Thursday, March 01, 2007

President Johnson-Sirleaf and Liberia

H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Staff member struggles to put the Presidential sash on Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as she is sworn-in during her Inauguration Ceremony at the Capitol Building on January 16, 2006 in Monrovia, Liberia. Inheriting a country torn apart by 14 years of civil war, Sirleaf is Africa's first elected female head of state.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf addressed the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on February 16, 2007. She received strong endorsement of her country's progress and strategies going forward, new financial commitments, and new commitments to support private sector investment. She comes into office after years and years of brutal civil war.

She said:
As most of you know, Liberia was nearly destroyed by its civil war. Liberians saw their communities destroyed and their families uprooted. When we took office there was no electricity and no water. Schools and clinics had crumbled, and roads were impassable. Institutions of governance had completely collapsed and corruption was rampant. Many youths had spent more time at war than in school. Average incomes had fallen 80 percent, exports had collapsed, and over three quarters of our people lived below the poverty line of US$1 per day.
And further:
To further enhance peace and stability, we have completed the deactivation of 17,000 members of the former security forces, and initiated recruitment for new security forces. We have placed 75,000 ex-combatants in reintegration programs, and put 36,000 in formal 3-year education programs. Well over 100,000 internally displaced people and refugees have returned home over the last year. We are proud that they have decided that it is finally time to come home again.

To begin to revitalize our economy, we started by putting our financial house in order. We balanced our budget within four months, and increased government revenues by 48 percent in one year. We have completed the review of 95 contracts and concessions and initiated renegotiation of those which have potential for mutual benefits. We passed a new Forestry Reform Act that paved the way for the lifting of international sanctions on timber. (Refugees International wants the UN to move quickly to design a sanctions removal program for Liberia) We reached agreement with Arcelor Mittal Steel for an iron ore concession agreement that will provide investments of $1 billion over seven years. Similar negotiations with Firestone started this week.
All the best President Johnson-Sirleaf for success in bringing your country back to peace and prosperity.


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