President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says the future of the country’s economic growth is still “severely challenged” because of the Ebola virus disease that struck Liberia last year which not only negatively impacted the health and social systems but the economy.
“Sharp declines in domestic food production, mining activities, cross border trade, transport services and hospitality led to a dramatic decline in our growth rate: from a projected 5.9 percent to an initial -0.4 percent; although later revised to 1 percent,” the Liberian leader said.
The Liberian President emphasized that if Government is to achieve its development goals outlined in the Agenda for Transformation, and reach the long term average growth rate of 8 percent, radical changes will be required in the country’s economic structure for increased investments in the productive sector of the economy and in the governance structure and processes.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf made the statement when she addressed the Fourth Session of the 53rd National Legislature at the Capitol Building on January 26, 2015. She spoke on the theme: “Consolidating for Continuity.”
Since 2006, the first year of her administration, Liberia’s growth rate increased, reaching a level of 8.9 percent in 2012 with the potential for double digit thereafter. However, in 2013, growth rate fell to 8.3 percent because of the global economic downturn and its effect on global prices of primary commodities.
The Liberian leader indicated further that the decline in economic activities resulted in reduction in domestic revenue collection and a sharp increase in Government expenditure. “Original revenue was revised downward by US$86 million (from US$559 million to US$473 million) while expenditure demand increased by US$152 million,” she noted citing the introduction of tight fiscal measures with expenditure cuts in discretionary activities thereby reducing the fiscal gap by US$33 million.
She stressed, however, that in spite of the numerous challenges Government collected revenues of US$517.2 million representing 4 percent increase in Tax Revenue and 14 percent increase in Non-Tax Revenue. This included US$12.8 million from State-owned Enterprises.
Touching on corruption, the Liberian leader described it as a vampire of development and an obstruction of progress and asked both the Legislative and the Judicial branches of Government to assist in the continued fight against this menace.
“I ask that we all commit to fighting this devil that destroys our principles and our pride; that makes us slaves to vested interests,” she said, adding, “I ask this of you, as respected lawmakers, and I ask for speedier trials from our judiciary.
President Sirleaf named lack of systems, institutions, policies and strategies, poor compensation survival due to deep rooted poverty which characterized all three branches of Government and the nation as a whole as the root causes of this threat.
Despite all this, she said government has made good progress in addressing these deficiencies by establishing integrity institutions including the General Auditing Commission, Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Public Procurement and Concessions Commission, Internal Audit Agency, and Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative as well as developing the systems and improving the level of compensation for all public servants at all levels.
President Sirleaf stressed that if all Liberians do not commit to the fight, government’s development programs – roads, power, water, housing, better pay for civil servants – are at risk.
On health, the Liberian leader said the country’s health care system, with support from partners, had an established decentralized infrastructure system that had made notable progress in polio vaccination, in reducing the high level of child and maternal mortality and addressing diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis.
She admitted, however, that the Ebola virus disease exposed the vulnerability of the nation’s health care system which lacked the capacity, the systems and the technical facilities and supplies to respond to infection, particularly an outbreak of this nature and magnitude.
Liberia has 404 public health facilities, supplemented by 252 private facilities. “We still lag significantly behind with 0.4 compared with the African average of 2.6 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants,” President Sirleaf pointed out, adding that the number of health workers, many inadequately trained, consumed a large share of the budget, resulting on a reliance of partners under what is known as the “Incentive System.”
She said medical facilities and equipment, already inadequate, became virtually nonfunctional due to the lack of maintenance, including the lack of infrastructure – roads, power, water and sanitation – particularly in rural areas compounded the problem.
Meanwhile, a ten-year plan developed by the Ministry of Health with support from the Clinton Global Initiative is intended to address the inadequacies in the health system through massive training of health workers and professionals at all levels and upgrading of the health system and facilities.
President Sirleaf said, the Plan, which was formulated before the Ebola crisis is under revision to provide the roadmap for transiting from the treatment of Ebola to a robust health care system that will have facilities for infection control thereby preventing a recurrence of the virus and for ensuring better health care delivery to the Liberian people.
On Education, the Liberian President, again stressed that this remains a number one priority in the development of the country and the most difficult to show positive results in the short term.
She said the problem with education goes deeper and beyond the lack of qualified teachers, facilities and supplies and incentives. “The vastness of the challenge and the implication to our overall development effort, compel all of us to come together to formulate bold strategic actions to fix it,” President Sirleaf suggested; noting that this is a must for the future of the country and for the education of girls who do not go beyond middle school and are at risk of exploitation.
In this direction, the Liberian leader announced a program to be implemented in the next fiscal year that will offer financial support to all girls willing to remain in school until the completion of high school.
She called on all educators, educational institution leaders, eligible concern citizens and partners to join the government in a review and update of the Comprehensive Education Reform Program which is underway by the Ministry of Education.
Education Ministry statistics from 2013 shows a total of 5,181 schools (3,074 public and 2,107 private) with an enrollment of 1,500,000 students (800,000 boys and 700,000 girls) throughout the country.
On government’s partnership with the media, a critical ally along the path to good governance, President Sirleaf said her government intends to lead a legacy of tolerance and remains fully committed to such process along the country’s journey to democratic maturity.
She, however, urged the media which today comprise 35 newspapers and 80 radio stations to play its part to improve professionalism and responsibility as government will hold them responsible for adherence to the country’s policies and laws.
President Sirleaf also appealed to the 53rd National Legislature to speedily pass into law, the decriminalization of media-related offense in keeping with the Table Mountain Declaration to which Liberia has acceded. “This repeal law will advance our democratic aspirations and fostered unhindered public debates,” she argued, adding, “We are hopeful that this will improve rather than retard the growing media landscape of the country and again testify to our continued commitment to an open society ably supported by a responsible and independent press.”
Meanwhile, the Liberian leader has announced that this year’s Independence Anniversary will be held jointly in Sinoe and Grand Kru Counties, respectively. Last year, the July 26 celebration was deferred to Monrovia because of the bad road conditions to Greenville and Barclayville. President Sirleaf insisted, “We will travel there by road.”