Our assembly here today marks the beginning of ushering a new President
A Convention Speech Delivered by Presidential Candidate Prince Y. Johnson
First and foremost, I would like to begin by thanking all the following groups that make up the Liberian state and who have come to join us to move Liberia in a new direction:
• The Kissi People
• The Mandingo People
• The Congo People
• The Lorma People
• The Grebo People
• The Gio People
• The Gbandi people
• The Kru People
• The Bassa People
• The Kpelle People
• The Krahn People
• The Belle People
• The Kpelleh People
• The Gola People
• The Sapo People
• The Vai People
The National Union for Democratic Progress (NUDP) is a party with the biggest tank for all Liberians. You are all very welcome to the Convention. Your presence is a clear demonstration that we are running for the highest public position of President for all of Liberia. In spite of our tribes, we are one Liberians. We have to build a nation that is one and that is beneficial to all tribes. So, I don’t see why we cannot have a President that every tribe and every political party will be a part of. This can happen. And this is why we are here to put into place todayto have a President that everyone can touch, can feel, can see and can smell.
I further want to take this minute to call for a moment of silence for the estimated 250,000 Liberians that lost their life during the civil war. [PAUSE]
One of the ways that we can end the suffering from the loss of life is to build a wholesome functional society that caters to the well being of all Liberians, which has not been the case in Liberia for over 163 years.
Today is an important day not only in the life of NUDP and its partisans. It is joyous day for the people of Nimba and the entire population of Liberia. I am happy to be selected as NUDP Standard Bearer in this great city of Saclepea and this great County of Nimba.
Our assembly here today marks the beginning of ushering a new President and giving Liberia a new and a more hopeful future of shared prosperity. I have no doubt that victory in October 2011 is assured as NUDP is the party of the people, for the people and by the people. We stand together and match forward together to achieve victory at polls so that we democratically unseat corruption in Monrovia.
It is a widely held position that the best place to hold a regime accountable is at the ballot box, because it is at that point that people will decide whether they want to move forward with the corrupt regime of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf or select a new leader that will put the nation’s interest first and paramount. With our party, the Liberian people can be assured of a better and a prosperous future wherein we collect and spend money on services for the people and anyone caught sending stolen money to pay off mortgages in America and other countries will be speedily brought to book and punished as the law mandates.
U.S. President Barrack Obama informed the world after taking office that this is an “Era of Accountability and Transparency.” We tell President Obama we hear his message and we, too, believe that this is an era of accountability and transparency. We will not just talk and talk and talk but our actions will clearly demonstrate to Liberians that we mean business. When President Obama took office, he issued two important executive orders. The first Executive Order was on Accountability and Transparency. The Second was a new Code of Conduct to govern the behavior of public officials.
After five years in office, President Sirleaf has not issued an Executive Order on a Code of Conduct, much less accountability and transparency. Instead, she is waiting for the National Legislature to pass a Code of Conduct when she could have constitutionally passed an Executive Order as a demonstration of her purported commitment to fighting corruption and protecting our resources. Instead she has run her administration without any Code of Conduct, providing freedom for her officials to mismanage public resources at will and at the detriment of the Liberian people.
As President of Liberia, I will do just as President Obama did for America. I will issue immediately upon taking office Executive Orders on Accountability and Transparency and the Code of Conduct. I will hold all my officials accountable to these Executive Orders while we work with the National Legislature to pass them into law. But I will not run our Government a single day without a Code of Conduct that governs the behaviors of officials of Government.
We will not lead by window dressing problems but by example and through our actions. We will not say “zero tolerance on corruption” and “corruption is public enemy number-one” while at the same time recycling corrupt officials in Government. We will not say “corruption is public enemy number one” when we knowingly hired and employed people with known corrupt history. This is how President Sirleaf has run this Government. But we will say no corruption and we will demonstrate it by not recycling corrupt officials.
We will not say we are running for only one term and then when we get in office we change our position and say we want a second term. We can assure Liberians; once again, we will demonstrate by deeds throughout our actions and will always be honest in the exercise of our duties. Integrity and honesty is a true mark of a good leader.
Follow partisans, fellow Liberians, Ladies and Gentlemen. Liberia is at a cross road. This is our first true transitional elections. We expect this election to set a strong foundation on solid democratic principles of accountability, transparency and the rule of law. We have committed ourselves to transparent and fair elections wherein the outcome will be respected by all, including the incumbent President. Any mistake to steal the elections will be a serious setback to peace and stability in Liberia and we are hopeful that Liberians and our international partners will continue to serve as watchdog to ensure free, fair and transparent election.
The challenge for emerging democracies like Liberia is not so much about conducting elections; it is about the President’s ability to govern well when he or she is elected President of Liberia. We have seen in the last 5 years our country, which is headed by someone who everyone claimed to be a Harvard trained Economist, heading in the wrong direction. Corruption and financial mismanagement has undermined our collective well being as a Nation and has kept many Liberians in poverty.
We have an opportunity to change course and develop a rethinking on how we govern our Nation to ensure that all Liberians benefit from the abundant natural resources of this country. We cannot afford to continue be labeled as a Country where Liberians live on a dollar a day and that is ranked at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index. It is now clearly evidenced that President Sirleaf’s administration has focused on spending quite a lot of money on international public relations efforts and has therefore neglected her domestic agenda. Many Liberians will agree that they are worst today than they were five years ago, as even a bag of rice has gone from 23 USD in 2005 to nearly 40 USD per bag under this administration. Our people are suffering and the suffering has been compounded by the high level of corruption and financial mismanagement in Government.
The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration has failed to lead in so many areas of national importance. This administration has failed to govern domestically. In order for us to change direction in our quest to build a nation wherein all Liberians can benefit from the resources of this country, we believe we have to focus on a few things.
First and foremost, from 1847 to 2011, our fundamental problem distorting our growth and undermining the well being of the Liberian people is the high level of corruption in Government. President Sirleaf has indicated time and time again that corruption in her administration is “systemic,” meaning it is everywhere in Government. The 66 audit reports, which the General Auditing Commission (GAC) produced, detailed high level of corruption and financial mismanagement. UN Secretary General Moon reports from the Panel of Experts show high level corruption and mismanagement in Government.
Global Witness report showed high level of corruption and mismanagement. The 2011 U.S. State Department report indicated that “corruption is exacerbated at all levels of Government,” including the Presidency. This is the first time the United States report has shown that the corruption is exacerbated at all levels of Government.
The International Corruption Watchdog, Transparency International rated Liberia as the most corrupt country in terms of bribe taking. This is also the first time that Transparency International has reported that Liberia is the most corrupt country. Well, instead of fighting corruption, President Sirleaf sacked the frontline commander, the Auditor General. But she has kept in Government corrupt officials and even gone as far as putting her neck on the line for corrupt officials and saying that the Nigerian Oil Deal was transparent undermining the audit reports.
President Sirleaf has been unable to provide any sound justification for refusing to nominate an Auditor General that she herself, the Liberian people and international partners have all said he has performed. This is a clear demonstration that the so-called “zero tolerance on corruption” under President Sirleaf has come to a complete halt. Corruption is like a family member in Sirleaf government--walking, talking, dancing, eating, laughing and living with Sirleaf and in Sirleaf government.
The American Government says Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has refused to implement the findings of the audit reports by not taking these officials to Court. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Bruce Wharton stated that “corruption remains prevalent and significant threat to Liberian democracy. Liberia’s Auditor General has aggressively and thoroughly tracked Government revenue from practically every ministry but the Government’s follow-up has been disappointing.”
U.N. Secretary General Moon has also reported in his Security Council reports that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Government has refused to implement audit findings. The European Union has spent a lot of money on GAC but Ellen Johnson Sirleaf refused to implement the findings of the audit reports.
Thorsten Benner, associate director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin commenting on his Minister of Development Dirk Niebel assessment visit to Liberia recently said Liberia lacks a broad political elite with national interest and rather has people concerned with personal privileges and interest.
The Anti-Corruption Commission has asked for the prosecution of several officials and businesses including former Police Chief and the reports have been sitting on the shelf. In fact, the Ministry of Public Works is doing business with one of the contractors indicted by the Anti-Corruption Commission. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also refused to implement the UN Panel of Experts report on Liberia, as the Panel has highlighted several questionable contracts such as Ellinito for the Western Cluster. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has refused to implement the Minister of Justice investigation of the former LPRC Managing Director wherein it was determined by the Minister of Justice that the former Managing Director engaged in bribery in the Zakim Contract. Harry Greaves was just sacked and asked to go home free.
Again, fellow partisans, instead of allowing the legal process to take its course against corrupt officials, the President put her neck on the “chopping board” for the Minister of Finance. The President also stated that she has explicit confidence in Planning Minister when the Nagbalee Warner’s Commission set up by the President established that the Planning Minister is corrupt. She has also cleared former LPRC Managing by saying that controversial Nigerian Oil Deal that the GAC says was entered into in a not transparent and accountable manner.
Fellow partisans, when we assumed office, we will ensure that all the audit reports of this Government and our Government are implemented fully. We will ensure that reports from Anti-Corruption Commission and other institutions of Government will also be implemented.
We will also further strength the General Auditing Commission by giving it financial independence and ensuring that we re-hire the former Auditor General to assist us not only to fight corruption but to ensure full implementation of the Public Financial Act 2009. We will ensure that 15 percent of the National Budget will be expended to stamp out corruption. This expenditure will ensure complete institutional reform to sustain our fight against corruption.
We will further invest revamping Belle Yalla not to hold political prisons because there will be none under our administration. Instead Belle Yalla will be used to imprison anyone who is caught and convicted in corruption. We have to punish people who steal public money.
Like Tanzania and Kenya, we will ensure that anyone who is indicted in audit reports and other investigative reports will resign his or her post until the matter is settled through the courts. We will confiscate all assets acquired from stolen public monies so that we make corruption unrewarding.
Fellow partisans, fellow Liberians, ladies and gentlemen, anyone caught in corruption in our Government will be banned from EVER working in Government. Ministers and other officials that work at the will and pleasure of the President will be required to sign a code of conduct, with immediate punishment for violators.
Fellow partisans, fellow Liberians, we also know that the best way to fight corruption is to expose corruption and conducting extensive background checks on people who will be appointed in Government. This is a fundamental weakness that has plagued this country as people come and take up Government post without any background checks. We will utilize existing technologies and companies in America and Europe to ensure that we conduct thorough background checks on all those who are appointed in government.
We have a plan to end corruption. Our plan is simple and direct. You steal public money you will be caught and punished severely in accordance with the law so that others can be deterred. Make no mistake, we will never be able to build roads, schools, hospitals, educate our young people, provide jobs to young and old, unless we fight corruption in a more forceful and direct manner. We will not be like some countries where a person hands is cut off from stealing or shot from engaging in corruption. Instead we will follow the law and punish people. This is why we will concentrate our efforts on strengthening the pillars of integrity and hiring a fearless Minister of Justice.
I can tell GAC, Anti-Corruption Commission, the Dunn Commission and other institutions that have produced reports on corruption that your reports will not sit on the shelf. They will be implemented. Corruption has eroded domestic and international confidence and therefore put our democracy at risk. No country can be built on corruption foundation as President Sirleaf Administration has increased corruption and diminished our collective well being.
We have experienced massive capital flight because President Sirleaf and officials are working in Liberia but living in America, so it was not surprising for the Central Bank to report that there is more money leaving Liberia than coming in because people have to pay off mortgages in America. When the current Superintendent of Sinoe County raised the issue of capital flight, he was given job by President Sirleaf to ensure that he was kept quiet on the matter and since he received his appointment as Superintended of Sinoe he has not spoken against the continued high level of capital flight in the Sirleaf Administration. This form of political corruption will not be tolerated under our administration. We will not give jobs to people as a bribe to stop them from exposing corruption.
This administration has failed to unite this country. We are move divided today than when Sirleaf took office. This administration has ignored the law to protect all equally. This administration has favored a select few that it brought from America to take lucrative jobs in Government. The administration says it has increased civil servant salaries from US$35 to US$70. But the administration failed to mention that it has also increased a bag of rice from US$23 to US$40. So the well being of the Liberian people has even worsened.
The Sirleaf administration came to power when Liberians were living on less than 1 US Dollar a day. Today, it is still reported that Liberians are living on less than 1 US dollar a day. So nothing much has changed for the Liberian people in the past five years. Instead the few people in Government that she brought from America are enjoying our state resources with impunity.
It is therefore difficult to reconcile a country that is living under harsh economic conditions and in abject poverty. One of the best ways to reconcile people is to ensure economic justice so that “papa can come” home with money and food. But for five years papa has not been able to leave home. Some of the papas were downside by President Sirleaf and replaced with her friends and partisans. So how can papa and mama reconcile when the administration of President Sirleaf downside them. It is not possible.
The second area of reconciliation is legal justice. This means holding people accountable for abusing the rights of the people. We set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to ensure that we had genuine peace. At first we all had reservation about the TRC report. But after reading the entire final report, I must say a big thank you to Chairman Jerome Verdier, Massa Washington, John Stewart and other commissions who were brave enough to put my name, President Sirleaf and other prominent Liberians in the report.
I would have like for the entire TRC report to be implemented. But unfortunately President Sirleaf decided that her desire to run for the Presidency was more important than implementing the recommendations of the TRC. At her State of the Union Address in January 2010, President decided to trash the TRC report and announced to the world that she was running for President, even though the TRC has banned her for 30 years. By her action, she completely undermined the recommendations for sanctions.
I criticized the TRC report because I felt it was not fair to me, as I participated in the war to ensure that the people of Nimba were not being slaughtered. I felt then that I was fighting for political freedom. Under my leadership during the war, I protected civilians against brutal warriors. I also said that the “gun that liberate should not rule.” I followed that basic principle and allowed in Liberia the IGNU Government under Dr. Amos Sawyer.
I was therefore selfless to allow another Liberian to take power when I had the opportunity to do so. This is why we have thanked Sekou Damante Konneh, Kabineh Janeh, Dr. Vamba Kanneh, George Dweh, Yaya Nimley and others who also did not take power by force but allowed Charles Taylor to leave Liberia for an interim Government not headed by them. Like me, LURD and MODEL could have used military power to take power but we did not because we love democracy.
The democracy and the freedom of association and press that we enjoyed is because of me and others who refused to take power by force but instead allowed politicians to take power when we had risked our reputation to remove dictatorships. But today we are maligned for the peace and stability that we brought to Liberia. This is a measure of democracy, which is our ability to withstand criticism of all kinds.
Unlike this President that has sued Tom Woiwewu, New Democrat, New Broom and other papers for speaking out, I have never sued a single soul in Liberia for criticizing or insulting me. As President, I will not sue a single person for speaking their minds. I do not like some of the things that newspapers write against me, but I do not have to sue them. That is freedom of expression and speech guaranteed by the constitution. But today papers like FrontpageAfrica and New Democrat have spent money to defend themselves against lawsuits from people who have defrauded the Government. New Broom also got strangulated for law suit filed by the President Sirleaf.
All these papers are doing is to expose corruption which the President considered public enemy number one. But it appears clearly that instead of the President sacking and prosecuting people for corruption she has allowed them to walk free, giving them opportunity to sue any newspaper that reports their corrupt deeds. The number of lawsuit against newspapers has prompted the President of the Press Union to seek to establish a Media Defense Fund. So we have replaced silencing the media through the guns to silencing the media through unwarranted lawsuits by public officials. Instead of keeping their limited profits to pay higher wages, newspapers like New Democrat and FrontpageAfrica , New Broom are using the funds to defend themselves. This will not happen in our Government as we will sack officials publicly who engaged in corruption so that they do not use their ill-gotten wealth to sue newspapers who report their corrupt deeds.
We cannot say we want democracy when we cannot tolerate dissent and criticism. President Sirleaf Administration does not tolerate dissent and independent thinking. She is on record during her 2010 Inaugural Address that she will go after anybody who badmouths or speaks his or her mind against the corrupt deeds of her officials and Administration. Newspapers are being sued by the hour for reporting on corruption, so there is an indirect silence against newspapers. Newspapers are also not being paid regularly by her officials and administration when those papers published government advertisements because there is a concerted and willful scheme by the Government to economically strangle newspapers.
There are reports that the government of Liberia is about to audit selected newspapers in Liberia for tax payment, Democrat and FrontPage and plan to spread this to other papers. Again, this is a willfully and deliberate scheme of the government to absolutely strangulate the media with every means, forms, manners and ways possible to avoid dissent. What is incomprehensible about Ellen Administration ploy is that that the Public Procurement Law; section 32 provides that government should request for tax information from business before doing business with those entities. Instead, Ellen administration chose to do business first with media institutions as confirmation of right dealings before come after the fact opting to audit the media instutions, meanly those who write about fiscal improprieties and massive corruption in discharge of the rights to inform the general public about their rights to know about government in functionaries as stipulated in Article 15 c of our constitution.
Under a NUDP administration these things will not happen. We will deal with the issue and ensure that all Liberians feel a part of the economic process in this country. During the first six months of my administration, I will implement the TRC recommendation, as proposed by the TRC through a Palava Hut arrangement where all Liberians named in the report will be given another opportunity to make peace with their neighbors by asking for forgiveness. For me, I have already started that process by asking all Liberians to forgive me and move forward as our collective reconciliation is more important than a single individual. It would have been best for the President not to ignore the TRC report but instead work with the TRC to see how best the report could be implemented in furtherance of peace and reconciliation. But this was not done as the President’s desire to run for a second term was more important than reconciling the country through the TRC report.
The Liberian taxpayers and donors’ money were spent on the TRC and efforts and money spent cannot be wasted. This entire report cannot be put on the shelf for personal gains. We will implement it through the Palava Hut, as the long term stability of this country depends on economic, political and legal justice.
On the Economy
We hear every day that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Liberia is growing by 9 to 11 percent. Under the interim Government, IMF also reported that GDP grew by 11 percent. In the 1960s and 1970s Liberia was amongst the highest growing economy with respect to Gross Domestic Product and was even second to Japan in the world in terms of GDP growth. So the reporting of a growth GDP growth rate is not new in Liberian history. It has been GDP growth without development and so it is with this government again.
Another thing that is also not new in Liberian history is that we have experienced all these reported high growth rates without development measured in job growth and per capital income. We have grown by leaps and bounds but still we considered a country that has 85 percent unemployment rate, 80 percent illiteracy rate and we are ranked at the bottom of the Human Development Index. We have a shorter lifespan than most countries in Africa. So we are growing economy since the 1960s but living in poverty. This is Liberia’s greatest paradox. This is Liberia’s greatest dilemma. We boast of abundant natural resources but we are living in poverty.
President Sirleaf and her administration boast of US$15 billion investment in Liberia since she took office but there are no jobs for countless Liberians, especially the youth graduating from college. President Sirleaf boasts of US$15 billion investment but there are bad roads in Lofa, Grand Kru, Maryland, Nimba and all cross this country. There is no pipe borne water for a large population of civilians. The Government could not even have means to solve the caterpillar problem in Bong County, without begging donors for support. This is a donor-driven economy with 95 percent of the financing for health care coming from donors, without any justification as to what we are doing with our own money and resources.
A German Development Minister noted in his assessment report that electricity infrastructure were still a problem in Liberia and that justice, education and health systems are also in poor condition and that only 15 percent of the country’s 3.8 million people can even pursue a regular job
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also refused to implement the Dunn Commission report that showed corruption at the highest level in the Executive Mansion and in the President’s family. The Dunn Commission recommended that there is immediate prosecution of Medina Wisseh and that the President should account for the US$650,000 that was found on her sister’s computer.
Ordinary Liberians do not like to beg people for money. But the hardship in Liberia has turned practically every well meaning ordinary Liberian into beggar. People come to me and say I do not want to beg but I just do not have the first penny to feed my family. But instead of catering the needs of the ordinary Liberians, President Sirleaf is busy on international public relations to convince Liberians that she is supported by international partners. We all know that international partners do not support an individual instead they are providing support to the people of Liberia. That is what they tell me and others in the Senate.
But all the international support has not built roads in Lofa or Gbarpolu. International partners do not want to give money to countries that steal from their people. That is what former President George Bush said when he visited Liberia in 2008. America gave US$700 million to Tanzania. America gave US$500 million to Ghana. But in Liberia, George Bush gave us chairs and books. This was a clear demonstration that America believes that the Sirleaf Administration will steal any money it gives to Liberia.
Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton spoke to the joint session of the National Legislature when she visited Liberia. She was blunt and forceful. She said to us simply to stop begging. Instead we should figure out way to begin building our own country with our own resources. Kuwait and other natural rich countries have done so but in Liberia we have failed to use our resources wisely for the benefit of the country and the people.
Our economy today under President Sirleaf has been donor driven with no national agenda. She is now trying to put together a vision 2030 when she is on her way out from power. It is surprising that she did not do her vision 2030 justice when she took office in 2006 but she is now doing it all because the opposition has been saying that she does not have a national agenda and a vision for Liberia. Charles Taylor put together a vision 2024. President Sirleaf is not referring to that vision to see how she can refine it. Instead, she is doing her own vision 2030 when she is leaving power. This means there is no continuity of Government when it comes to President Sirleaf.
The fact of the matter is that President Sirleaf has not had a vision or national agenda for 5 years. This administration has depended on donors to build roads, to build bridges, to build hospitals, to build schools, to bring some pipe borne water and to bring some electricity in Monrovia. It is a donor driven and foreign driven economy agenda that is constrained in begging everyone around the world to give us what we can do for ourselves. But even some of the money that is given through begging goes through President Sirleaf’s Liberia Education Trust Fund that is managed by her son and few friends and others go through President Sirleaf Market Women Fund. President Sirleaf has another NGO called Magnusson, where business people and donors give money. President Sirleaf criticized Taylor for taking donated money as his own but now she is doing the same things by taking money and giving it to her NGOs.
Economist Jeffrey Sacks proposed there is a poverty trap. He explained that infrastructure, health and education are the three cardinal pillars of the poverty trap. World Bank Economist Steve Collier added that poverty is also caused by poor political and financial governance, the inability of the administration to govern after elections.
Poor leadership in Liberia is what we have seen in the past 163 years. Good leadership in Ghana, Rwanda, Botswana, Cape Verde and Singapore has produced a balanced economy growth where all citizens have benefitted.
President Sirleaf informed Liberians during the State of the Nation Address in January 2011 that her administration generated more than US one billion dollars over four years. But she did not indicate how many jobs she has created since she came to office or how many people her administration have lifted out of poverty.
Clearly it is not how much a country generates but how it spends taxpayer’s money. But since corruption and financial mismanagement have been the order of the day in this administration, they cannot show the Liberian people where the US one billion was spent. So far, World Bank and international partners’ money is being used to build the roads. After five years of being in office, Monrovia is still running on one bridge while the Executive Mansion remains in ruins. But the administration is boasting of US one billion dollars it claimed it has generated over four years while our people are living in abject poverty.
We have to change that. This was been done with simple and time tested economic and social policy. Our governance policy will be based on four fundamental principles:
Rule of Law
1. We will respect the rule of law and the sanctity of contractual agreements. We will seek to review all contracts and concessions as it was done by President Sirleaf when she sought and reviewed all contracts and concessions entered into under Chairman Bryant. We will respect these contracts and work with owners to ensure fair and complete implementation of these contracts.
We will ensure that we reform the jury system wherein jurors are randomly picked from the population and will be compensated by their employers while on jury duty. Serving on the jury will be a National requirement. This administration has complained for five years that we have a weak judiciary and has blamed the problem of the fact that justice is rewarded to the highest bidder on the jury and judges but has done nothing to remedy the problem. So where this administration has failed to lead we will lead. Only when we respect the rule of law and the enforcement of contractual agreements that confidence in our Government will be built and therefore generate the kind of economic activity that will benefit all Liberians.
We can say with utmost certainty that if we are elected, we will respect fundamental human rights. But we will not waste any time to punish anyone who commits a crime. Armed robbery will be history and we will invest more in our police force to fight violent crimes. I know how to fight crime and business people and Liberians can be assured of a crime free country. Singapore has been able to reduce crime. We will adopt their tactics and strategies and ensure that Liberia will be a drug free and violent crime free.
Political and Economic Decentralization
2. We will seek to amend the Constitution so that we can fully decentralize Government. A decentralized Government will enable us to fully realize our democratic goals and diminish the role of the imperial presidency. For 163 years, we have an imperial presidency. Today is no different. The President is lord and gospel. President Sirleaf has more appointing power that we have had in the history of Liberia. She has appointed mayors, making Liberia the lone country where mayors are appointed by the President, much less without the advice and consent of the Senate. The President has placed on payroll chiefs and paramount chiefs without spending a dime to hold chieftaincy elections.
We have seen the President implement fully the imperial presidency when she sought to appoint a Chief of Security at the National Port of Authority and the Advisor to the former Police Chief. If given the opportunity, President Sirleaf will appoint the Town Crier, the janitor and the Messenger in the villages. We will seek to amend the Constitution so that our Government will be truly for the people, by the people and of the people.
Superintendents, mayors, paramount chiefs, town chiefs will be appointed by the people with their own locally elected councils. By this, we will have an economic sharing arrangement with the counties. We believe truly that Monrovia is not Liberia. We believe that in a decentralized Government the people in the counties and political subdivisions in Liberia can hold accountable their elected officials. Today, we have county officials that are imposed on the people by the President with many of them living in Monrovia without much connection to the people in the counties. We will change that. Former US Speaker Tip O’Neil said “all politics is local.” But in Liberia, all politics is in Monrovia. This will be changed under our administration.
This administration decentralization means giving County Development Fund. But after we, the members of the National Legislature, approved the County Development Fund in 2006, President Sirleaf gave the money to her appointed county officials and they squandered the money.
We will spend US$7 million to hold local elections by 2012 when he take office. We will reduce gas coupons and foreign travel per diem to ensure that we have the money to hold the elections.
3. It is still being reported that Liberia has an unemployment rate of 85 percent. Youth unemployment is high and unsustainable. The lack of employment opportunity for our children will discourage them from pursuing higher education as they are not been giving opportunity to obtain jobs after graduating. President Sirleaf informed the recent graduates of the University of Liberia that her administration cannot absorb all of them. The President has maintained that the private sector is the engine for economic growth. This we agree but what has been done to stimulate the private sector.
The National Legislature passed an act to amend the tax code to reduce income and custom taxes on individual earnings and businesses. But the Administration refused to implement it for almost a year. The amendment was passed in 2009 but it was just recently in 2011 that the Ministry of Finance began to implement the new tax rates. Higher taxes and higher custom rates create financial burden on business, thereby preventing them from creating jobs to absorb University graduates. And the businesses transfer the high taxes on the consuming public. This is why hardship continues to increase under the Sirleaf administration.
The Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal Economic Freedom Index rates Liberia as one of the un-free economy in the world as custom and tax rates are very high. We will seek further amendment to the tax code to reduce custom and tax rates on business. This will maximize compliance with tax payments as well as stipulate the economy.
Fellow partisans, fellow citizens, our economy is highly dominated by foreigners. Our administration will continue to encourage foreign firms to make direct investment in productive assets in Liberia. We understand that the world is continuously becoming fully integrated economically. We also understand that private capital flows have now exceeded donations, except for country like Liberia that nearly wholly depend on foreign donation for most things.
While we appreciate the importance of private capital and the integration of the global economy, our administration will seek to advance the Liberian participation in the ownership, especially in their areas of the extractive industry. Like many other countries have done successfully, we will insist on LOCAL CONTENT such as a minimal requirement of any investment that should be owned by Liberians and Liberian businesses. This, we believe, will create the opportunity for Liberians to become to create local export companies.
We will support Liberians’ effort to take ownership of their economy by establishing a Small Business Administration and finance it with an initial capital of US$60 million, with incremental budget of US$15 million annually for 10 years at which point we believe the program will be self sustaining. We will also create an Import-Export Bank to provide bridge financing for Liberian companies that are engaged in export. We will reform the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to ensure that they capably open markets for Liberian products instead of just serving as a regulator for price setting on commodities.
We will never fully realize the benefit of the World Trade Organization, US Sponsored Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, and the EU sponsored Contonou Agreement until we can reform the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The Western Countries in America and Europe are trying to assist us but we will have to take advantage of the opportunity that is provided. This administration cannot indicate how Liberia has benefitted from these laws passed in Europe and America as well as by the World Trade Organization. It is good to say that the private sector is the engine for economic growth but it will not happen without demonstrable commitment to reform the institutions that will assist small and medium size businesses to grow and provide jobs to Liberians.
We will not purchase vehicles and generators every year. Instead we will use the money for cars and generators to build up the US$60 million that is needed to assist our small and medium size Liberian businesses so that they can compete with foreigners. It is hard to find a Nation that has been able to create local companies without some form of Government. The U.S. has a small business administration and an import-export bank. Japan used its Ministry of International Trade to create and support export oriented companies like Toyota. We can do the same thing in Liberia.
4. The administration of President Sirleaf has indicated time and time again that one of the problems it is faced with is that it lacks manpower capacity to do the job. After the Cabinet Retreat in Kakata she informed her cabinet that the Learning Curve was over. She told them to ship in or ship out. That was after three years of being in Office. This was a direct admission that she hired and placed in Government inexperienced people from America who came to learn on the job as Ministers and heads of agencies.
We were made to believe that the reason she was not hiring local people from Liberia was because she wanted to bring in experienced people to execute the affairs of the people. It would have been far better and less costly to hire local people who would be given the opportunity to learn on the job. But today after five years, we have Government institutions that have remained unreformed.
Today, we have a Government that prefers to hire foreigners and pay them US$20,000 to US$30,000 per month to do professional and technical work. While we are not against foreigners working in Liberia, but the Government should have made massive investment in people like it was done in Malaysia, Singapore and many serious countries in Africa and the East. Our Government will change that. We will continue to invest in primary school and the education of girls and women.
Central to our Education policy is significant investment in the University of Liberia, giving it a Budget of US$20 million per year and demanding reform and result. We will also have two financing programs:
A Student Loan Program with an initial capital of US$20 million with annual support of US$13 million. Any student in Liberia will be able to take advantage of the student loan and obtain higher education with a contractual agreement to pay back without interest over a ten year period in which the person started work. There is a student loan program in America. Education is a right. Post graduate education is an added value to the overall economy of this country, as our graduates will be prepared to apply for many of the positions that are advertised in newspapers.
The second program is a foreign scholarship program. Our administration will provide initial capital of US$45 million with annual support of US$12 million to support Liberians to study abroad in Africa, America, Europe, Asia or any country or region. We will only insist that the school is accredited. We believe with this level of funding we will have the manpower capacity within two years for Government and the private sector.
Beneficiaries will be required to work in Government for a period of two years upon graduation, with a contractual agreement that required stiff penalties for those who will chose to stay abroad and not fulfill their part of the obligation. There is no need to continue to hire engineers, accountants, etc from abroad when we can commit to building Liberian capacity. Liberians, especially the young people are smart people. They just need the opportunity and support from their Government to compete in this global labor marketplace.
We will soon have an oil and gas industry. So we have to make the investment now so that our people are positioned to take jobs in the industry. Ghana has sent about 400 people abroad to learn all aspect of the oil and gas industry. We have to do the same in Liberia. Through smart investment in education, our people can be lifted out of poverty. We will reduce the level of bogus companies that are stealing from the Government and channel the savings to education. We will ensure that printing and publication is done in Liberia and any cost savings will be used to pay for education. We will squeeze out the waste in government.
5. Donors continue provide the maximum funding for healthcare in Liberia. We appreciate the Chinese Government building the hospital in Tapitta. We will compliment donors’ efforts by purchasing equipment and providing training for doctors and nurses. We have only one radiologist in Liberia. We will train more radiologists and purchase life saving equipment so that instead of people going to Ghana for medical checkup it can be done in Liberia.
Central to our healthcare is to ensure that the Government provides health insurance to all Government workers. We will also make significant investment to bring pipe borne water so as to reduce the illness that comes with drinking dirty water. We will also build public toilets and hire janitors to keep it clean. We will enforce the laws that required that all houses that are built have toilets and that the toilets are kept clean.
Over time, we will work to pass laws that will make it easier for businesses to also provide health insurance for their workers. Part of our health insurance will be financed from cleaning up ghost workers and using the savings to provide healthcare to our people.
6. On infrastructure, I will not promise I will bring electricity in six month to Monrovia. This administration promised to bring electricity to all of Monrovia in six month. In 2011, it is now rushing the European to quickly bring electricity to Monrovia so that the ruling party can say we have done something. It was not done in six years as the Government did not really have a plan to bring electricity to Monrovia, much less the leeward counties. Today, many people in Monrovia are still operating on Tiger generator for their homes and businesses.
Fellow Partisans, fellow Liberians, having infrastructure is your right. But this right has been denied you for decades. We want to thank Chairman Bryant for raising the funds during the donor conference in 2004. Chairman Bryant raised US$522 million at the donor conference sponsored by the United States Government, which was spearheaded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Today, we want to thank the World Bank and also those who contributed funding to the pool fund to begin to build our roads. We just cannot understand how the US$1 billion generated by the Liberian Government was used since many parts of Liberia remained without farm to market roads and highways.
Our administration will seek to prioritize our infrastructural development. For instance, we will devote the first two years to ensure that we have electricity in all of Liberia, beginning with the major economic centers. It is hard to grow an economy without reliable electricity. People will not leave the city to return to the counties until we have reliable electricity. So like the President of Sierra Leone has done, we will concentrate and bring electricity first and then begin to ramp up road construction.
Instead of renting, we will build Government buildings and finish all the buildings that were started by President Samuel Doe. We will therefore use the cost savings to increase our investment in electricity and roads. For me as simple man, it does not make good economic sense to purchase expense Government vehicles when there are no good roads to drive these vehicles on. We will therefore build roads before purchasing expensive vehicles.
Civil Service Reform
7. One of the fundamental challenges facing our Government is that the civil service has been de-professionalized. It is today highly political with the Administration downsizing some people and replacing them with partisans. So instead of having a smaller Government, the administration has increased the bureaucracy with people who are sympathetic to the Ruling Unity Party. This has undermined the continuity of Government and diminished the productivity and commitment in the civil service.
Realizing the importance of a functioning and professional civil service, the British Government through DFID spent considerable sum of British taxpayers’ money to prepare a civil service reform strategy. This strategy like with so many other reports have languished on the shelf gathering dusk all because the administration is not committed to change the status quo. The British Government can be assured that if we are elected, we will ensure that the British taxpayers’ money is not wasted.
We will implement the civil service reform strategy. We will ensure that there is a clear separation between political appointees and the civil servants. We will combine allowances and basic salaries in Government. We believe this will help to increase overall wages in the Government and facilitate equitable distribution of salaries and allowances.
We will also ensure that civil servants are paid on the basis of a pay grade and improvements in the basis salaries will be tied to annual performance reviews in the civil service. We will show total respect for the workers union in the civil service, as we considered them as a significant partner in building a capable and professional civil service that is duly compensated.
We will also seek to reform the pension system and full fund the pension scheme through a Fund that is financed from pension contribution. This fund will be privately managed for the benefit of the Government workers. The lack of a good retirement pension has also contributed to the mentality that one has to steal public money to save it for future retirement. A sustainable pension system will assist in keeping many older people out of poverty.
As part of Pension Reform, we will also examine and bring Social Security Contribution in alignment with the overall pension scheme. We will reform social security and bring in a private firm to manage the investment of contributions so that we can generate the maximum return to keep the social security scheme from going bankrupt.
8. Our administration will also ensure that there is complete budget transparency. This will be done by ensuring that we fully implemented the Public Financial Management Act that passed in 2009. An important first step our administration will do is to bring all budgetary resources on the budget to finance service for taxpayers.
All public corporations and authorities will be fully incorporated in the National Budget. Where necessary we will seek to amend the Act that created these authorities and public corporations so that they are fully incorporated into the National Budget. Public corporations and authorities that are outside of the National Budget have been used by previous administrations and the current administration as cash extraction boxes. These authorities and public corporations are not contributing to the National since this administration took office. LPRC has contributed a little. But National Port Authority was contributing US$2.5 million under Chairman Bryant but it has not contributed anything to the National Budget since this administration took office.
Every President in Liberia has kept these authorities and public corporations outside of the National Budget, preventing Liberians to know how these entities collect and expend public monies. We will be the first to insist that they are brought onto the National Budget so that their funding level is debated in the National Legislature and by Liberians.
In America, the Social Administration is an autonomous but it is in the National Budget of America. There is no reason for the Aviation Authority, and the Liberian Telecommunication Authority should to be outside of the National Budget. These institutions are regulators of industry so there is no accounting basis for them to be outside of the National Budget.
Section 45 of the Public Financial Management Act stipulates that the Annual Budget of all these authorities and public corporations are supposed to be incorporated and submitted to the National Legislature. But since the Act was passed, the President and the Ministry of Finance have not done so. Instead they are keeping the financial affairs of these authorities and public corporations a secret affair. In his book called The Politics, Aristotle argued that the best way to prevent officials from defrauding Government is to put things in the open. Because when things are in the open, the citizens can demand accountability.
Today, the salaries that are paid at various public corporations and authorities are not standardized. Some like Maritime boss is paid US$15,000 per month plus benefits. NPA Managing Director is paid US$12,000 plus benefits. Others are paid US$7,000 to US$10,000 per month. A typical Minister barely makes US$4,000 per month. This inequity in the Government has produced discontent and undermines the productivity in the Government. Our Government will treat all similarly situated institutions the same.
We are paying the Maritime Commissioner US$15,000 per month plus benefit when we have LISCR doing practically all the works for the Maritime. We are paying the NPA Managing Director when we have outsourced bulk of the work at the Port to APM Terminal. This is a clear waste of public money on the basis of friendship and political affiliation. We are clearly also including the budgets of the authorities and public corporation will increase the overall net income of the Government as we will squeeze out all the waste spending that is today taking place at these institutions.
Fellow Partisans, fellow Liberians, chiefs and elders, I believe that I have provided some of things that our administration will do if we are elected. They are simple solutions that can be done with the utmost commitment. I believe, together, we will be able to build a Liberia that is experiencing growth without jobs and opportunity. The ballot box is the best place to hold the President and her administration accountable for the level of corruption and financial mismanagement.
Everyone has the right to vote their choice. But continuing with a corrupt administration is bad choice. President Sirleaf and her administration argued that there are more than 500 thousand Auditor General Morlu. I say to you, today, there are more than 2 million Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Liberia will rise and move if Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is not re-elected. At this point in our history, I just believe strongly that amongst the 2 million who can be President, the leadership of the National Union for Democratic Progress is a reliable option that will rebuild this country.
I want to thank you for coming. I want thank the great people of Nimba. I want to say thank to all Liberians. I say to all Liberians, come and join NUDP. We are big tank and a grassroots party for all Liberians who want to see fundamental change and improvement in their lives.
Thank You. And God bless Liberia!