Members of the Diplomatic Corps here present, our friends in the international community, my fellow citizens;
I wish first of all to thank the Almighty God for continuing to sustain us during this campaign period and the prior process of conventions that took us throughout the length and breadth of our country. I thank all of the Liberian people for the warm and enthusiastic welcome which we continue to receive as we move around to meet and share with them our vision for the renewal of our nation.
Fellow Liberians, in April 1980 our nation had the first real opportunity for change, an opportunity for a fundamental altering of the framework of economic, political and social systems that had been shaped over many years of settler domination.
Unfortunately, it did not happen; and we witnessed a mere shifting of the monopolization of power and privilege from one group to another.
That is our inherited legacy, our historical 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.
In our economic legacy there is no doubt that improvements were registered during the early years of our national life. This process was started with the activities of Firestone which commenced its operations in 1926, and was funded by the iron ore mining companies, notably – Liberia Mining Company and LAMCO whose activities were the source of the extraordinary growth of the Liberian economy during the 1950-1960 decade.
However, the tendency toward fiscal indiscipline, supported by external borrowings depending upon foreign trade and a failure to develop the subsistence economy resulted in vulnerability 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.
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 and economic criminalization which followed in successive regimes created the conditions which sent the economy into a free fall from which it has yet to recover.
That is our economic legacy.
Today, our economic situation is even more desperate. 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 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. Unemployment stands at 85%. The national debt has skyrocketed, reportedly now over $3.8 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.
Moreover, and perhaps of more concern, a culture of dishonesty has spread at an alarming rate, undermining the little commitment that is left to the notion of public service.
Yet, our nation still possesses the requisite foundation for growth and development. 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 traditional 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 in the collective talents and skills of Liberian professionals at home and abroad.
What is the framework embodied in the Unity Party platform that will enable us to employ these advantages in an effort to achieve development objectives?
First, our economic vision – GROWTH FOR DEVELOPMENT - the formulation of economic goals consistent with national endowment and regional and global dynamics.
While in the short term, growth may soar to over 20% due to the low starting base, a long term goal is to achieve a level of growth of not less than 7% annually so that poverty is addressed.
The Unity Party will seek to achieve these objectives by stimulation of economic growth through structural changes that include:
One: Land Reform, as discussed in a statement released to the nation in November 1999.
We will 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 and concession holdings, 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 activities and urban development.
Two: A revisit of the costs and benefits of concession activities.
Traditionally, concessions have operated 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 have been limited. The hosting of employees in a controlled environment prevented development of autonomous economic activities in surrounding communities.
A review of all long term contracts and concessions will enable us to ensure a mutuality of interest for concessionaires and the nation, granting assurance that those which met this basic requirement will be respected.
Three: The prioritizing of agriculture.
Unity Party will support subsistence agriculture through the introduction of research which provides new technologies. CARI, the Central Agriculture and Research Institute, will be strengthened and expanded with the support of multi lateral partners. We will strive to mobilize private equity for strengthening the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment and for reopening the Agriculture and Cooperative Bank so as to make credit available to farmers. We will embark upon a program to attract foreign investment in large-scale production of crops such as coffee, cocoa, citrus and aimed at a diversification into non traditional exports such as horticulture, vegetables, cassava, pineapple and other tropical products. We will work with the Rubber Planters Association in implementing their long term plan for a resuscitation of the rubber industry. In the short term we will seek availability of rice, our main staple, by liberalizing the market, through the removal of monopolies and margins that represent illegal kickbacks. In the long term the real solution lies in a stimulation of domestic production for self sufficiency.
Four: The fourth element of our framework for economic recovery deals with restructuring and reform of the public service. The number of government agencies is simply too large and the administrative capacity too limited to produce the level of efficiency required to achieve development goals.
The Unity Party will rationalize the public sector with the number of separate government agencies reduced. We will also introduce a merit system and place emphasis on professionalism and performance.
In the area of resource management, we will ensure
priorities, accountability and transparency. The budgetary
process is a vital element in this regard. In the
exercise of fiscal policy, public expenditures will
conform to budgetary allocations which in turn will
reflect development priorities that focus on stimulation
of agricultural production, particularly exports which
will generate foreign exchange to support growth.
The low level of tax compliance needs attention. 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. It is disturbing to note that extra legal taxation and the collection of illegal fees have become the norm as opposed to the collection of legitimate taxes and fees. Unity Party will put a halt to this practice.
In similar vein Unity party will have zero tolerance for corruption requiring all public officials to serve under a code of conduct which is clear in the provision that those who violate the public trust will bear the penalties prescribed by law. This policy is without prejudice to the merit system which will include proper compensation, selection, promotion and retirement.
Liberians know that it is because of the high level of corruption, the lack of basic services, a budget process out of control, the lack of accountability and transparency that has invoked the reaction of our partners which resulted in the Government Economic Management Plan proposal. Let me be clear again on our position regarding GEMAP. We certainly had concerns about the original proposal which sought to bring foreign judges into the Liberian courts. This is because of the constitutional and statutory implications of that proposal. Our partners have now changed and restricted GEMAP to a program which essentially will enhance revenue collection, address corruption and promote institutional capacity building. We are therefore pleased that this has been finalized with the signing of GEMAP and we can now move toward a renewal of good relations with our development partners. We can also now start the process of meeting the requirement for the removal of IMF sanctions and the negotiation of a Staff Monitored Program that will enable us to seek access to the several mechanisms for relief of the staggering US $3.8 million external debt which our country faces.
As regards monetary policy, it is likely that in the short term we will have to maintain a dual currency thereby allowing time for a careful review of the options which include dollarization, full local currency and, in the longer term, integration into the regional currency arrangement that is being introduced.
Our fifth legacy agenda is Education. We will start with the promotion of free universal primary education.
As in other sectors, 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. As a result, the majority of those graduating from our and universities hardly possess a high school equivalent education and are woefully ill equipped to compete in an environment of their peers worldwide. The Unity Party will seek to advocate 20% of our budgetary resources for the expansion of quality high schools in each county in the rehabilitation of the several vocational schools to cater to our war affected youth. The University of Liberia will be decentralized into colleges in several counties. A literacy program, important to our process of renewal, will be structured to include skills training, thereby enhancing the contribution of our illiterate population to the nation’s development goals.
Health is our sixth area of focus.
A positive impact on the health of our people could be made by prioritizing the availability of clean water. Unity Party will seek to provide a well or borehole in every major village by the year 2008. We believe this is an achievable goal and that external assistance can be attracted to support this endeavor.
The seventh element of a recovery framework relates to economic infrastructure – energy, roads, telecommunications, sea, and airports.
This is a clear area for private sector participation, 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 in this regard, the Government will have to ensure that bona fide individuals and corporations, are given the right to invest and manage these assets under regulations that ensure that the national interest is protected, citizens receive quality service and good corporate governance procedures are employed.
Electricity and roads will receive particular attention. Unity Party is convinced that power can be restored to our Capitol city within six months while the hydro facilities at Mt. Coffee are being rehabilitated with the support of our Chinese partners. There is also scope for the development of small hydro potential throughout the country. The repair of roads initiated through labor intensive methods using well established U.N. programs will create jobs for our citizens even as a major road construction program is being formulated and implemented.
It is clear that no program of economic recovery will succeed unless there is an environment of security. This is not a matter to be taken lightly since the safety of life, limb and property is an important consideration in the decision of individuals to live and invest in our country. 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. A secured environment is thus a major ingredient in confidence building and confidence is a major ingredient in investment decisions.
Unity Party will ensure that all Liberians are confident in their safety by enhancing the ongoing processes to restructure and professionalize our security services including the armed forces. We will request the support of our partners for the continuation of an international peacekeeping force for a few years to allow for a consolidation of the processes of peace, reconciliation and reconstruction.
A program of national renewal must cross borders to include regional cooperation and integration. Consistent with practices in other regions of the world we must broaden our market and seek economies of scale through regional effort. The Mano River Union and ECOWAS represent the first stages of the building blocks that will lead us toward realization of this goal.
Gender empowerment is my final word on economic recovery.
In Liberia, as in the rest of Africa, , women produce some 60 to 80 percent of the region’s food but account for 10 percent of the income and 1 percent of the assets.
Unity Party with a woman leader will ensure that the role of women is enhanced in every aspect of our national endeavor , paying particular attention to the education of girls and the improvement of market conditions for our sisters in the informal sector.
A special word to our business community. We take the view that the economy of any nation is energized by a vibrant business community and as such, we consider the relationship between government and business to be one of partnership. This imposes deep and extensive responsibilities on both parties; on the one hand the formulation of fair regulations and laws and on the other hand respect of same by the business community in a unified effort to create the appropriate environment that will safeguard long-term investments. In this regard we know that much has been said about what our policy is likely to be regarding Liberianization.
We want to be very clear on this issue. Our government will be strong in its pursuit of encouraging Liberian entrepreneurs to participate in the economic development in a substantive manner. This does not mean that we will be lax in our protection of foreign owned interests in preference to Liberian businesses. This is because we do not feel Liberian participation and foreign interests are mutually exclusive. We believe in the healthy co-existence of both realizing that extra efforts have to be made in the identification and allocation of resources (financial and others) pertinent to the full inclusion and participation of Liberians in the money economy.
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 remained 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 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, lifestyle, 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 was permanently punctured.
That is the legacy.
Although studies indicate that today the divide is more along income rather than ethnic lines, yet we must recognize that vestiges of this divided social order still remain and could once again be used for political purposes
The Unity Party will confront this issue with policies and actions that ensure full unity and equal opportunity for all Liberians. 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.
Additionally a revisit of those dividing symbols such as those mentioned in my statement at the 1972 CWA commencement and those subsequently detailed more eloquently by Unity Party founding member 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 the constitution.
And now the politics.
Our political status quo has been shaped by this legacy and by the events following the 1980 coup d’etat.
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, since indeed all power is inherent in the people as our constitution dictates. An imperial Presidency which has in its hands, the power of life or death, wealth or poverty, success or failure 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.
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 problem. Unity Party will ensure that its independence, which provides the check and balance in our national platform, is fully respected.
The civil society at large, including the media, 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.
Fellow Liberians, many of us in this room and many within the country or outside in the diaspora, have come a long way in the more than twenty years’ struggle for democracy and the freedom of choice. While others accepted and benefited from the status quo, we demonstrated courage. We stood tall in challenging successive regimes characterized by patronage, repression and exploitation. We were beaten, jailed, tortured, disadvantaged and ostracized for exercising the courage of our conviction. And so today, because of our determination and consistency; because of our courage and character; our country stands on the verge of becoming one of those embarking upon an irreversible path toward freedom and democracy. And so today, we welcome to this environment of peace and tranquility, of commitment and competition, the many who stood on the sidelines waiting to claim the right of participation and contest earned by the blood, sweat and tears of their more courageous compatriots.
To Unity Partisans all over the country: let us be different and let us make a difference. Let us rise above the negatives by speaking of and promoting our vision, our guiding principles and our pledge to the nation. Let us emphasize our capacity, our competence and our commitment to respond to the needs of our people. Let us be robust in thought and bold in action.
To Fellow Liberians, let us all commit today to the strengthening of the process of peace and reconciliation; by supporting our effort at inclusion; by rejecting any influence which seeks to condone through collective guilt; by tempering justice with mercy in a judicial system guided by the rule of law.
Let us combine effort and talent in contributing to the processes and the programs that move our people from patronage to progress, from dependency to self sufficiency, from despair to hope.
Let us commit to building the constituency for change, for the implementation of a robust reform agenda which has at its core the devolution of power and authority from the center in Monrovia to the periphery in the counties, thus ensuring that our counties and administrative subdivisions have the responsibility and the authority and the means to set and achieve their own priorities with the participation of the people whose lives are affected thereby.
Fellow Liberians, Unity Party makes a commitment to serve people, to establish a Government of inclusion that represents the diversity of our nation, to ensure that all the tenets of good governance are part of all that we do; to address corruption, to rehabilitate and reintegrate our war affected youth, refugees and displaced people into their communities, to work within our means and with the private sector; to rehabilitate our social and economic infrastructure, particularly electricity, the road network and school systems; to improve the condition of our markets in which our women in the informal sector must work; to assist our small rural businesses to enhance subsistence production of our stable foods; to remove the margins and the kickbacks on major commodities, such as rice and petroleum, so that the prices are affordable by our people; to put our people to work, thereby restoring their dignity.
Fellow Liberians, Unity Party commits to our youth to give them back a future of hope, by providing them with the opportunity of an education, of skills, of jobs, of the chance to participate in the decision that affect their lives.
We also have a word to our colleagues and opponents in other political parties, --a respect for their right to participate in a democratic process, free of violence, intimidation, mudslinging and false accusations, confirming and abiding by the Code of Conduct prescribed by the National Elections Commission.
To our leaders and citizens in the Mano River and ECOWAS Countries – a big thank you for the sacrifices, for the investment, for the resources you have given to bring peace to our country. We pledge never to use our country for the destabilization of any other country; we pledge to work for regional cooperation and integration; we pledge to make Liberia safe and prosperous so that your investment and effort have not been in vain.
To our international partners - we pledge a system of good governance, sound economic policy and performance and a restoration of credit worthiness so that your confidence is restored in our ability and commitment to manage our Nation’s resources for the good of the Liberian people. We commit to those resources that will accelerate our efforts to achieve the millennium development goals and access to resources such as the Millennium Challenge Account and the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
And so, once again, Liberia stands at the crossroads, facing the choice of looking backwards, clinging to those 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 fore parents who welcomed their
brothers and sisters from a place of bondage. We owe
it to the fore parents 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 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
Unity Party commits to the fulfillment of its legacy. Unity Party will do it and will deliver to the Liberian people.
Thank you and God bless you all!