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 The President's Annual Message: A View from the Grassroots

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PostSubject: The President's Annual Message: A View from the Grassroots   Tue Mar 01, 2011 2:39 pm


On January 24, 2011, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the
President of our country, addressed both houses of the legislature on the State
of the Nation. We, The Coalition of Liberian Professionals for Grassroots
Democracy (COL), a policy think tank and advocacy group, residing in the United
States and Canada, has been examining the facts behind the president’s speech
and offers its analysis and perspectives on the state of the nation for a
balanced presentation on the conditions of our country and the people since the
president took office a little over 5 years ago. The COL is
dedicated to providing research, analysis, and other professional services in
the interest of the grassroots population of Liberia. COL
believes that our education and training would be meaningless if we do not
demonstrate concern for the conditions of our people and suggest ways to
improve their conditions. COL wants to examine the
facts as it relates to National Security, economic development, employment,
health, education, governance and the rule of law, peace and reconciliation,
and restoring trust and confidence in government.


National security always underpins a country’s human
security. In her Annual Address, the
president reported that the country is well-secured, and that Monrovia, the capital city is safe. What did we discover and what are the
facts. The fact of the matter is that
the bulk of the country’s security is provided by the United Nations Military
force, UNMIL, and based on the evidence, very little has been done over the
last 5 years to have Liberians take over the security of the country when the
UN leaves. The UN has already begun to
draw down its forces: from a 15, 000-strong military presence in 2003, the UN
force is now 8,100 and will continue to be drawn down throughout the year to
support other crisis occurring in the region, specifically, The Ivory
Coast. Both Liberia’s
Ministry of Defense and the United Nations have reported that only 2, 000
persons have been trained to replace the UNMIL forces when they depart Liberia within
a year’s time. Clearly, the UN forces
continued presence in Liberia
is untenable and the country lacks the capacity to fill in this huge
vacuum. What is more, the AFL is not
prepared to secure and defend the nation.
Whether countries in the region, in particular, Nigeria (the head of the Liberian Army is
currently a Nigerian), will step in to support Liberia’s fragile security
situation remains a far-fetched reality.
While there exists no eminent regional threat to Liberia’s national
security, there are reports to the effect that caches of arms does exist
throughout the country which were hidden by various warring factions and, were
not turned in or discovered by the ECOMOG, the West African Peacekeeping force,
during the cessation of war in 2003.
There are no reports as to whether the Administration in collaboration
with UNMIL embarked upon a comprehensive program for a second phase of
disarmament. But there have been
frequent reports of ongoing conflict between so-called “war veterans” and the
Defense Ministry regarding unpaid benefits.
Despite the establishment of the Bureau of Veteran Affairs, this
continues to raise concerns about the state of the nation’s security. Furthermore, ever-escalating domestic crimes
such as, armed robbery, burglary, gang violence, and rape, has become a public
safety nightmare for citizens, and a challenge for the Liberia National Police
Force. A list of other national security threats include: high unemployment for
ex-combatants, the youth bulge comprising high-risk youth without job –ready
skills, latent ethnic/religious schism as was evident in Lofa county a year
ago, ever-growing, unresolved Land disputes, and labor strikes. COL
agrees with UN Secretary General Ban Kii Moon’s assessment that the country “is
stable but fragile.”

This fragility has the potential of fracturing due to the
ongoing crisis in the region that could have a spillover effect into Liberia. Witness
the flow of refugees from the Ivory
Coast. The United Nations reports that there
are about 2,000 former Liberian rebel fighters who are operating as
“mercenaries” in the crisis in the Ivory Coast. The Secretary General’s report further stated
that in our country “maintaining law and order remains a challenge, with
frequent reported incidents of rapes, and armed robbery, as well as the
prevalence of drugs and mob violence. An increasing number of incidents involve
firearms; and the seizure of locally manufactured single barrel shot guns from Guinea have


The central focus of the President’s speech was on the
economy and the economic health of the nation.
The President reported that her administration has created a strong
economic foundation, Liberia’s
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown 6.3%, up from 4.6% in 2009, and that in
5 years the GDP will grow in double-digits.
What are the facts? It is no
secret that a nation’s GDP provides a good measure of determining a nation’s growth,
but where is the evidence that this GDP can be sustained? Projections should not be treated as
facts! Assuming that the economy grew
2.3% in 2010, there is no evidence that this growth rate or a larger rate will
continue in the next 5 years. A nation’s
economic growth rate is influenced by many factors, including investments,
labor force, sound economic policies, and control of corruption or the lack of
it. According to Transparency
International, the UN body that tracks corruption in countries worldwide,
ranked Liberia
as number one corrupt country in the world.
believes this does not augur well for the country’s continuing economic

The president also reported that the government budget has
increased by 400% from US $80 million five years ago to $369 currently. The president also said that the total
revenue for that period was US $1.03 billion.
Certainly, these are impressive numbers but what was not reported was
how much of the revenue was spent on basic human development needs such as
education, health, and infrastructural development. History is our teacher here: As occurred in
the past, particularly during the Tubman Administration, Liberia experienced a larger increase in revenue
as foreign investments grew…Liberia’s
growth was way ahead of Japan
and South Korea
in the 50s and 60s, but there was no tangible development though there was
growth. Liberian then experienced what
economists have come to describe as ‘Growth without Development’. COL
believes that this same failed model and approach to economic development and
change never worked before and will not work now. The country and its people deserve better in
terms of how its richly endowed natural resources can improve the human
condition of the Liberian people.

When the facts are examined even further as it relates to
public infrastructural development, it is evident that the UP-led government
carried out no substantial development in the last 5 years. FACT: There is
still only one major public hospital (JFK) in Monrovia,
Montserrado County. FACT: The Jackson F. Doe Memorial
Hospital was recently
built by the Chinese government. FACT:
JFK and The Redemption Hospital in New
Kru Town
are operated by a Belgium
group, Medicins Sans Frontieres. FACT:
About 79% of the health facilities in the country have no electricity, 57% have
no potable water supply, and 36% lack refrigeration for EPI services
(RAD-AID). Due to the inadequacy of the
health infrastructure in the country, public officials including the president
frequently travel abroad to Ghana
or the United States,
to attend to their health. The ongoing Road Rehabilitation project in the city
area was conducted by a Chinese contractor and was funded by an international
entity. The Chinese company brought its
own laborers from China
and used few Liberian ground workers.
And although there are more electrified light poles on some streets in Monrovia, most parts of
the city has no electricity. It can be
recalled that this was one of the president’s promise and social contract she
made with the Liberian people to electrify the city in the first six months of
her Administration.

Increased Foreign Investment was reported as a keystone
accomplishment of the administration that has contributed to the economic
health of the nation. The current
administration has signed many contracts with foreign investors estimated to be
worth $1.6billion. But how has these
investments benefited the Liberian people? When analyzed, COL’s economists have determined that
government would have received a larger investment revenue with these contracts
had the government implemented prudent foreign investment policies. For example, in the Chevron Oil deal, the
government gave Chevron 70% of the ownership “in three deepwater
concessions”. But with other African
countries such as Nigeria
and Angola,
Chevron received 39% and 40%, respectively.
A Liberian economist and finance expert, Mr. J. Yanqui Zaza, in a
published article, pointed out that government “signed a mother of all
sweetheart deal in exchange for kickbacks.”
A culture of corruption can definitely undermine a country’s bargaining
power resulting in lower taxes and lower wages. This can also foster
intractable poverty. To date, it can be
recalled that no explanation has been offered as to why the former National
Investment Commission boss, Mr. Richard Tolbert, was forced to resign.

The President also pleasingly reported that Inflation, that
defiant dragon, has been contained, almost slayed. That Inflation in the country has decreased. In other words, the cost of goods or basic
commodities needed for daily living has gone down. But what are the facts? The fact and reality is that the price of
goods, particularly food, has substantially increased over time. For example, as also stated by Counselor
Charles Brumskine in his rebuttal to the President’s address, the cost of a bag
of Rice, Liberia’s staple food has gone up from US$25 to US$35, and a bag of
cement has increased from US$7 to US$16, but has currently drop to US$10 after
a public outcry. Meanwhile, with
increase in the cost of living, the income of the average Liberian has not
increased, simultaneously. The average
Liberian lives on less than $2.00 a day, while some government employees make
US$15,000 to US$25,000 a month (Frontpage Africa). Another negative economic trend that has not
helped the economy is that according to banking information, including
Moneygram and Western Union sources, more private money leave Liberia to foreign countries than
money coming into the country from individuals.
The ‘US money
Syndrome’ has now replaced the ‘Switzerland
money Syndrome’ of yesteryears. On
record, the money transferred is being done by individual government officials,
mostly prominent senior government officials.
With this trend, domestic investment in the Liberian economy has
experienced inertia as Liberians with resources are aiding and abetting in
‘capital flight’, while non-Liberians, Lebanese, Indians, Chinese, Nigerians,
among others, continue to have a stranglehold on the local economy. There is
also growing and ever-widening income gap between the Rich and the Poor. This has created a phenomenon of the Rich
getting richer and the Poor getting poorer. While there has been much talk of
creating a Liberian Middle Class, it has only remained that: Talk. No substantive program exists to bridge this
gap, and this in many ways presents a serious national security dilemma where
some people ride SUVs while others have to walk the streets and can’t afford
the fare for public transportation.

In an attempt to demonstrate that things are going well,
economically, the President used her address to showcase some Liberians who
have “made it”. The COL
agrees that despite the difficult economic environment, some Liberians have
made progress, but generally most Liberians are still trapped in poverty. Below is a story of an ordinary Liberian
named Hawa. Her story was told by Vee
Ward, a Liberian who wrote about her visit to Liberia recently.

“Imagine selling kidney beans all month only to make $25 for
your family. Butter Rice (the cheaper
rice) costs about US $35.00, so that means many people buy rice by the cup for
the month after paying your $10 rent.
One lady said to me I ain’t got no man oh..da jes me and my
chayren…please help me.” She is only 28
years old. If her situation has not
changed, she will die a poor woman. She
has never seen a dentist; she only goes to the neighborhood clinic when she and
her children have malaria. There are
days when she doesn’t have water, so she buys water in 3 gallon jug to
cook. When I saw the jug, I cringed
because I saw enough dirt in it toi keep me safe for the rest of my stay in Liberia. Her name is Hawa, and she lives in what I
called the First Liberia.” (Culled from Vee Ward’s Blog).

According to Vee Ward, the “First Liberia” is the Liberia of the
Have Nots, the masses of the people who face the daily struggle to survive in
our country. The “Second Liberia” is the
of the Haves or The Rich. Hawa’s story
is the story of ordinary Liberians, the majority of our people. The COL
share this author’s description of the economic hardship being experienced by
most Liberians which does not align with the picture painted in the President’s

One of this Administration’s crowning achievements that is
frequently touted is Liberia’s
Debt-Free status. This administration
deserves credit and must be applauded for meeting the HIPC completion point and
freeing the country from the debt overhang that suffocated development efforts
over the years. But some perspective is necessary here to grasp the full
picture of Liberia’s
debt forgiveness. The question to be asked is whether Liberia’s US
$4.6 billion debt has been totally forgiven? COL’s economists’ findings suggest
otherwise. Liberia’s debt obligation has only
been lessen, but the country still remains in debt. What have basically been forgiven are the
interests and penalties owed on the debt.
But with this relief, The COL is concerned that the government has not
put in place committed policies to keep Liberia out of further debt. The Sierra Leone experience should
serve as a Warning here:

After going through civil war and disaster like Liberia, Sierra Leone too received debt
relief, but the country went back into a heavy debt of US $1.6 billion in 2009
after receiving a debt relief of US $1.659 billion three years prior. Certainly, Sierra Leone fell back to her
former state of indebtedness.


In spite of the fact that the country has attracted
multi-billion dollars foreign investments to the tune of $ 1.6 billion, this
has yet to translate into meaningful employment opportunities for Liberians. The fact of the matter is that most of the
high-paying jobs by these Multi-National Corporations(MNCs) are occupied by
non-Liberians, who in reality send a large portion of their income home to help
the economy of their respective countries. For example, many of the concession
agreements the country has attracted are within the mining sector, with Arcelor
Mittal Steel being the largest so far. But sadly, Liberia hardly has 20 well-trained
Geologists that can occupy strategic positions with these MNCs. Another sad fact, in the area of appropriate
technology, which constitutes an important building block for launching a
country on the path to technological and scientific development, Liberia also
lacks capacity in this area. There are
not many well-trained plumbers, electricians, welders, air-condition
technicians, and technicians of all sorts, let alone, engineers, chemists,
physicists, hydrologists, and a readily available cadre of technicians. Where is the program to spur real
capacity-building? How has the government aligned its economic development
strategy with its human resource development strategy?

As a progressive policy think tank and advocacy group, The
COL believes that an economic development strategy that can create jobs and
provide a decent, livable wage for Liberians is a sensible strategy to pursue. We must not repeat the experience of the past
and allow the country to suffer the “Dutch curse”, “oil curse”, or “resource
curse” where a country fails to efficiently plan its economy from revenues
generated to meet its development needs.
The old extractive industry model of just having an MNC to come in and
take out our resources without adding value to it should be vigorously
discouraged. For example, Marcelo Mittal, should be able to add value to the
Iron Ore being extracted by creating a manufacturing plant that can produce
Steel; Sime Darby, should be able to add value to oil palm and rubber being
extracted by creating a manufacturing plant that can produce oil, soap, and
rubber products of all kinds. By so
doing, COL
believes that tremendous job opportunities can be created for the Liberian

Unemployment in the country continues to remain grim without
marked improvement over the last 5 years. Currently, as reported by various
sources, such as the International Labor organization (ILO), the country
unemployment rate stands at 85%.
Joblessness pervades the society even amongst college graduates- the
‘educated unemployed’. Majority of
Liberians, the labor force- those of working age and able to work, less those
in the military and those sick, cannot find work. The lack of jobs is major reason Liberians
are experiencing severe economic hardship.


agrees with the president that small business is the backbone of national
economic development. But where are the
policies and programs to help spur small business development in the country?
With many Liberians desiring to own their own business, but lacking the
start-up capital, government can play a significant role by creating the
enabling environment, perhaps serving as a guarantor, by encouraging banking
and other lending institutions to provide affordable loan products to promising
Liberian business men and women. In the
70s and 80s, a study was conducted that showed that 5 out of every 7 small
business enterprises in the country were owned by foreigners. While the administration has not provided any
solid statistics through its Department of Commerce, COL economists preliminary research suggests
that this has not changed substantially in recent years, in fact, this has
worsened. Certain small business such as ‘Used clothing’, sometimes referred to
in Liberian parlance as “Dokafleh” that was once the exclusive domain of
Liberians has become areas of competition with foreigners who have the
resources. “Yanna Boys” have also become front men for Lebanese merchants.


agrees with the president that despite infractions here and there, the civil
liberties of Liberians- freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom
of press, has been protected and widened, compared to previous eras. COL
also agrees with the president that the Liberian Judiciary is dysfunctional and
has not been effective in the performance of its constitutional
responsibilities. The COL shares the prevailing view that there
exists a breakdown of moral, ethical, and professional standards within the
Liberian Judiciary system. There are
numerous instances and examples, where the evidence has been overwhelming, but
the court has chosen to render decisions to the contrary. Bribery of judges and jurors has engulfed the
court system, making it almost difficult for the judiciary to assert its

however is concerned about governance as related to Corruption and
Accountability. With more than 40 audits completed by the General Auditing
Commission (GAC), the administration has not mustered the courage to prosecute
those who have pilfered the nation’s treasury and broken the law. Even Liberia’s development partners have
raised concern on the “credibility and commitment” of the Administration on the
issue of corruption. Dr. Linda
Thomas-Greenfield, The US Ambassador accredited to Liberia, for example, has called
for the ‘Naming and Shaming’ of public servants involved in graft. The COL believes that the administration’s
failure to treat Corruption as a national security question has the potential
of putting cracks in our governance
structure and, subsequently, doing irreparable harm to our democratic
gains. The COL firmly believes that frequent
rationalizations and excuses being made, are totally unacceptable for strong
policymaking to curb such bad governance practices.


The President stated in her Annual message that her
administration has built 220 schools and, currently, 2.1million Liberian
children of school-going age are enrolled in pre-school and primary
school. The COL applauds the administration for taking
steps to ensure that Liberian children, its future generation, are provided
opportunities to grow, develop, and become mature and contributing member of
society. The COL believes that through education, people not only better
themselves, but also acquire the knowledge necessary for participation in a
free economy and democratic government. Notwithstanding progress made, the Liberian
educational system still remains systemically and structurally dysfunctional. The COL’s
education experts have identified two key challenges facing the educational
system, especially at the primary and secondary levels: An ever-widening
Achievement and Learning gap, and the lack of Equity in the allocation of
resources. In the absence of a Standardized National Curriculum, there exists a
learning disparity between what the children in Grand Kru County are learning, versus what the
children in Montserrado and other counties are learning. The learning gap
becomes even more prevalent when public schools are compared to private
schools. Are their literacy and numeracy
levels the same? No! Are they all Reading, Counting, and
Writing at the same level? No! This is evident in the massive failure for the
last several years of Liberian students in the Exams administered by the West
African Examination Council (WAEC), the regional educational body that helps
maintain standards in the region. This
has also contributed to the high percentage of high-school drop-out rate.
Besides, per pupil expenditure, what government spends to provide quality
education for a child in public school on a yearly basis, has not fundamentally
changed since the 80s. While the Liberia Ministry of Education is engaged in
myriad initiatives, their efforts appeared to be focused more on expanding the
educational bureaucracy by creating such structures as “School Boards” rather
than developing core knowledge and skills that Liberian children need to
compete regionally with their neighbors such as Ghana, Sierra Leone, and
Nigeria, as well as in the global economy.

According to the UN children’s Fund (UNICEF), “over 48% of Liberia’s
population is 20 years and under, with 24% of children underweight and
malnourished, causing stunting in 7% of them.
The number of children enrolling in school since 2004 has dropped due to
overcrowded classrooms, inappropriate teaching materials, insufficient books,
and dilapidated buildings, desks and equipment.
Schools are staffed with teachers that are badly paid, untrained and lack
motivation; forcing children to frantically hunt for shortcuts as a career path
and means of completing school”. COL
believes that a well-thought out, comprehensive, visionary, and reform-oriented
approach is needed for transforming the archaic public school system which is
the anchor of our democracy. COL
contends that our democracy is threatened if our children are not provided with
common values, common standards, common civic awareness, academic proficiency,
and common workplace literacy skills to survive the global economy.


It is said that a Nation or People without a Vision, is
doomed to perish! The President concluded her Annual Message to the Nation by
offering what she perceived as her Vision for a future Liberia. Among other things, she stated that years
from now, we would have “super highways”, “express ways”. There would be fine
bridges; there would be electricity all over the country; children in the town
and villages would be able to do their homework under the lights at night. She stated there would be hospitals and
clinics all over the land. What was most
captivating was a vision to create a new Capital City
in a town bordering Bong, Nimba, and Grand Bassa counties, called ZEKEPA. COL’s
City and Urban Planners have looked at the President’s vision and offers its
analysis on whether this is a realistic vision.
Having examined all factors, COL
believes while the vision is worthy, Zekepa does not represent an ideal site
based on basic planning principles.First,
Zekepa is functionally a mining site, a “company town”. The COL
believes that a better location consideration would have been Gbarnga in Bong County,
by reason of its central place factor in relation to other counties. Second, the area is commercial as well as
residential, and is in close proximity to Monrovia
than Zekepa. But Zekepa is not the
problem here. What is wrong with this
idea and what are the facts?

What is clear is that Liberia does not have the money to
build a new capital city. Building a new
city entails serious planning; location study,
feasibility study and cost analysis. It
also involves analysis of the present site, Monrovia, to determine if existing conditions
can be improved to avoid relocation. It is accepted that Monrovia
is congested, but COL’s
analysis shows that this is due largely to rural-urban migration, urban
migration, and the absence of resources and infrastructure to accommodate urban
growth. In other words, people leave the
countryside for better life; there is increased city birth rate, but at the
same time the city does not have adequate services, such as transportation,
housing, and employment to keep pace with the growth. A city can grow, develop, and can become a
beautiful entity as time passes. A city
can also become an ugly and dying entity as time passes. Monrovia
is like the latter. The city is
dying. It continues to look old as the
year passes. But the problem of
urbanization, in this case, Monrovia,
is the direct result of rural neglect. The COL
believes since its founding, Liberia
has experienced an uneven, unbalanced, and lopsided development in its
landscape. With changing times, the COL firmly believes that
the nation will be better served if it changes its development approach by
localizing and decentralizing development.


Whether it was an oversight, or whether it paled in
significance to other matters affecting the state of the nation, the issue of
peace and reconciliation, was not addressed in the President’s Annual
message. With the country poised to hold
its second and most significant democratic elections, COL believed this was the right moment to
share with the nation what progress has been accomplished, and setbacks
encountered as related to ensuring the sustainability of peace and reconciling
all of the disparate forces that make up the Liberian mosaic. The COL believed that an
opportunity was missed! Liberia
went through 14 years of civil war which killed thousands of our people and
destroyed properties. It would be pretentious and dishonest to think that the
country has put its ugly past behind her and has “let bygones be bygones”. The COL
religious experts have consulted with a broad-range of people in the faith
community, including Liberians from all walks of life, who share the prevailing
view that the sore of this war has not healed. The country needs deep healing
which has to be an ongoing process! The COL shares the view that
a key part of this process involves addressing the Recommendations put forward
in the Report of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The COL
strongly believe that the TRC recommendations must be treated with reverence,
and an acceptable way must be found to bring healing to the

nation’s soul so as to ensure that a solid foundation is
laid for the peace and security of our country.

As a policy think tank and advocacy group, the Coalition of
Liberian Professionals for Grassroots Democracy(COL), considers it a patriotic
duty to pledge its allegiance to our Republic by sharing its views on the
future of our country, and by so doing, helping to ensure that this young
democracy is build on a rock- solid foundation.
This is our responsibility as engaged citizens who do not want to
complain after the fact!

James Kpanneh Doe


Coalition of Liberian Professionals for Grassroots Democracy

Isaac T. Setttro



Contacts: Kpannehdoe@live .com or
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PostSubject: Re: The President's Annual Message: A View from the Grassroots   Tue Mar 01, 2011 2:41 pm

The people are speaking out...
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PostSubject: Re: The President's Annual Message: A View from the Grassroots   Fri Mar 04, 2011 5:38 am

We as Liberians do understand your views posted all the time. but i do not understand when we as media (radio stations ) have a discussion you guys do not tune in or call to make these points. so i don't think your posting on the websites are that important to you all. Because we just had a discussion about the above posting. We did not hear any one that call and say i'm from the The Coalition of Liberian Professionals for Grassroots Democracy (COL). These radio station are here to let the people hear your views. Again here is the radio station site if you do not know it already.

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