that our economy was sitting on a strong foundation, but we were in for a rude awakening when the decline in the exchange rate began to accelerate,” Dr. Weah further asserted.

“We had to get to work quickly, to re-think, to re-work and to re-establish the principles of  macroeconomic fundamentalism as they are known around the world.

“In 2019, I delivered an Economic Address to the Nation, in which I  announced an end to Government borrowing from the Central Bank of Liberia. This policy forced the Government to depend on its own resources and to live within the means of the national budget. This was a policy to help contain inflation and to reduce the Government deficit.

“In 2019, we also set out to fix the broken and unfair wage system in which Government workers were paid without any set rules or pay grades. To end this unfairness, we had to abolish a general allowance system that was allowing this to happen.  Although we were faced with revenue challenges, we were determined to keep all civil servants on the payroll.  And so we adjusted the wage system and gave every Government worker a salary which is based on a standard and consistent pay-grade.  As a result of this exercise, fifteen thousand (15,000) civil servants received higher salaries, while some seven thousand (7,000) were adjusted downward.”

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