"Elections Will be Held in October 2005," Says Chairman Bryant
By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé
October 25, 2004
Looking back on the first year of his administration, Bryant expressed satisfaction on achievements made in the most important aspects of his mandate, namely the return of peace, the beginning of national reconciliation and the advanced state of disarmament. According to him, UNMIL has disarmed about 90,000 combatants so far and the deadline for the exercise is set for October 31, 2004. "After October, it would be illegal to carry any type of arms in Liberia." Bryant hinted that with its Chapter 7 mandate that allows it to carry out peace enforcement, the Unite Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is prepared to face an eventual resistance.
The Chairman spoke lengthily on the issue of sanctions on timber and diamonds exports imposed on the Taylor regime by the United Nations Security Council to curb arms trade in the sub-region fueled by the sale of the two commodities. He said the sanctions have become punitive and now affect the price of every commodity in Liberia, because of the high tariff of insurance on transport. He said timber represented 40 percent of all Liberia’s export earning. This lost of revenue coupled with the lost of jobs in the sector affect government’s ability to carry out social and development programs it envisioned. The Chairman said that he were hopeful that by the end of the year, after certain control mechanisms would have been put in place, the sanctions would likely be lifted.
Repatriation and Resettlement of Refugees
Addressing the issue of refugees and displaced people, the Chairman said that with the help of the Unite Nations high Commission for Refugees, the government has embarked on a campaign to sensitize refugees in neighboring countries. Repatriation is currently going on from Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and many refugees are voluntarily returning home. About 800, 000 people are expected to be repatriated in the next few months.
According to Bryant, at least $400 million are firm commitment that Liberia can count on receiving from the $520 million pledged at the Donors’ conference in February 2004 in New York City. "Programs are being developed and once they are approved, we can start to draw on those pledges." The Chairman added that the first year of the transition was dedicated to disarmament and that after this hurdle; donors will have no problem translating their pledges into reality.
Integration of Former fighters
Fielding questions from an international audience, Bryant touched on the issue of the rehabilitation and reintegration of former combatants as a corner stone of the peace process. "We have to make sure that the process is not corrupted…" referring to what happened during the disarmament process where many who were not combatants took advantage of incentives. He said that many institutions, including the Sullivan Foundation, Church organizations are working with government and international organizations to help to provide former combatants with needed vocational education. "This is the only way to steer them away from guns."
Addressing the investment climate and a possible role for African-Americans in the private sector, Bryant said that the lack of basic infrastructure poses a major constraint. "When investors come, they expect to have basic service infrastructure, such as electricity and telephone," which are all lacking. He said many investors have visited the country and expressed interest in mining, oil exploration among others. The Chairman said that Liberia is now party to the World Bank multi lateral guarantee system that ensures against political risk and this should be an incentive to investors.
Charles Taylor and the War Crimes Tribunal
Bryant repeated what he has said on many occasions on the issue: that Charles Taylor’s asylum in Nigeria was part of the peace deal brokered by ECOWAS and the international community to put an end to the war. An elected government, he added, would handle the matter.
Regarding the delay in the freezing of assets of Charles Taylor and some of his cronies which was requested 7 months ago by the UN Security and recently undertaken by the government, Bryant pointed out that some legal issues needed to be clarified so that there could be no last minute court injunctions.
About People in Government asking him to resign
Regarding the call from certain members of his government calling for his resignation Bryant said that such calls were emanating from people who had expected that once in government, they would be able to enrich themselves. "They are dissatisfied that things are not happening the way they expected. As for accusation of corruption, my challenge is that if anyone who knows about a case of corruption, to bring it in the open and we will deal with it."
The LNTG’ s Chairman said that the issue has been a thorny matter with the international community. He said his administration has tried to keep salaries current since its inauguration but added that it would be hard for government to address arrears that go back 14 years in some cases, when current revenues represent but 15 percent of what they were prior to the war.
Lessons to be learned from the War
At the end of one the interview and responding to a question posed by a listener from Kenya, Chairman Bryant said that Africans can learn a lesson by looking at what the people of Liberia and Somalia did to their own countries. "We totally destroyed our country, taking it decades back." He pointed to the destroyed infrastructures, the lack of basic health care facilities, schools and roads.
To avoid a repeat of such a situation, Bryant hopes that whatever government comes to power next year, would continue to build on the system of inclusion he hopes to leave as his legacy, "a system that excludes nobody, that does not suppress people rights nor intimidate them." He says that when people have their basic rights guaranteed, they do not see a reason to resort to violence. "Using guns can never be a solution." He says he is hopeful that Liberia would be spared another bout of violence because people are tired with war and eager to return to a normal life.