MONROVIA – Next Monday, January 30, 2023, Liberia’s 24th President will take to the rostrum of the Joint Chambers of the Liberian Legislature to report to the Nation, consistent with Article 58 of the Liberian Constitution, on his achievements. This is expected to be extraordinary not only because it is the President’s last Annual Message of his first six-year term but also because it marks the beginning of a year of legislative and presidential elections in which he is incumbent and formidable candidate. But one year ago, when he delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA), he underscored achievements and projected plans conceived in the subsequent year on which he is to report next Monday. The Analyst traces the issues of the 2022 SONA, including promises, which the President reported on at that time.
Delivering his 5th State of the Nation Address one year ago, to the National Legislature, President George Manneh Weah reported vast variety of achievements which is administration undertook and achieved in 2021, including the economy, peace and stability, social economic development, foreign policies, amongst other things.
He accentuated Peace & Order
Regarding stability, President George Manneh Weah reminded the nation about the importance of peace and how he safely navigated the National Voyage, something that underpinned the enormous developments undertaken by his administration.
He loudly underscored the significance of durable peace and unity amongst Liberians in and out of the country despite prevailing difficulties and challenges.
“Let me assure you that, as President of Liberia, working in close collaboration with you, I will do all that is in my power to ensure that our Nation will remain peaceful, stable and strong, and that our economy will continue on a trajectory of sustainable growth and development,” the President averred. “Together, we can – and will – succeed!”
The Liberian leader used his 5th State of the National Address (SONA), in fulfillment of Article 58 of the Constitution, to urge Liberians to make peace, unity and reconciliation a national priority, while reassuring citizens of his unwavering determination to keep the nation stable and peaceful.
President Weah acknowledged Liberians’ resilience and determination to overcome challenging and unbearable situations such as they for the civil war, EBOLA and now Covid-19, and urged them to demonstrate that same spirit to keep on the heights of peace and unity.
“We came together as a people to end a deadly civil war and to overcome its effects,” he continued. “We came together to solve Ebola. We came together to stabilize our recent macroeconomic problems and we are together fighting COVID-19. We can do and achieve anything once we set our minds to it. That is who we are as Liberians.”
The President admonished Liberians to stand tall against events such as political and religious sentiments that have predilection to plunge the country into chaos,
“So let us not let politics divide us to the extent of destroying our country,” he pleaded.
President Weah implored Liberians to take advantage of the country’s Bicentennial Celebration to invoke the spirit of national unity, no matter how painful and difficult those first 200 years may have been.
He emphasized that the country’s past may be bittersweet, but the future could be sweeter with unity and oneness of purpose.
“As we go from this place today, let us continue to walk in unity and peace. I want to thank you, wholeheartedly and sincerely, for maintaining the peace,” the Liberian Chief Executive noted.
Quoting former South African President Nelson Mandela who described peace as the greatest weapon for development that any person can have, the President reminded Liberians that it is so easy to break down and destroy, but that those who make peace and build are heroes.
He called on Liberians to cherish the beautiful country God has endowed them with by equally embracing each other with love, and allowing peace to reign throughout the land, from the heights of Wologisi, to the Peaks of Mount Nimba, from the Slopes of Putu Mountain, to the Top of Mount.
He declared poetically: “Let peace reign From the Golden Sunset of River Gee, to the Savanna of Grand Kru: From the Sunset Beaches of Grand Bassa, to the Golden Beaches of Rivercess, from Cape Palmas to Cape Moun, from the Belleh Forest of Gbapolu, to the Sarpo Forest of Sinoe, from the Blue Lake of Bomi, to the Kpatawee Waterfalls of Bong, and from the Providence Island of Montserrado.”
Recommitting To the Call of Duty
In the Address spanning two hours, President Weah also unequivocally stated that his Government is on course delivering on the promises he made in 2017, to give to power to the people, to improve the economy, to empower the youths, and to sustain peace.
He said Government is leaving no stone unturned in actualizing national development encapsulated in the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) aimed at giving power to the people through better education and healthcare, creating stronger possibilities for young people, especially for our girls and women.
The PAPD, he said, is also intended to transform the economy and continuing to build critical road and electricity infrastructure; to protect peace and strengthen national security, to intensify the fight against corruption, and to improve the quality of governance, among others.
“I am proud and pleased to inform you today, Mr. Speaker, that four years from where we started, this Pro-Poor Agenda remains actively on course,” President Weah declared.
Another important focus of the President’s SONA was gains made in national youth empowerment and development programs.
President Weah announced that the government and its partners implemented several programs intended to improve the lives of the country’s youths, stressing that the young people of Liberia have already gone through quite a lot, and there was a need to push them.
President Weah said: “Amongst the many programs we have initiated to improve living condition for young people is the Youth Entrepreneurship and Empowerment Program (YEEP), a $2.4 million US dollar initiative funded by the African Development Bank, to get graduating students work-ready. We also are implementing the Entrepreneurship Development program; the Liberian Employment and Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP) and the recently launched Recovery of Economic Activities for Liberia Informal Sector Employment (REALISE), which will provide short-term employment opportunities to a much wider demographic, including young people.”
According to the Liberian Leader, government also wholly sponsored a National Youth Literacy program and a National Cadet Program, indicating that the Monrovia Vocational Training Center (MVTC) continues to provide vocational and technical skills to youths of diverse backgrounds.
“The Center offers a variety of training courses, including Heavy Duty and Auto Mechanic; Welding & Fabrication; Auto Electricity and Electricity; Electronics; Refrigeration & Air Condition; Masonry, Plumbing, Architectural Drafting, Carpentry; and Graphic Arts,” he divulged.
He added: “The European Union (EU) has approved additional 26 million Euros to cover the cost of establishing state-of-the-art TVET schools in the rest of the 8 Counties that do not have them. This is in fulfilment of our vision to have TVET Institutions in all 15 Counties.”
He said the initiatives are targeted at all Liberian youth, regardless of which county they may reside in.
President Weah reported that “thousands have already benefitted. Over the ensuing period, the government will dedicate more resources in order to tackle the growing menace of disadvantaged Youth, otherwise referred to as Zogos.”
Article 58 of the Constitution of Liberia mandates the President of Liberia, on the fourth working Monday in January of each year, is to present the Legislative Program of the Administration for the ensuing session, and report on the State of the Republic, covering the economic condition of the Nation, including expenditure and income.
Defeating Deadly Pandemic
By 2021 the ravages of the novel Coronavirus have spread across the world, subduing effectively even the most prosperous nations, mostly in terms of the rates of infection, hospitalization and death. Many development countries are also feeling the weight of the devastating pandemic.
Liberia is amongst a very few nations in the wide world whose fight against the killer disease is acclaimed and hailed by experts monitoring containment responses around the globe.
President George Manneh Weah did not forget to brief the nation on the rather heroic gains that country has made fighting COVID-19.
Giving his state of the nation address Monday, January 25, 2021, the President extolled the pro-active leadership of national Government, working together with development partners and other stakeholders, Liberia’s leadership in containing the COVID-19 virus.
He said the country’s success has been globally recognized.
“For example, the former head of the United States Center for Disease Control has recognized Liberia as ‘Best at Learning form a Recent Epidemic,’” the President reported. “Liberia has not been spared the impact of this global pandemic, which started in late 2019 and spread across the world in 2020.
He recalled that Liberia recorded its first case in March 2020 and as of today’s date we have confirmed 1,927 total cases with 1,722 recoveries and 109 active cases. We have also recorded 84 deaths, with only 13 deaths occurring in treatment facilities.”
According to him, the most significant factor that negatively impacted the Liberian economy during the year under review was the Coronavirus pandemic, which has afflicted tens of millions of people in all nations.
In honor of the memory of those who have fallen to the pandemic in Liberia and of the millions who have perished around the world, the Chief Executive called for a moment of silence.
According to the President, Liberians held together as a country throughout the pandemic, and with the support from our Development Partners, an effective response was mounted.
Dr. Weah reported further: “The three branches of Government have coordinated quite well to deliver a strong National Response to COVID-19. It can be recalled that I established a Special Presidential Committee on COVID-19 (SPACOC), which brought together the Ministry of Health, the National Public Health Institute and other development partners and stakeholders to drive the fight against COVID-19.”
He said prior to its first case of Coronavirus, Liberia was probably the first country in Africa to begin to quarantine travelers from COVID-19 infected countries, and health authorities also launched massive testing and contact tracing programs that have proven quite successful.
“To date, Liberia has 1637 infections, and more than 1,360 persons have recovered from COVID-19, with 13 persons dying in a treatment facility,” the President intoned. “These numbers represent one of best COVID-19 responses in the world.”
He quoted that prestigious Wall Street Journal which, amongst other things, reported recently that “Liberia, hard hit by the Ebola epidemic in 2014, was one of the first countries to start screening for COVID-19 at airports and to adopt other control measures, such as rapid testing, complete contact tracing and quarantine.”
The President said rather selflessly that the recognition and praise for the heroic achieved is reserved for the thousands of medical practitioners, doctors, physician assistants, nurses, mid-wives and all other categories of healthcare workers from all over Liberia, who place their lives on the line so that Liberians can be safe.
‘We owe them an eternal debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay. They are our heroes and heroines!!! And we say thanks to them from a grateful Nation,” he asserted.
He thanked Liberia’s development partners for their strong COVID-19 support to the Government and People of Liberia.
“Through both direct budgetary support and indirect support, the international community has rallied to Liberia’s defense, and continues to be a reliable ally in our struggle to protect our citizens from this deadly disease,” the President said, adding: “In the period under review, the Government received direct COVID-19 budget support of $87 Million US dollars from the International Monetary Fund, $14 Million US dollars from the African Development Bank, and $10.8 Million US dollars from the European Union.”
The budget support resources, according to the President, were received over the previous and the current fiscal years and were intended as general budget support to help sustain Government revenue.
“To date, the total monies directly spent on the National COVID-19 Responses under the control of the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute is $6.0 Million US dollars, which was transferred by the Government of Liberia through the National Response. The General Auditing Commission is currently auditing this expenditure.”
The President noted that besides the direct spending by the Government, a little more than $20 Million US dollars has been contributed indirectly by development partners to the National COVID-19 Response. Of this amount, the World Bank has contributed $17 Million US dollars, and the World Health Organization and the United States Centers for Disease Control have contributed $3.0 Million US dollars.
The General Auditing Commission is also auditing these indirect expenditures also as part of the total national COVID-19 response effort.
The Chief Executive reported to the nation further: “These resources have gone to support a 23-bed National Infections Disease Center, with an additional 74-bedroom quarantine facility located at the Free Zone on Bushrod Island. Additionally, the government was able to procure fifteen (15) ambulances; one for each county, 1,200 hospital and ICU beds and monitors, 120 motor cycles, 20 ventilators, and other consumables, and also constructed an I-V fluid and oxygen plant.
“These resources have also supported compensation for health workers. We also thank the many private institutions and commercial banks who have provided financial support. As a country we will forever remain grateful.”
According to him, the Government developed a legislative program that provided some relief for our people and kept the Government running under these very difficult circumstances.
“During the year under review and in response to COVID-19, the National Legislature approved in April 2020 a State of Emergency and provided stimulus support as part of the national budget,” Dr. Weah to the legislators, divulging that the amount of $25 Million US dollars was approved for food distribution to provide food relief to Liberians throughout the country.
Said the President: “The World Food Program was selected to implement this food distribution program, and the $25 Million US dollars was transferred to them. To date, according to the WFP, more than forty (40%) percent of the food has been distributed to 10 counties, benefitting about one (1) million Liberians. Five counties — Sinoe, River Gee, Lofa, Grand Kru and Gbarpolu – are yet to receive their respective supplies. The Government has signed a no-cost extension with the WFP to complete the food distribution by end of March 2021.”
He also indicated that the Government also provided support to the Liberia Electricity Corporation and the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation for household electricity and water relief.
“Nearly one ($1.0) million US dollars was provided to the Liberian Electricity Corporation to fund COVID-19 electricity subsidies, which benefitted nearly 38,000 households across Montserrado, Margibi, Nimba, Maryland and Grand Gedeh counties. This means that around 188,000 Liberians benefitted from the Government funded electricity program.”
The Government also provided $1.5 Million US dollars to the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation to fund water subsidies for almost five months, benefitting nearly 10,000 households from a targeted network base of 12,000 households. This means that eighty-three (83%) percent of the targeted base, or almost 50,000 Liberians, benefitted in Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Margibi counties.
The Legislature also approved the amount of $2.0 Million US dollars for market women and petty traders support. This amount has been placed in escrow at the Central Bank of Liberia.
The Government is also working with the United States Government through the United States Agency for International Development to deliver $10 Million US dollars under a COVID-19 cash transfer program to about 85,000 petty traders, market women and other vulnerable Liberians trading in the informal economy.
President Weah said the Government of Liberia agreed to underwrite the cost of providing biometric identification cards to these 85,000 Liberians. The distribution of the Government’s $2.0 million US dollars will greatly benefit from the enrollment under the USAID supported program, since it may avoid duplication of payments to the same individuals.
As result, he noted, the Government of Liberia has also extended COVID-19 related relief to healthcare workers and private school teachers. The amount of $2.0 Million US dollars was budgeted and has been paid to healthcare workers as part of hazard pay.
Government has also provided $1.0 Million US dollars to the Ministry of Education for private school teachers throughout Liberia. This payment is through a digital platform and is presently ongoing.
“We thank all our development partners for their strong support for Liberia and wish to inform this Honorable Legislature that we continue to work with all our partners to ensure that these resources deliver ever stronger results,” Dr. Weah stressed, adding that the expenditure of these resources is aligned with the Government’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development will be critical in supporting growth and transformation across key sectors of our country.