A leading Liberian opposition leader, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has presented her blue print for improving the sagging Liberian economy. Below is full text of her speech:

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Presented at the
Unity Conference Center
4 November 1999
Virginia, Liberia

The Chair of the Council of Economic Advisor and Representative of the President, Honorable members of the Legislature, Honorable members of the Supreme Court, Honorable Ministers, Excellencies, County Officials, Representatives of international institutions, Representatives of Non Governmental Organizations, Gentlewomen and Gentlemen.

I wish to thank you Dr. Sawyer, Chairman of the Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE) and Convenor of this conference, and you Mr. Wesseh, Director of CEDE, for your tremendous effort in bringing this conference to fruition. It has taken a while to reach this stage - some fifteen months I believe - to obtain the approvals necessary to bring together representatives from all sectors of the society to focus particularly on our economy - its problems and prospects, its challenges and potential as we approach the next millennium. I wish to commend all the Ministers of Finance for their role in this effort. A very special thanks to former Ministers Saleeby and Bestman, for their courage in endorsing this exchange of views.

We are but six months away from that which will mark the twenty-year period of the tumultuous events of April 1980 when our nation had the first real opportunity for change. The constraints imposed by one hundred, fifty years of power and privilege monopolization were broken, providing the basis for a fundamental altering of the framework of economic, political and social systems that had been shaped over those many years of settler domination.

It did not happen. It did not happen because the new political leaders, born, bred and imbued with the value system of the past lacked the capacity to formulate a new vision for a country long in need to move away from its anachronistic past. It did not happen because the intellectual support group upon which these new leaders relied, lacked themselves the reformist qualities necessary to modernize the nation.

And so we witnessed a transfer of the trappings of a fallen oligarchy; we settled for a mere shifting of the monopolization of power and privilege from one group to another - yes, to another group long denied, and hence deserving, but by its embrace of the status quo, the new rulers set the stage for where we are today - not much further than where we were some fifty years ago - by international standards, a thoroughly backward nation - economically, socially and politically. This characterization is hard to take, even for me uttering these words but denials will not help us. This is the truth. That is our inherited legacy. We cannot change it nor can we turn back the clock. But we can, together in the spirit of unity and reconciliation, put it behind us.

And so, once again, Liberia stands at the crossroads, facing the choice of looking backwards, clinging to those anachronistic symbols of a lost and dubious glory or walking boldly into the future, embracing the new requirements of a new and fast globalizing world.

This is not a choice to be made by the Government alone. This is not a responsibility to be assumed by the Government alone. This is not a right to be exercised by the Government alone. The Government in concert with its institutions and its people; the Government in partnership with non governmental organizations and the private sector that is all the bodies and institutions represented in this room, must embark upon a new path to save our nation.

We owe this to the foreparents who welcomed their brothers and sisters from a place of bondage. We owe it to the foreparents who returned to the land of their nativity and founded and defended the birth of a new nation. We owe it to our mothers and our fathers who labored and sacrificed to provide us with the capacity to make a choice that is right. We owe it to the thousands whose lives have been lost in the struggle for change. We owe it to ourselves to leave behind a legacy of which we can be proud and we owe it to our children to ensure that they have a place to call home and to which they can return. We owe it to generations unborn to enable them to inherit their fair share of the benefits of their land.

Honorable Minister, Distinguished Participants, I will thus share with you, my brief thoughts on (Liberia:) A Framework for Change and National Renewal. In doing so, I realize that to be acted upon, these thoughts would have to past the test of consistency and acceptability ­ consistency with the views already expressed by the many compatriots who participated in the national conference last year and acceptability by all, including the many others who did not have the opportunity to share in the conference proceedings.

First I will talk about the economic order - the legacy, the status quo and a possible framework for change.

In a biting review of the Liberian economy in 1966 , the Northwestern University team concluded that "unlike most other African countries (at that time), Liberia is capable of financing extremely ambitious progress of economic development from domestic resources. It is a tiny country, sparsely populated with fertile soil and plentiful rainfall; it is endowed with vast natural resources. The economic backwardness of Liberia is attributable not to the lack of resources nor to a domination by foreign financial and political interests. Rather, the underlying difficulty is that the leaders of Liberia have not permitted those changes necessary to develop the society and its economy".

There is no doubt that some economic improvements were registered during those first one hundred and fifty years of our national life. This process was started with the activities of Firestone which commenced its operations in 1926, with a million acres of landed tenured at 99 years and an original investment estimated at around $50 million. Together with the other major rubber concessions, Firestone provided the first major source of employment and earnings for a large number of the population. The infrastructure development on those plantations also represented the first effort at economic modernization. The iron ore mining companies which followed ­ Liberia Mining Company, Lamco for example ­ contributed similarly, their activities being the source of the extraordinary growth of the Liberia economy during the 1950 - 1960 decade. There was also significant resources emanating from the famous "flag of convenience" or maritime program which in part was designed and managed as a tax haven for U.S. companies.

However, the tendency toward fiscal indiscipline, dependency upon foreign trade and external borrowings and a failure to develop the subsistence economy made the economy vulnerable to the external shocks of falling primary commodity prices and increases in the costs of imports. Consequently a pattern of "boom bust", conditioned by commodity prices, continued over several decades.

The Northernwestern team thus concluded that Liberia's economic progress consisted more of growth than development.

Efforts by the Tolbert Government to start the process of development proved to be too little too late in a climate of political agitation and radicalization. The economic mismanagement which followed in the Doe regime, despite an unprecedented level of financing and technical assistance by the United States Government, thus created the conditions which sent the economy into a free fall from which it has yet to recover.

That is our economic legacy.

Today, we recognize that our economic situation has changed, and not for the better. Our natural resource endowment has deteriorated, with the exhaustion of major iron ore deposits. Rubber plantations throughout the country have aged and been subjected to careless and illicit exploitation. Forest resources are being fast depleted due to unchecked exploitation. The production of traditional agricultural products, including exportable cash crops has plummeted due to the exploits of war and the resulting displacement of the rural population. The national debt has skyrocketed, reportedly now over $3 billion, and our international credit worthiness has been lost for well over a decade. Our already limited economic infrastructure has been largely destroyed and social infrastructure set back for several decades. Our record of economic performance is no longer registered in institutional financial statistics.

Moreover, and perhaps more concerningly, a culture of kleptocracy is spreading at an alarming rate, undermining the little commitment that is left to the notion of public service.

In terms of statistics, Liberia ranks eleven out of forty-five countries ranked by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) under the Borda measurement which computes the sum of rankings of each country by the level of per capita income, gross domestic product, life expectancy at birth, infant mortality and adult literacy. This is not a record of pride since all of the ten countries with lower rankings, with the exception of Sierra Leone which has a ranking of 1, have economies that are much lesser endowed.

That is the status quo.

Yet, our nation still possesses the requisite foundation for growth and development. Our population is relatively small, at 2.75 million in 1998 according to the ECA's 1999 Economic Report on Africa. On the other hand, our per capita income estimated at $597 would place us in a middle income category, well ahead of nine of the fifteen West African countries so measured. Moreover, a large portion of our mineral resources remain unexplored and unexploited, and there is still time to introduce control and conservation measures to forestry operations. The scope for promoting the production of both tradition and nontraditional exports remains quite broad. The subsistence economy begs for support and transformation through new technologies, technical assistance and access to credit.

Under conditions of sound economic policies and efficient allocation of domestic resources our seemingly intractable debt problem can be addressed through the several mechanisms that exist for debt relief. Our international credibility can also be restored through honest and competent financial management. Moreover, Liberia can boast of an overall human resource capability that equals or surpasses most other countries in the continent. This can be found and mobilized through the collective talents and skills of Liberians professionals at home and abroad.

What is the framework that will enable us to employ these advantages in an effort to achieve development objectives?

First, there is a need to formulate an economic vision - the determination of economic goals, consistent with national endowment and regional and global dynamics. Needless to say, the relevant desires of the people, as expressed during the National Conference, would have to be taken into account. Included in this process is an identification of the sequential measures that need to be taken to achieve these goals. In a way, the end product of this effort can be called a national development plan but one that departs from the discarded practices of economic modeling or development projects costing. The overall objective of such an exercise would be a stimulation of economic growth and structural change, using the policy instruments of taxing, spending, borrowing, lending, licensing and regulation. Those concerned may recall that I indicated to the Government, as far back as April of last year, that this process of goal setting has been institutionalized through the African Future's Program of UNDP. I believed then and believe now that the experience which exists under this program could provide valuable input to a Liberian effort in this regard, if we are but willing to make use of this facility.

A second requirement is to revisit the system of land tenure throughout the country so as to ensure that this fundamental resource is used in a manner that fosters the achievement of sustainable development goals. The traditional land tenure system of ownership, tribal reserves, excessive urban holdings, concession leases, has contributed to our underdevelopment. More recent practices of illegal land grabbing and squatting have added to the problems. We must face this issue squarely and equitably if we are to stimulate investment in agricultural activity and urban development.

A third suggestion has to do with the privileges and benefits of concession activities. It has been an established tradition that the concessions operate as enclaves, with little linkages to the rest of the economy other than through the limited purchasing power and tax obligations of employees. Satellite industries and outsourcing of business activities are limited, while the hosting of employees in a controlled environment prevents the development of autonomous economic activities in alternative surrounding communities.

I am told, on this point, that the Government has introduced several positive changes in the recent agreement with Firestone which would represent a break in this tradition. We hope that this new agreement also corrects long standing anomalies such as that which sees Firestone production of tires in say, Kenya, which is not a rubber producer, while importing tires into Liberia which is a significant rubber producer. In this regard, we are well aware of the longstanding arguments regarding the diminished role of natural rubber in tire production and our limited domestic market size. These arguments no longer hold water. There are several other items of exportable potential which use natural rubber and regionalization could address the issue of domestic market size. At this juncture, we can only urge the Government, in the spirit of transparency, to foster an open dialogue in the Legislature and in appropriate public fora on the new Firestone agreement and the one on the Malaysian forest concession as well. This would enable us to understand the benefits and cost of these arrangements and the potential contribution which these activities would make to our effort to achieve accelerated growth and structural transformation.

My fourth element of a framework relates to a prioritizing of agriculture. I have already mentioned the need to support subsistence agriculture through the introduction of research which provides new technologies and the need to make credit available to farmers. Until the economy is strong enough to support a resuscitation of the Agriculture and Cooperative Development Bank, the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) should take the responsibility to design programs that will stimulate the sector. It is recognized, of course, that LBDI is at present undercapitalized, but well designed credit programs would stand a good chance of attracting capital from outside. In this regard, one needs to question LBDI's priorities ­ the tremendous effort being made to attract capital for the renovation of its offices in Congo Town. This is important, no doubt, but not as important as attracting capital to assist farmers to get back into production. This would respond to the needs of farmers who must rely on buyers from neighboring countries to sell their cash crops. Let me say to my friends and colleagues at LBDI that they have an obligation to respond to this agriculture development challenge. Finally on this subject, I believe that it is time for the Government to consider a program of concerted effort to attract foreign investment in large-scale production of crops such as coffee, cocoa, citrus and rice. Self-sufficiency in rice, our main stay and staple, would obviously need careful review and study if we are to avoid another disastrous politicizing of the issue as was the case in the 1979 rice riots which commenced the process of destruction with which we are faced today.

The fifth element of my framework for economic recovery deals with restructuring and reform of the civil service. The number of government agencies are simply too large and the administrative capacity too limited to produce the level of efficiency required to achieve development goals. I suggest that we need a government organization that is rationalized with the number of separate government agencies reduced. We also need the introduction of a meritocracy that places emphasis on professionalism and performance. The Legislature could help in this regard by passing or reactivating the public service Code of Conduct. Government measures should include provisions that require civil servants with conflict of interest to move from government service to the private sector where they can accumulate the wealth they desire consistent with their own skills and effort. Moreover, the Legislature should require a declaration of assets by all top-level civil servants who are subject to the confirmation process. I trust that the Clark Commission on civil service reform has already formulated such measures and that the government will act soonest on their implementation.

In the area of public administration, there is also need to revisit the processes relating to program prioritizing, accountability and transparency. The budgetary process is a vital element in this regard. Public expenditures, at least in the short term of our recovery effort, should reflect development priorities that focus on stimulation of agricultural production, particularly exports which will generate foreign exchange to support growth. Programs of external assistance could be encouraged to support subsistence food crops for food self-sufficiency.

Similarly, the low level of tax compliance needs attention. I can tell you as an old tax collector that this is a long-standing problem in Liberia's financial performance. As a result of practices of tax evasion and tax avoidance, the tax base remains much too narrow. Tax fraud is rampant in the commercial sector; and the filing of tax returns are rigorously enforced largely on those who have no political power. All in all, some measure of fiscal discipline, never one of our strong points, needs to be restored and enforced.

Finally, it would add tremendously to the credit of this Government if expenditure reports were readily available to the public at large and government financial managers available to discuss these reports openly. There are other measures which would add better financial performance. These include the strengthening and automation of accounting and auditing systems and a reorganization of the Auditor General office under the mandate provided in the constitution. These also include a resolution of the problems relating to the circulation of three currencies of legal tender. I understand that this issue may be resolved by end year with the issuance of new currency. We only hope that the supply will be managed so that the new notes do not become worthless pieces of paper.

Education and health represent the sixth element of my economic recovery framework. We recognize the measures that the Government has already taken in attempts to restore vitality to these sectors and we commend the efforts of the Ministers of Education and Health in this regard.

As in other areas, innovative approaches and tough measures will be required. Over the years, our educational system has produced a lot of graduates but relatively few trained people. This is because of the low quality of teaching staff and the lack of textbooks and school equipment. Recent conditions including the tendency to buy promotions and degrees, have exacerbated these problems. As a result the majority of those graduating from our colleges and universities hardly possess a high school equivalent education and are woefully unequipped to compete in an environment of their peers worldwide. The literacy program, important as it is, could also be revamped, since literacy without some form of skill can hardly result in a major contribution to development goals.

In the area of health, it is encouraging to note the ongoing mass campaign of immunization against certain diseases such as polio. However, although not mutually exclusive, I believe an equally positive impact on health could be made by prioritizing the availability of clean water. Is it beyond our reach and effort to establish say, a goal of well or borehole in every village by the year 2005? I do not believe this is an unreachable goal and I believe external assistance would be forth coming if the Government prioritized this activity.

My seventh suggested element of an economic recovery framework relates to economic infrastructure - roads, telecommunications, sea, airports and energy.

Traditionally, governments worldwide have maintained control of these facilities for reasons of resources mobilization and security. This is no longer necessary as globalization now makes borders and barriers almost irrelevant. Infrastructure development could form the basis for private sector stimulation, making possible Liberia's access to the several equity and loan funds which are available to support private sector investment in these areas. Of course, to succeed, the Government would have to ensure that bona fide individuals and corporations, rather than disguised crooks, are given the right to invest and manage these national assets under regulations that ensure that the country receives benefit, the citizens receive quality service and good corporate governance procedures are employed.

An environment of security represents my eighth element for recovery. This is not a matter to be taken lightly or to hide behind a barrage of rhetorical denials. Each citizen, each visitor, each international organization representative, each diplomatic mission official takes note, records and relays the activities and practices regarding the safety and protection of rights in the country. Today's communications apparatus facilitates this transfer of information and knowledge. The issue of the safety of life, limb and property is an important consideration in the decision of individuals to live and invest in our country. A secured environment is thus a major ingredient in confidence building and confidence is a major ingredient in investment decisions.

I could cite to you the many cases of abuse and ill treatment that gets reported to the outside world and I could point to the negative effects of Government's failure to investigate heinous crimes and punish those responsible, but that is not in the spirit of what this meeting is about. Let us thus commend the Government for its success in unifying the country, security wise, and let us commend the measures taken by the new Police Director to restore our confidence in the safety of our well being and urge those responsible in Government to respect their commitment and their promise to protect and safeguard the rights of peaceful, law-abiding citizen and visitors to our land.

I am convinced that if this happens you will see a construction and employment boom in this country with Liberians creating and transferring significant amount of resources to rehabilitate their homes, farms, and businesses. This in turn will be a signal to outsiders that it is time to invest in Liberia.

My ninth element of recovery is regional cooperation and integration. Our continent is perhaps the most balkanized, 178 borders among 53 countries. Moreover, the per capita income or purchasing power parity of the majority of our countries is below the level that would support economic investment of scale. Consistent with the means taken by other regions of the world, we must broaden our markets through regional effort. The Mano River Union and ECOWAS represent the first stages of the building blocks that will lead us toward realization of the African Economic Community. Early action by government to promote a revival of regional operations under the umbrella of the Mano River Union is appropriate and urgent. It is my understanding that the Economic Commission for Africa stands ready to assist in this effort. The Government should move quickly to welcome and support this initiative.

I would be remiss if I did not mention gender empowerment which is my last and final element for economic recovery.

According to UN statistics , of the world's 1.3 billion poor people, 70 percent are women. Similarly, of the world's one billion illiterates, two thirds are women. The majority of women earn an average three-fourths the pay of males for the same work and women work approximately twice the unpaid time of men. Despite this disadvantage, women outlive men in almost every country and one in every four households is headed by a woman.

In Africa, as you know, women produce 60 to 80 percent of the region's food but account for 10 percent of the income and 1 percent of the assets. The situation regarding Liberian women would not mark a strong point of departure from this world record.

Africa, and particularly Liberia, has not done too badly in the effort to achieve gender equality. Our own Angie Brooks made history in her elections in 1969 as the first women to head the UN General Assembly. Several others of us have achieved a level of success that serve as inspiration to women across the continent.

Perhaps our most important challenge in promoting gender equity and equality is to focus on our sisters who still labor in the informal sector and on girls who still suffer from female genital mutilation and limited access to education and training. Those of us who represent the blessed and the advantaged have a particular responsibility in this regard irrespective of the contribution that the government is able and willing to provide.

Distinguished Participants, I am aware that the Government is in the process of formulating a new economic development agenda which recognizes the need for change in the current economic promotion strategies of the country. This strategy, which is said to prioritize seven sectors, is necessary, if insufficient, to stimulate economic growth and development. However, appropriate sequencing of those priorities will be required given the scarcity of resources. More importantly, the Government needs to be careful to minimize the gap between rhetoric and reality, as so often have been the case in our national experience.

My reflections on the economic agenda concluded, let me turn briefly to the other two aspects relevant for nation building. In fact it has been suggested that over the years, it has been the politics and society, not the economics of Liberia, that have remain arcane and problematic. It has also been suggested that social and economic reform are the most important preconditions for development of the country.

With this in mind, I will now touch upon the legacy, status quo and framework for social reform.

The long standing divide between the settler and indigenous population has its genesis in the nature of the country's settlement (i.e. several colonies from different parts of the United States) and in the lack of a common cause or unifying force such as that which pertained in the colonized countries of the continent. The concept of a national identity has thus not been an inherent part of our national psyche. Additionally, the two sides of the social divide maintained, for much too long separate distinct group identities - in speech, dress, life style, and culture. President Tubman in his Unification Policy introduced a break from that undesirable proclivity. However, in reality the ideal of equality represented in his official policy remained lacking in structure and substance.

Thus, although the ward system and intermarriages heightened the process of assimilation, despite the lack of adequate policy action, it was not until the coup d'etat of 1980 that the divide between the settler and indigenous groups were permanently punctured.

That is the legacy.

Let me go to Dr. Sawyer's contribution to a recent publication for an understanding of this legacy. He said, "until 1980, the struggle for power was largely intra-class struggles in which one element or another within the ruling class had sought to manipulate factors of race, ethnicity and religion in support of its quest for power. The 1980 coup which brought an end to settler oligarchic control marked the first major transfer of political authority in a way in which factors of class and ethnicity combined to define a distinctly new leadership."

I believe that the status quo today regarding our social institutions and practices is more one of a divide along income rather than ethnic lines. Further, that the class struggle, if indeed one exists, is a more conventional one of the haves versus the have nots, with people from all ethnic groups falling in one category or the other".

Yet, it behooves the Government and ourselves not to pretend that vestiges of this divided social order do not remain and could not once again be used for political purposes. We should confront this issue with policies and action that ensures full unity and equal opportunity for all. A rewrite of our history to give due recognition to the role, lifestyle and contribution to nation building of the indigenous population would be a good place to start. Open dialogue on this aspect of our national experience would give added value.

Additionally, a revisit of those anachronistic dividing symbols such as those mentioned in my statement at the 1972 CWA commencement and those subsequently detailed more eloquently by Edward Binyan Kesseley, may be required. For example, let us not be timid in seeking changes in the national motto, the flag, the wording of citations of merit, and more importantly, the constitution which still contains too much of those provisions drawn up by a Harvard University professor in 1838. An unhampered review of the constitution including a look at those of other African countries might be instructive in providing us with good examples of those provisions that protect and promote national unity and reconciliation, equity and equal opportunity

Moreover, we could build upon the spirit of unity which was forged during the long years of a non-discriminatory war. As Dr Sawyer has said, "the tragedy which befell Liberia has had a profound effect on society and state. Every village, hamlet town and city was looted, destroyed or physically affected in one way or the other".

And now the politics. The Northwestern team pointed to the characteristics of a government by patronage - one in which government authority rewards loyalty and conformity with jobs; one in which the highest echelons and their kin obtain the most lucrative material prerogatives; one in which a person who expresses opposition to the authorities is denied access to good jobs and to opportunities and benefits; one in which even the kin of opposition persons are made to suffer deprivation.

Similarly, the team pointed to the absence of an effective opposition under this system of political patronage. It was described thus: "As with one party states elsewhere, in Liberia there is no tradition, no concept, no practice of "loyal opposition." Criticism of the President or of the government and its policies is interpreted as disloyalty, sedition, or subversion, and is punished severely. Democracy requires the institutionalization of loyal opposition"; political parties out of office but in the legislature need to be endowed with real functions, power, and the potential of achieving office without revolution; nongovernmental bodies need to be allowed to express criticism of government and its works without being exposed to retribution."

Our political status quo has been shaped by this legacy and by the events following the 1980 coup d'etat.

As you know, the ruling military regime of the 1980s attempted to legitimize itself through election but was soundly defeated at the polls. The announced results, which represented a monumental fraud with acceptance by the international community led by the United States, set the stage for the military challenge which followed one month thereafter and the civil war four years later.

That is the legacy, which one might say, is strikingly familiar to the status quo.

Change must be introduced into our political system, political institutions and political processes if we are to achieve our national development goals. Analysis and empirical evidence have shown beyond a doubt that development fosters best in an environment of freedom, civil rights protection and the exercise of choice without penalty or repression.

A new political agenda would call for a rebalancing of power between the Presidency and the people, if indeed all power is inherent in the people as our constitution asserts. An imperial Presidency which has the power of life or death, wealth or poverty, success or failure for everyone and everyone in its hands, is an obstruction to progress.

A reorder of the political system to achieve development objective would also require more decentralization and more decision making regarding development priorities and resource use at the local levels, through leaders that are elected and serve at the will of the people on the basis of their responsiveness to their needs.

At the apex we need to explore and adopt measures that would prevent the monopolization of power and privilege by any individual or ethnic group. Perhaps we might consider designing a rotational system which provides opportunity for all political subdivisions to have a chance at top leadership of the country. I realize that this is a rather radical suggestion, given the implied limitations of choice, but the lessons of our history and tradition require untried and innovative approaches and we ought to be flexible in attempting to find the approach which will enable us to meet our development goals.

The other two branches of our political system - the Legislature and the Judiciary ­ pose no real problem in so far as structure is concerned. It is their lack of independence from the Executive that contributes to the political anachronism which have long pertained. A revisit of the qualification and procedures for selection by the people in the case of the legislature and the President in the case of the Supreme Court would help toward an achievement of the goal of independence. In this regard, and based upon our national experience, a parliamentary system would seem more suitable to the cause of democracy. Although the 1986 constitution stayed with the traditional system, we ought to be open minded in reviewing all of the options that would improve upon our political system and processes.

We in the opposition can also stand some introspection on our policies and practices, which to a large extent mirrors those of the ruling party. We should be ready to play the role of what is called the loyal opposition, one which stresses loyalty to the nation, its people, its laws, its prosperity. By so doing, we would strongly reject any course or action, particularly those associated with violence, that undermines the constitution and resultingly the peace and stability of the nation.

The exercise of choice being important to the creativity and confidence of all, electoral system and processes would need an overhaul. This should start with a clearly defined and more prominent role for the opposition and with an electoral oversight body that consists of independent representatives of the various political and civic elements of the society.

There would be no reason why a credible and competent Election Commission could not mobilize, at home and abroad, the resources necessary to conduct the required elections.

The civil society at large also has a role to play in ensuring that our economic, social and political systems provide the basis for growth and development. The basic freedoms of choice, association, religion that are enshrined in our constitution can only become a living instrument if everyone is prepared to preserve, respect and challenge any attempt at an undermining of these freedoms. Thus, by commission or omission, action or inaction, it is each and every one of us who have the responsibility to determine what our society should be.

Honorable Ministers, Excellencies, Officials of Government, Friends,

The 1999 Human Development Report, in which data on Liberia is totally absent due to the long years of failure to produce national accounts, starts off with the statement "The real wealth of a nation is its people; and the purpose of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives." In its topic on globalization, the report also notes that globalization is not new but the present era has distinctive features - shrinking space, shrinking time, and disappearing borders are linking peoples ties more deeply, more intensely and more immediate than ever before. We face the parameter of a globalizing world as we move toward the new millennium.

Liberia has remained in President Tubman's shadow for much too long - 27 years of political bondage softened by the spoils of political patronage. It is time to walk boldly out of this shadow and into the future of hope. It is time for change.

Mr. Carbah, please tell the President to lead this effort. That is what his mandate is all about. Please tell him to seize this opportunity for change. I believe that all of us, the opposition in particular, are prepared to commit and recommit ourselves to doing our part for an implementation of a development agenda that provides a legacy of which we all can be proud. Liberia deserves this. The Liberian people deserve more than they now have as they prepare to enter the 21st century.

I thank you.

For subscription information, send e-mail to: editor@theperspective.org
or go to: www.theperspective.org