But no doubt, the task of nation-building has been enormously challenging; as the Sirleaf administration continues to weather some difficult storms in stabilizing the fragile security in the country, uniting a nation polarized by ethnic divisions, reconciling and healing deep wounds after the war, reducing high unemployment, restoring the economy, solving the massive infrastructural deficit, dealing with rampant corruption and rebranding the nation from the status of a failed state to a decent and respectable nation.
During the course of these terms, the Sirleaf administration has instituted several regimented policies and programs implemented to lift Liberia and Liberians. But there are still issues that matter to the vast number of citizens who placed their confidence in her ability to deliver, especially as the 2017 elections date draw closer.
On the other hand, as critics of the Sirleaf administration continue to harp on her government’s failure to put into place measures that could absorb the harsh economic shocks of the times, the incumbent appears battle ready for a succession play. In the midst of all these, Capitol Insider digs deep into the issues to decipher what matters most to the voters. Maintaining the revived economy Liberia’s economy before 2006 was down the drain with a GDP per capita of 178.45 USD and 604 million USD in Gross Domestic Product.The country’s external debt stood at a whopping $4.9 billion dollars.
These debts, according to available records, had not been serviced for over 20 years. Following the inauguration of Madam Johnson-Sirleaf, the government’s economic management team was able to lobby with international creditors to cancel $4.9 billion of debt by reaching the completion point of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, with financial reforms approved by the World Bank and IMF, leaving greater resources available for investment in public services and poverty reduction.
Inflation rate has consistently remained in single digit up to date. The country’s national envelop has jumped from $80million in 2006 to US$649.7 million in 2014.
The country’s GDP grew by 6.9% in 2011, up from 5.6% in 2010 and 4.6% in 2009 respectively. Although the government projected a 9 % GDP growth rate for 2012. In 2008, annual rate of inflation averaged 17.5%, in 2009 it dropped to 7.4%, in 2010 and 2011 inflation averaged 7.3% and 7.5% respectively. In 2006, income per capita rose by approximately one third. The Johnson Sirleaf administration is anticipating a double-digit growth over the remaining years.
Over the medium term, by opening the economy to trade and reducing barriers to investment, the government hopes to attract new investments in manufacturing and services so that Liberia can export labor-intensive products to regions of the world. Liberia envisages middle-income status by 2030.
Achieving this will require that sound economic policies are implemented some of which are already earmarked by this government under the national visioning process- Liberia rising 2030: roads, energy, infrastructure, health and education. The present regime has made strides in setting the pace for the realization of these development objectives.
Despite significant changes in the political and economic landscape during the last ten years, as far as the nation building is concerned, some elements have remained constant. Governance system is still centralized. With barely a year left on the calendar of this government, it is obvious that these agenda items on the government’s development radar will not be realized.
Hence, the next administration must “sit on the old mat to plait a new one,” as it is said in African proverb. Youth development- the pillar of sustain- able growth Liberia has a burgeoning youth population totaling about 60% of the country’s 4 million plus population, most of whom are unskilled and lack employment aptitudes that put them on the fringes of the economic ladder. Youth unemployment and underemployment represent a major cost to Liberia in economic, political and social terms. One in every three young persons in the labor force is unemployed in the country.
The quality of employment is often low, which does not allow young people and their families to make the most of their economic potentials. The high share of labor underutilization means a loss of investment in education and training, a reduced potential tax base, high costs for social assistance and bottleneck in fuelling the economic transformation of the country. Furthermore, high levels of unemployment and underemployment among young people can be a source of social instability. Consequently, the administration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf crafted a Technical Vocational Education Training aimed at providing capacity building opportunities for young people.
According to Youth and Sports Minister Eugene Nagbe, the government took cognizance of an essential element in the rebuilding efforts of the country, which was the herculean task of rekindling hope of its burgeoning youth population that was severely challenged by poverty, lack of education, lack of employment opportunities, among others. Urgent considerations had to be made when already the expectations of the youth were overestimated. Minister Nagbe, speaking to Capitol Insider, indicates that to accelerate the learning efforts of young people, the University of Liberia had to run a trimester.
“Some of our brightest young minds were deposited at the state-run university for ten years just to have a college degree because the university was only offering one semester yearly,” he said. Additionally, public-run vocational and technical schools have been built in several regions of the country, including the Klay-Agriculture and Vocational Training School in Bomi County and the TUMUTU Agriculture and Vocational Training School in Bong County. By September 2015, a new complex at the Monrovia Vocational Training Center in Monrovia was dedicated. Moreover, several vocational training programs are being implemented.
One of such initiatives is the Young Farmers Program (YFP) where hundreds of young people in Bomi, Margibi, Grand Cape Mount and Bassa counties are benefiting from aquaculture training, snail rearing, animal husbandry, among several other agricultural training programs. Security- the bedrock of development Liberia is preparing to take on the cumbersome task of handling its own security with the United Nations Mission in Liberia expected to officially complete draw-down plan by mid-2016.
With the transition, Government is poised to face security challenges in assuming responsibility of its security after ten years of uninterrupted peace. President Johnson-Sirleaf has, however, acknowledged that Liberia’s security agencies still do not have that capacity to take over the security of the state “one hundred percent,” pointing to ongoing security sector reforms and officers’ training as major reasons. Within two years after the departure of UNMIL, the Liberian leader said, the nation would be able to handle its own security requirements, but in the meantime, the government would ensure that all law abiding citizens and residents were protected from undue insecurity.
The strength of the police is low. Up to date, there are close to 4,000 trained police officers. When doing a ratio analysis, there is on the average, one police officer for every 850 citizens. Visibility of the Liberian National Police (LNP) nationwide is low with Montserrado County having the highest presence of police officers. Considering the size of the LNP as compared to the population, the presence of police officers in the counties is considerably low as compared to Monrovia, thereby making the rural areas vulnerable to threats of violence and insecurity.
Notwithstanding the drawback, several reforms have taken place in the security sector including the retraining of the Armed Forces of Liberia, the Immigration Officers, as well as other security apparatuses, all aimed at enhancing the performance of state security personnel in the discharge of their duties. Hence, there is a need to beef up these efforts so that the country doesn’t revert to the ugly past. Beating the Corruption Monster Immediately upon her ascendancy to the presidency, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf declared “Corruption a major public enemy”. But despite all the integrity institutions established to fight the menace, the “monster”, recently renamed a “vampire”, still remains a major challenge to the attainment of government’s development agendas.
However, sincere efforts are being made to curb the menace. One of such efforts is the increment in the salaries of civil servants and public officials across board to reduce the vulnerability of civil servants engaging in bribery and corruption. Systems are in place as part of this effort but Liberia is still ranked among some of the world’s most corrupt countries. Additionally, the government has put in place procurement processes and financial management laws that promote transparency and accountability, thereby discouraging corruption.
The Public Procurement and Concessions Commission Act which was enacted into law is actually intended to control government’s procurement and awarding of concessions. It is unique to know that Liberia is the first country to become fully compliant with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), which ensures that every payment made by natural resource firms to the Government gets published publicly.
Taking Education from Mess to Best The education system of Liberia is perhaps one of the hardest hit sectors due to the two decades long civil war. Once revered in the sub-region, our education system today has plummeted to ground zero. Besides causing a massive brain drain of trained Liberian educators, the war also led to complete destruction of school facilities and the country’s invaluable human resource capacity.
The focus of the Sirleaf administration, from the get-go, has been to reverse the ugly trend. There have been some significant improvements in the sector thus. Already, there is an exodus of teachers from private to public school due to attractive salary packages from government. Presently, the least paid classroom teacher earns a monthly salary of L$18,000 (US$ 240.00), while a Master degree holder earns L$46,000(US$600.00) monthly, excluding other benefits. There has also been reform in the educational system to ensure its relevance to the needs of the nation as well as ensuring a healthy and safe working environment including adequate furnishing and instructional materials for all schools. The girl child education also remains a special priority for the President who is working tirelessly to ensure that all Liberians receive the benefit of a good education system.
The government also opened several vocational and technical colleges in several regions of the country while more universities have been opened in the country. As the 2017 elections date draws closer, those canvassing to replace the present regime must take cognizance of these grave issues if they must improve the living conditions of the citizenry. These are issues that matter most to the ordinary people. Culled from The Capitol Insider Magazine