‘Join Me on the Last Mile’

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called on Liberians to rally around her administration as its mandate elapses in a little over ten months.

“I still have 357 more days as President of this country and I’ve still got a lot to do, so I want to urge members of the Legislature to join me on the last mile,” the President said.

It was her final State of the Nation address at the National Legislature on Capitol Hill yesterday, and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told members of the first branch government (the Legislature) and specifically to Liberians in general to join her as she rounds up her administration.

Critics might say the Sirleaf Administration has performed dismally but the President’s supporters, especially those from the Unity Party (UP), are very proud of what their political leader has done for the country.

The President’s critics usually base their criticisms on her underperformance as a result of the “huge external supports” (financial, material and moral assistance from the international community) that her administration has received since taking power in 2006.

But this is usually countered by the high level of destruction that took place during the over 14 years of civil crisis that rendered every sector of Liberia dismantled and dysfunctional.

The President said her government has taken Liberia from a failed state to one that is being lauded globally.

“When we commenced this journey in 2006, I had great expectations in the potential of reform and reconstruction. The nation had even greater expectations of what could be accomplished. Today, we can say with pride that we have travelled a road of uninterrupted peace for these eleven years,” she said.

She said her government in 2006 inherited the worst economy in the history of the world since World War II.

“We inherited a collapsed economy, which recorded a staggering 90 percent decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – the greatest decline by any nation since World War II,” she said, adding that her administration also inherited an unsustainable external debt level of US$4.9 billion – more than six times our GDP, brought about by debt un-serviced for over two decades.

“A large verified domestic debt of over US$900 million lingered in arrears. The Treasury was virtually broke, facing salary arrears, unmet obligations to international bodies, and continuing food and fuel crises. With only US$80 million in annual revenues, Liberia was at the bottom of a very deep hole, desperately needing revival and emergency measures,” she said.

But with the support of the lawmakers, the administration resuscitated iron ore and rubber – our historical productive sectors – as well as others. “We took bold steps by cancelling or renegotiating concession agreements in the agriculture, mining and forestry sectors.

“Additionally, we negotiated the cancellation of an external debt burden of US$4.7 billion, out of the US$4.9 million, in a record period of five years, and returned the country to the path of economic recovery by expanding the fiscal space to pursue our agenda of inclusive growth and development.

Relationships with the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund were restored, providing technical and financial support for the formulation of policies and laws aimed at achieving macroeconomic stability.”

She told the lawmakers that since taking over the mantle of authority, her leadership has enabled the country to reclaim its position among the comity of nations, especially on the African continent as the first republic to gain its independence as well as the mastermind of many liberation movements, and the country has also regained its lost image—from a failed state to a promising and progressive nation that has a resounding voice, not just in Africa but the world.

Mixed Reactions

As it was highly anticipated, the President’s final address received mixed reactions from the audience—some of whom have come to laud her for her achievements over the years and others who were there to listen to what she had to say and condemn her.

Randolph Richards, who claimed to be a member of All Liberian Party (ALP) of businessman Benoni Urey, said that the President has disappointed Liberians, especially given the level of trust that they had in her competence, experience and connections.

“Unity Partisans should be ashamed to be here today. This is because they themselves are aware that they have failed us, but it is because they have no shame that they are here shouting all in the air,” Richards, who is also a student of the University of Liberia, said.

But Atty. Medina Wesseh, a confidante of President Sirleaf and wife of River Gee Senator Conmany Wesseh, noted that this administration has done very well if one takes into consideration that level of destruction that the country endured prior to UP ascendency.

She said when it comes to the issue of corruption, which is on the lips of almost every Liberian, it is an endemic societal problem that the President did extraordinarily well tackling, with the establishment of many anti-graft institutions such as the LACC, PPCC and other measures.

Emmanuel Thomas, who considers himself as a staunch critic of the President, said the UP government will go down in history as the administration that received the highest amount of donor funding, but has little to show for it.

“All of the major projects that this government is boasting of are donor funded. There is no single major project that was resourced by revenues generated by this government. This is a shame for a country like Liberia that there is no major project that this government initiated and completed,” Thomas said.

Wearing a UP T-shirt with the matching cap, Jemmema Wilson noted that President Sirleaf will leave office as a proud President because she has done very well for the country. “We are just ungrateful as Liberians. What this President has done is enormous and we must appreciate her for these levels of development that we are seeing in our country now,” she said.

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