Chairman Gyude Bryant's Third Address to the Nation


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 11, 2003

On November 1, 2003, Liberia's Interim Chairman Gyude Bryant delivered his third Address To The Nation since his selection to lead the war ravaged nation. Below is the speech in which Mr. Bryant, among other things, called for the reductions in the price of rice and gasoline:

My Fellow Liberians:

Since my induction on October 14th into Office as Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia, we have been making efforts to move our country forward. It has been a challenging period, but our determination to make progress remains uncompromised. I want to inform you today of some of the major efforts.

The friendship Visit to Guinea
Yesterday, Friday, October 31, 2003, we were warmly received by our big brother, His Excellency General Lansana Conteh, President of the Republic Guinea, when we paid a one day friendly visit to that country. President Conteh and I discussed a number of issues relating to sustained peace within the Mano River Basin and the larger ECOWAS sub-region.

President Conteh reiterated his total willingness to continue supporting efforts of the international community for the fulfillment of the deep aspirations of the Liberian people for peace and progress within an environment of security and stability. We agreed to spare no effort to create a climate of confidence for harmonious and integrated development in the West Africa sub-region.

Organization of the Government
Our first task has been to organize the government based on the Comprehensive Peace Accord signed in Ghana. We have made tremendous progress in the formation of the Government.

· Except for the county representatives, the majority of the National Transitional Legislative Assembly has been duly selected and inducted; the leadership of that august body has been chosen, rules have been adopted and standing committees have been established. Regular legislative business has commenced and confirmation of nominated government officials is expected to start soon.

· 18 of the 21 Cabinet Ministers have been duly nominated and their names sent to the National Transitional Legislative Assembly.

· Ministers-designate, Heads-designate of autonomous agencies and Managing Directors-designate of public corporations have been authorized to assume administrative responsibility for their respective institutions pending completion of the confirmation process by the NTLA and Boards of Directors, where applicable.

· Deputy Ministers in most of the ministries have also been named. They, too, have been requested to take their seats pending their confirmation.

· In the coming week, we shall complete the nomination of Cabinet Ministers, Managing Directors and heads of autonomous agencies.

· Further, in the coming week, we shall nominate members of a new Supreme Court and forward the names to the Assembly for confirmation.

While progress has been made, there have been a few hiccups. These revolve particularly around the issue of positions in the Executive branch. On this matter, there has been a spate of accusations and counter accusations from some parties to the agreement. We have listened to all comments, even the ones that have been inflammatory, as part of the necessary give and take of democratic governance. We reaffirm our promise to the Liberian people that our administration will respect the unfettered right of the people to free speech.

Permit me to say a few words on the controversy concerning jobs, jobs and jobs in the government. The scramble for jobs is not unexpected. In anticipation of this problem, we sought clarification of certain aspects of the Peace Agreement from ECOWAS on September 13, 2003. The following clarifications were received:

Allocation of positions in the cabinet, public corporations, and autonomous agencies/commissions

Referring to Paragraph 6 of Annex 4 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which makes prescriptions for allocation of Deputy Ministerial positions to the warring parties, the clarifications read:

The provision allocates two (2) DEPUTY Ministerial positions to the other two Warring Parties wherever one of them is appointed Minister for a particular Ministry and that this procedure should be followed for all fifteen Ministries allocated to the Warring Parties.

Allocation of Assistant Ministers Positions
Clarifications were made to the effect that there were no negotiations regarding allocation of Assistant Ministerial positions during the Accra Peace Talks.

It is expected that such positions will be filled in accordance with normal Liberian regulatory procedures.

ECOWAS, however, recommended that, the position of Assistant Minister within the Ministries be suppressed within the first year of the transition in view of financial constraints.

Other Positions Within State-owned agencies other than the Chief Executive Position

ECOWAS explained as follows: No allocations amongst the Parties to the Agreement were made with respect to all other positions outside the Chief Executive positions within the identified state-owned Agencies. It is also expected that appointments to such positions will be guided by either regulatory instruments of the agencies or by other relevant national laws.

It is our understanding that even after the Agreement was signed some of the parties held bilateral and/or multilateral negotiations amongst themselves. This has been a source of some of the mis-understanding, Regrettably, these negotiations do not form part of the Agreement; neither does the Agreement refer to such negotiations. However, in the interest of reconciliation, peace and harmony, we remain open to dialogue in resolving issues of disagreement with any of the parties as we move forward.

In the context of the above policy, the process of continuing dialogue has commenced and is yielding fruitful results. The parties have generally been responsive, understanding and accommodating. We shall continue to consult with them. We are hopeful that through continuous dialogue all the concerns of parties shall be amicably resolved.

But let me remind all of us who are holding government jobs that it is not going to be business as usual. All of us will be monitored and assessed by the highest standards of transparency and accountability.

Further, the public sector is too large and should be downsized to make it effective and efficient. This is particularly necessary since the resources required to pay civil servants are very limited. It is my hope that public sector reform will form an immediate agenda item of the Governance Reform Commission we will be establishing soon.

National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration

In compliance with the Peace Accord, we yesterday established the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration. Institutional membership of one representative each on the Commission is as follows:

· United Nations
· AU
· The Ministry of Defense
· The Ministry of Justice
· The Ministry of Finance

We have also requested the Ambassador of the United States and the European Union Representative in Liberia to serve as observers on the Commission. This Commission will chaired by me.

Immediate economic reform measures
Fellow citizens, when we took the oath of office on October 14, 2003, the coffers of the government were empty. In addition to large negative bank balances, we also inherited a debt burden of over US$3 billion. The government we inherited was broke and we owe lot of money to a lot of people: civil servants, vendors, domestic and foreign financial institutions, and foreign governments.

On October 24, we took an important step towards getting our fiscal house in order, by issuing Executive Order Number 2 to centralize the collection of all government revenues under the authority of the Ministry of Finance and the depositing of those funds in the Central Bank. After less than a week of implementation, the Minister of Finance reports that revenue collection is improving.

On October 14, 2003, I promised you that our government would take policy measures by November 1, 2003 that would reduce the high cost of living in your daily lives. In particular, I mentioned the high cost of rice, gasoline, diesel fuel and kerosene.

Today, in fulfillment of that promise, I am pleased to announce that we have taken appropriate policy measures relative to government levies and other charges that will ensure, effective today, that:

· The retail price of rice will not exceed the following:

parboiled pussawa rice: US$19, down from US$21 per bag
butter rice: US$18, down from US$20 per bag
white rice: US$17, down from US$20 per bag

· Furthermore, the market is open to all who wish to import rice into Liberia. In particular, we encourage Liberian business people to take advantage of this opening up of the market.

· The retail price of a gallon of gasoline will not be more than US$2.25 or its equivalent in Liberian dollars, down from US$3.00.

· The retail price of a gallon of diesel fuel will not be more than US$2.20 or its equivalent in Liberian dollars, down from US$2.90.

· The retail price of a gallon of kerosene will not be more than US$ 2.10 or its equivalent in Liberian dollars, down from US$3.00.

It is expected that the opening of the market to competition will drive these prices down even further.
The Minister of Commerce-designate will issue detailed guidelines on how these new measures will impact importers, distributors, and retailers. The Minister shall continue to monitor the distribution of these essential commodities to ensure that our policy measures make their impact on the lives of our people.

We cannot now open the market completely for petroleum products because of an existing Act of Legislature granting exclusive rights to the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) to import such products. However, as a stop-gap measure, I hereby mandate LPRC to grant petroleum importation franchises to not less than three companies. The practice of franchising to only one company is hereby abolished.

By the policy measures taken today, the cost of transportation will also come down. I am hereby directing the Minister of Transport-designate to immediately engage the Transport Union of Liberia and the Drivers’ Union of Liberia for the determination of a revised price structure for transportation. I trust that a revised schedule of transportation fares will be published to take effect not later than November 8, 2003.

On the critical issue of civil servant salaries, while we study the problem of arrears of past years, I want to assure civil servants that efforts are now being finalized to commence the payment next week of salaries for October 2003.

Fellow citizens, there will be no “business as usual”. Every penny of your taxes will be accounted for in this government. On this issue, there shall be zero tolerance.

I shall inform you from time to time, both directly and through your representatives in the Legislative Assembly, on matters related to the peace process and other issues concerning our welfare and progress as a nation. In all of these, we ask for you prayers, patience, understanding and support, as we strive to rebuild our country.
I thank you.