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Friday, June 21, 2024

PRES. WEAH DELIVERS ANNUAL MESSAGE TO THE SIXTH SESSION OF THE FIFTY-FOURTH NATIONAL LEGISLATURE

Date:

Her Excellency Madam Clar M. Weah

First Lady of the Republic of Liberia;

Her Excellency Chief Dr. Jewel Howard-Taylor, Vice President of Liberia, and President of the Senate;

Mr. Speaker;

Mr. President Pro-Tempore;

Honorable Members of the 54th  Legislature;

Your Honor the Chief Justice, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, and Members of the Judiciary;

The Dean and Members of the Cabinet and other Government Officials;

The Doyen, Excellencies and Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps;

His Excellency, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Liberia;

The Chief of Staff and Men and Women of the Armed Forces of Liberia;

Former Officials of Government;

Traditional Leaders, Chiefs and Elders;

Political and Business Leaders;

Religious Leaders;

Officers and Members of the National Bar Association;

Labor and Trade Unions;

Civil Society Organizations;

Members of the Fourth Estate;

Special Guests;

Fellow Liberians;

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

I come before you today in fulfilment of Article 58 of the Liberian Constitution, which requires me to report to the people of Liberia, through you, their elected representatives, on the state of affairs of the Nation.

This year has a very special meaning for me, as it marks my sixth and final State of the Nation Address to this Honorable Body for the term of my Presidency to which I have been elected.

In 2017, I was given a resounding mandate by the Liberian people to steer the nation through a constitutionally guaranteed six-year term.  As this year concludes that period, I am happy to apprise you, my fellow compatriots, of the enormous progress that has been made, in spite of inevitable challenges.

MADAM VICE PRESIDENT, MR. SPEAKER, AND MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL LEGISLATURE:

Let me welcome you back from your annual break. It is my hope that your individual endeavors during this much-deserved interlude proved useful and productive, including interactions with your constituents. I look forward to more fruitful engagements during the course of this 6th session.

The past year marked a crucial historical milestone for Liberia, when we celebrated 200 years of the founding of our Nation. I need not belabor you with accounts of how much we have all been through as a People during these two centuries, including wars, pestilences, and economic setbacks and downturns. But together, we have remained strong and progressive, and have managed to always emerge triumphant and united, through and after every trial and tribulation, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, or political affiliations.

As your President, I have made it my overarching purpose and duty to work towards preserving the peace of this Nation, ensuring always that we do not slide back into conflict. This has been the fundamental underpinning of all development and policy initiatives of my Administration.  The record will show that we have achieved undeniable success in this endeavor,  while at the same time always ensuring that there is strict adherence to the rule of law, and protection for the constitutional rights of our citizens, as we consolidate our democracy and develop our Nation.

Our well-earned credentials as a nation of peace and democracy in West Africa will be put to the test in about nine (9) months from today, when we head to the polls for General and Presidential elections.   These will be the fourth elections since the end of the war in 2003, and they will be an important benchmark for judging the extent of the consolidation of peace in our country.

Perhaps most significant is that these elections are the first to be primarily organized and administered by Liberia, since the drawdown of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in 2018. This is our moment, therefore, to continue to demonstrate to the world that we are a peace-loving nation, and that we are capable and ready to undertake elections that include all Liberians in a free and credible process.

Not only will our individual patriotism be put on trial, but our institutions of democracy will also be tested.  I am of the strongest conviction that this is a test that we can – and will – pass.  As you may be aware, I have continuously reaffirmed my commitment to free, fair and transparent elections, and to respect the democratic will of the Liberian people.  I remain committed to that pledge.

I want to thank our partners – chief among them, Sweden, Ireland, ECOWAS, the EU, the UNDP, and the UN Peacebuilding Fund – for their technical and financial assistance to the electoral process, and for their partnership and collaboration to support the National Elections Commission, political parties, other national institutions, and civil society organizations, to be ready for this defining moment in our history.

MR. SPEAKER, DISTINGUISHED LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:

We were all recently in shock when we awakened to news of the discovery of a large cache of arms in a container at the Freeport of Monrovia. We applaud the vigilance of all national security agencies for their collaborative efforts in effecting this bust. Coming on the heels of the October elections, this development is a major cause for concern.

I have been made aware that the National Police Force continues to pursue every possible lead in their investigation of this illegal act, including diplomatic measures to have the alleged perpetrators face justice.

As this year marks two decades since the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2003, which ushered in the peaceful environment we continue to enjoy, it is my hope that we can work together – putting aside our political differences – in ensuring that we can all peacefully abide together in our ‘Sweet Land of Liberty’ without the chaos of recent years.

In so doing, it is both important and imperative, that we summon our collective will to vigorously confront potential troublemakers and anarchists, by applying the full force of the law that is provided for such circumstances. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to our children’s children, to repel and eliminate any threat to our hard-won peace.

MADAM VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE, MR. SPEAKER, MR. PRESIDENT PRO-TEMPORE, AND HONORABLE MEMBERS OF THE LEGISLATURE:

In keeping with the tenets of Article 58 of the Constitution, I hereby present my Administration’s Legislative Program for the ensuing session; and report to this august body on the State of the Republic, covering the economic condition, including expenditure and income.

As I deliver this my last Annual Message to the Nation in this term as President of Liberia, I would first of all want to thank my Vice President for her support during these years. I would also like to extend special thanks and appreciation to the Legislature and the Judiciary for the level of cooperation and collaboration that our three branches have enjoyed during these past years.

MR. SPEAKER:

Since this is my last annual message during this term, permit me to aggregate the total number of bills that have been passed during my Administration, to date.   The 54th Legislature has enacted almost two hundred (200) Acts, covering all aspects of our national endeavor.

Permit me also to highlight from among these numerous pieces of legislation, a few which in my view, were particularly significant.  These include, but are not limited, to the following:

I applaud you for passage of the Land Rights Act and the Local Government Act in your first session in 2018.  The Land Rights Act has been considered by many as the most progressive pro-community land reform law on the African continent, as it  recognizes and protects customary land tenure, as well as women’s rights to land.

The Local Government Act has established a system of  governance consisting of locally appointed and elected officials,  and grants them authority and resources to enable them to cater directly to the care and needs of the citizens in their respective counties, in the areas of health, education, roads, agriculture and other development needs. No longer must our people always have to come all the way to Monrovia to get better services, because most of the things done in Monrovia can now be done in the counties.

In a related development, you passed the Revenue Sharing Law in 2022, to enable revenue-sharing between central and local governments in Liberia.  It was designed with the main objective of promoting domestic resource mobilization through fiscal decentralization for local empowerment.

In 2019, during your second session, approximately fifty-four (54) pieces of legislation were passed, amounting to the second-highest number of bills passed during a single session under this Administration. This is highly commendable, and we applaud you for that achievement.

Additionally, I want to commend you for passing the Power Theft Law, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Kamara A. Kamara Press Freedom Act of 2019.

The Power Theft Law seeks to address the increasing theft of electricity through illegal connections, tampering with meters and with transmission and distribution lines, as well as theft of LEC’s assets, including light poles, wires, and transformers.  It establishes a system of prohibitions and penalties to deal with electricity theft, for which Government intervention and protection is appropriate.

Thank you also for the passage of the Domestic Violence Act, which is expected to promote gender equality and protect women and children from domestic violence.  This law is intended to reduce the entrenched gender inequality practices which were on the increase in our country. Let me assure you that these laws will continue to be fully and appropriately enforced under my Administration.

Let me also congratulate you for the enactment into law of the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom, which is a very historic piece of legislation that codifies and decriminalizes free speech, as enshrined in our 1986 Constitution. With the passage of this new law, we have cast into the dustbin of history all outdated criminal statutes that once restricted freedom of speech. Today, we are proud to see that dozens of newspapers exist, unhampered and unrestricted, along with numerous radio and TV stations that are now flooding our airwaves.

MR. SPEAKER:

While there were other significant bills enacted in 2020 and 2021, in the interest of time, I would like to draw your attention only to some of the bills passed last year, which is the year under review. The year 2022 saw the passage of fifty-six (56) bills, the highest number of bills passed thus far in a single session under my Administration.  In the interest of time, a detailed listing of these Acts is attached to this Annual Message as APPENDIX “A”.

Among these were several judicial reform Bills, including a Bill to provide conditions and authority to arrest; a Bill to provide for a new standard on preliminary examination in cases above the trial jurisdiction of magistrates and justices of the peace; a Bill to provide for plea bargaining; and a Bill to provide for the appointment of additional relieving judges.

Together, these Bills have instituted major reforms to our judicial system, and will help to establish trust and give credibility to the judiciary. I thank you once again for passing these laws.

MR. SPEAKER:

As our fight against corruption and financial crimes remains paramount, we applaud you also for passage of bills seeking to strengthen our integrity institutions, such as the Amended Central Bank of Liberia Act, the Financial Intelligence Agency Act, the Anti-money Laundering Terrorist Financing, Preventive Measures, And Proceeds of Crime Act, 2021, the new Internal Audit Agency Act, and the Amended and Restated Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Act.

Together, these laws will strengthen our anti-graft institutions and minimize the vices associated with corruption and financial crimes in our country. They will also further strengthen our financial sector and make it consistent with international best practices, and will also ensure secure financial transactions in support of our monetary and fiscal policies.

Thank you also for the ratification of several agreements with our international partners to provide development financing in support of our budget and infrastructure needs.

MR. SPEAKER:

One of the most significant achievements in support of our call for national unity was the passage of the Dual Citizenship Bill last year, which was the year of our Bicentennial. The moral significance of restoring citizenship rights to our brothers and sisters in diaspora can not be overemphasized.  We now call on our families from the diaspora to come home and join us in the noble and patriotic task of nation-building, so that we can all continue to enjoy our Sweet and Glorious Land of Liberty, which was given to Liberians by God’s command.

Thank you again, Members of this Honorable Legislature, for codifying the 23rd of December 2019 Opinion of the Honorable Supreme Court, making more true the saying that …  “Once a Liberian – Always a Liberian.”

MADAM VICE PRESIDENT, MR. SPEAKER, MR. PRESIDENT PRO-TEMPORE, AND HONORABLE MEMBERS OF THE LEGISLATURE:

While we applaud you for the record-breaking passage of these various bills, we would like to remind you, however, of some important bills that are still pending before you, including the following:  Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area; An Act to Establish the West African Police Information System; The Statute of the International Renewable Energy Agency; The Legal Aid Act of 2022; The Liberia Corrections Service Act; An Act to Establish the Civil Service Commission; A Revised Public Health Law of Liberia; The Revised and Restated Charter of the University of Liberia; and the International Solar Alliance (ISA) Framework Agreement; just to name a few.

These Bills are very significant to the success of our Pro-Poor Agenda, and we therefore urge you to consider their urgent passage in this Sixth Session.

MR. SPEAKER:

It is our understanding that an affirmative action bill, aimed at increasing women representation in the National Legislature, is being introduced under the sponsorship of the Women Legislative Caucus and our Vice President. We wholeheartedly support this endeavor in our quest to achieve gender parity in our political space, in keeping with international best practices. We therefore urge speedy passage to enable it be signed into law.

I will also be submitting additional bills for your consideration, that seek to improve our overall governance systems and structures, enhance our economy, protect our business environment, and create jobs for our people.

MR. SPEAKER:

Under this Administration, a total of twenty-two (22) Executive Orders were issued by me (from Executive Order 93 to Executive Order 114) in order to meet exigencies that could not await the lengthy legislative processes.

More specifically, however, during the year 2022, I issued eight (8) executive orders, as follows:  Executive Order #107 Suspending Tariffs on Off-Grid Solar Renewable Energy Products; Executive Order #108 Supporting Integration and Access to Social Services and Safety Nets for Refugees and other Vulnerable Populations in Liberia; Executive Order #109 Extending Executive Order #100 Exempting the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC) from Customs Duties on Selected Items.

Other Executive Orders issued by me were Executive Order #110  Extending Executive Order #101 Repositioning the National Food Assistance Agency; Executive Order #111 Exempting the Liberia Electricity Corporation from Customs Duty and GST on Generation, Transmission and Distribution Equipment, Materials & Fuel; Executive Order #112 Establishment of the National Railway Authority; Executive Order #113 Suspending Tariff on Rice; and Executive Order #114 Establishing the West African Police Information System.

MR. SPEAKER:

As you go through the Sixth Session of this august body and the final year of the first term of our Administration, let us be reminded that, although we have worked hard, there is still a lot more to do together.  We must now recharge our energies and re-double our efforts to complete what we started five years ago, in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration, so as to fully realize the goals and objectives of the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development.

MADAM VICE PRESIDENT, MR. SPEAKER, MR. PRESIDENT PRO-TEMPORE, AND HONORABLE MEMBERS OF THE LEGISLATURE:

In fulfilling my official duty to report to you on the State of the Republic, our Constitution mandates that specific mention should be made of national income and public expenditure. I will now set out to do so and to describe the broader state of our economy.

Permit me now to take us all back to the beginning of the macroeconomic journey that we began five years ago.

When I took the oath of office in January of 2018, the Liberian economy was in a state of major distress. The macroeconomic foundations were weak. The country’s net international reserve,  which had been used by the previous Government to stabilize the exchange rate, was very low. The exchange rate had plunged into free fall, and the then Government did not seem to have the tools to deal effectively with stabilizing the currency at that time.  As a consequence, inflation was increase at an alarming rate, while domestic revenue and development assistance were in decline.

Our development partners met with me during my first week in office and informed me that the Health Pool Fund, which had been paying the salaries of some 2,000 health workers, had dried up.  They asked us to take these workers on to the Government’s payroll, at a cost of about $12 million U.S. dollars a year.   The United Nations Mission, which had been spending some $115 million US dollars annually in Liberia, was also leaving, thereby depriving the economy of these resources.  By 2018, all of these inflows were gone.

The Government’s credit rating with commercial banks was at its lowest because the Government could not settle its domestic obligations to lenders. The total Government obligation to the Central Bank of Liberia was not even known because some Government debt to the Central Bank was not officially recognized. This was the bleak nature of our economy when we assumed responsibility for the leadership of the Government at the beginning of 2018.

MR. SPEAKER:

What we did not realize at the time is that the recipe for economic disaster had already been set.  We had assumed that our economy was sitting on a strong foundation, but we were in for a rude awakening when the decline in the exchange rate began to accelerate. We had to get to work quickly, to re-think, to re-work and to re-establish the principles of  macroeconomic fundamentalism as they are known around the world.

In 2019, I delivered an Economic Address to the Nation, in which I  announced an end to Government borrowing from the Central Bank of Liberia. This policy forced the Government to depend on its own resources and to live within the means of the national budget. This was a policy to help contain inflation and to reduce the Government deficit.

In 2019, we also set out to fix the broken and unfair wage system in which Government workers were paid without any set rules or pay grades. To end this unfairness, we had to abolish a general allowance system that was allowing this to happen.  Although we were faced with revenue challenges, we were determined to keep all civil servants on the payroll.  And so we adjusted the wage system and gave every Government worker a salary which is based on a standard and consistent pay-grade.  As a result of this exercise, fifteen thousand (15,000) civil servants received higher salaries, while some seven thousand (7,000) were adjusted downward.

Also in 2019, we entered an IMF-supported program, and began a series of fiscal, monetary and governance reforms. Under this program, the Central Bank of Liberia developed a new monetary framework that worked to stabilize the exchange rate without drawing down excessively on net international reserves, as had been done by the previous Government. We set out to improve our fiscal balances, domestic debt management, and strengthen the fight against corruption.

As a means of restoring Government’s credit rating, which was at its lowest in 2018, my Administration formally and officially acknowledged all of its debt owed to the Central Bank of Liberia, and issued bonds to commercial banks to settle the legacy debt that we met on the books.

MR. SPEAKER:

Five years after the launch of these painstaking reforms, the results are out there for the world to see. Today, Liberia is a macroeconomic exception in the West African region. We have brought inflation down from a high of thirty (30%) percent to a single-digit rate that is now under seven (7%) percent.  We accomplished this in just under two years, making it one of the fastest rates of inflation collapse in recorded economic history.

We also stabilized the exchange rate for one of the longest periods, and we grew net international reserves to their highest level in decades. We increased domestic revenue to the highest level in Liberian history, and took our national budget to its highest level as well.

We established credibility to Government’s finances; and reformed the banking sector, which had been exposed to excessive risk-taking and a high level of non-performing loans. With the increased domestic revenue generated, we undertook a series of development programs in roads, electricity, education and health.

MR. SPEAKER:

These results were obtained despite the outbreak of COVID-19. What this means is that if the pandemic had not happened, Liberia would have been on a faster growth trajectory than it is today. But we give Almighty God the glory and we thank our international partners for standing with us and for the confidence they continue to repose in our judgement and in our leadership.

MR. SPEAKER:

These are the broad lines of the story that will define our Administration as we face national elections in 2023. These are the macroeconomic and development narratives that the world is now beginning to learn about Liberia, but which our critics and opposition have tried to repress over the last several years. But as it is often said that: “truth crushed to the ground, shall rise again.”

The truths of the difficult decisions and courageous corrections we have made during our tenure, concerning the pro-poor investments in education, health, roads and electricity, are out there for all Liberians to see and experience. It is on these truths that we stand, as we continue to face existing challenges to deliver a more prosperous future for all Liberians.

MR. SPEAKER:

Let me now turn to the fulfillment of my constitutional responsibility to report to you that which obtained with the Nation’s finances in the last fiscal year.

Revenue collection for 2022, including grants, was $740 million U.S. dollars, compared to $646 million U.S. dollars in 2021. A large part of this difference is attributable to an increase in domestic revenue mobilization for the calendar year 2022. This revenue performance was driven by higher receipts of tax and non-tax revenues, especially taxes on international trade and taxes on income and profits. Of this amount, domestic taxes was $605 million U.S. dollars and external resources received from our Development Partners was $135 million U.S. dollars.

On the other hand, total cash expenditure for the same period under review was $774 million U.S. dollars. The excess of expenditure over revenue collection, amounting to $34 million U.S. dollars, is attributed to the use of treasury instruments.

Of the total cash expenditure, $286.38 million, or 37% percent, was spent on compensation of Government employees; $258.93 million, or 33.45% percent, was spent on goods and services,  including grants and subsidies; $89.37 million, or 11.46% percent, was spent on domestic and international debt; and $139.32 million, or18% percent, was spent on public sector investment programs.

The past fiscal year recorded the highest level of domestic revenue performance since the end of the civil conflict.  This is  clear evidence of economic recovery and macroeconomic stability. We continue to show strong improvements in mobilizing domestic revenue, which are due to key reforms under the domestic revenue mobilization strategy of the Liberian Revenue Authority.

These mainly include expanding the tax base, minimizing revenue loss through raising the tax effort, building public confidence in the tax system, and implementing greater effectiveness and efficiency in tax administration through innovation and technology.

Sustaining domestic revenue performance is the only way we can  guarantee the funding of our public sector investment programs, which will then enable us to address critical infrastructure and social sector challenges, such as roads, electricity, healthcare, and education. It is also the only means to diversify the Liberian economy.

I now hereby call on all national stakeholders to support these reform efforts, and I would like to also encourage all Liberians and businesses operating within Liberia to pay your taxes fairly and timeously as is required by law.

Last year we spent $139.32 million U.S. dollars on pubic sector investments. To support public sector investment for the 2023 fiscal year, in support of our Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), we have  proposed to spend about $154  million US dollars, which is 19.8% percent of the proposed national budget for the 2023 fiscal year.

Major public expenditure items include: $46 million US dollars, mainly for the transmission of electricity from La Côte d’Ivoire through the CSLG transmission lines, and to expand our electricity distribution;  about $44 million US dollars for road infrastructure;  $23 million US dollars through the National Road Fund, $21 million US dollars through direct national budget; and about $36 million US dollars for the holding of the 2023 presidential and legislative elections.

Thus, Mr. Speaker, electricity, roads and elections will consume about $126 million US dollars in 2023, demonstrating my Government’s commitment to put the Liberian peoples’ money where it matters the most.

MR. SPEAKER:

During the year under review, the Government made significant interventions in a number of sectors including Health, Education, Social Development Services, Energy and Environment. In the health sector, we spent about $17.3 million US dollars on vaccines and vaccine-related supplies; COVID-19 vaccination administration; and drugs and medical consumables.

In the education sector, we spent nearly $38.9 million US dollars on tuition-free policy; renovation of public universities; WASSCE and Junior High School examinations; the “Support to Closing Teachers Salary Gaps” project; and support to the Engineering College.

In the social development sector, we spent around $12.8 million US dollars on the County Tour Implementation & Spot Checks; the National County Meet tournament; the completion of the Omega & Duala Market projects; the continuation of the Albino Society Headquarters construction; and our contribution to the National County Projects through the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE).

In the energy sector, we spent about $29.7 million US dollars on CLSG Payment, streetlights, & LEC transformer projects, as well as the River Gee Hydropower Project.

MR. SPEAKER:

As you are aware, for at least the last fifty (50) years, Liberia’s fiscal year has run from July 1st to June 30th . Liberia was the only country in the ECOWAS sub-region to have this July-June fiscal year, which was inconsistent with the rest of the countries in the region.

I am now pleased to announce that, after successful adjustment in 2021, the year 2022 marked the first full implementation of the calendar year budget in our nation’s history, making it now aligned with the rest of the ECOWAS subregion. This has made reporting and regional comparison between Liberia and ECOWAS countries much easier.

MR. SPEAKER AND MEMBERS OF THE 54TH LEGISLATURE:

The 2023 National Budget of $777.9 million US dollars has been submitted to the House of Representatives for review, which is consistent with the total resource forecast for the period. The estimated domestic revenue is $667.9 million US dollars, or 85.9% percent, while external resources are projected at $110 million US dollars, or 14.1% percent.

Consistent with our commitment to support public investment projects, we have increased capital expenditures in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 to $154 million US dollars, up from $143 million US dollars in the last fiscal year.

Public investment is focused on key infrastructure investments, such as roads and bridges, and the CLSG transmission line. Other programs include the upcoming General and Presidential Elections, election-related security, county tour implementation, the compulsory primary education policy, the At-risk Youth Empowerment Fund , and support to vulnerable small businesses.

MR. SPEAKER:

Liberia recently concluded its Fourth Review under the IMF Supported Program. The outcomes demonstrate robust fiscal and monetary performance. In the Review, the Executive Directors of the IMF have noted, and I QUOTE:

“The [Liberian] authorities managed to keep the program broadly on track by preserving macroeconomic stability, ensuring a comfortable international reserve position, and maintaining debt sustainability.”

UNQUOTE

This favorable appraisal by the IMF was promptly followed by a transfer of $22.1 million US dollars to the Central Bank of Liberia to increase the nation’s reserve stock.

In support of economic reforms leading to a stable economy, we have maintained our commitment to the independence and autonomy of the Central Bank of Liberia. Although the preceding year was a difficult one for the economy, my Government supported the various CBL policy measures that have kept the economic recovery on track.

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the on-going Russia – Ukraine war, the economy grew by 5% percent  in 2021, after two consecutive growth contractions in 2019 and 2020. Growth this year is predicted to rise to 4.2% percent from 3.7% percent in 2022.

Our macroeconomic environment remains relatively stable, at a time when several other countries in our region are facing serious macroeconomic challenges.   Inflation at end-December 2022 was 6.9% percent, and the exchange rate between the Liberian dollar and the United States Dollar has remained stable within the range of 150 – 153 for the past twelve (12) months.

MR. SPEAKER:

We have made significant progress in restructuring our domestic debt. At the outset of the IMF-supported program three years ago, all legacy loans owed to the Central Bank of Liberia, including the debt owed to the old National Bank of Liberia, were bundled into a Restructured and Consolidated Loan. My Government continues to live up to its obligation in meeting these payments in support of the recapitalization of the Central Bank of Liberia.

I am pleased to inform you that a recent debt sustainability analysis by the IMF has upgraded Liberia’s debt management rating from “HIGH RISK OF TOTAL DEBT DISTRESS” to “MODERATE RISK OF TOTAL DEBT DISTRESS”.

As a Government, we remain committed to pursuing concessional financing to support our public sector investment program. This is consistent with our long-term strategy on debt sustainability.

As of November 30, 2022, the total stock of domestic debt stood  at $835.2 million U.S. dollars; and the total stock of external debt stood at $1.13 billion U.S. dollars, for a total public debt stock valued at $1.96 billion U.S. dollars, which is an increase of 12.6% percent when compared to the end-December 2021 debt stock of $1.74 billion US dollars. The growth in the debt stock was mostly triggered by disbursements from external and domestic creditors.

The Government paid $89.37 million US dollars in debt service on both domestic and foreign debt. Of the total debt service, interest payments accounted for $33 million US dollars, or 36.9% percent, while principal repayments accounted for $56.37 million US dollars, or 63.1% percent.  Also, from the total debt service,  $57.07 million US dollars was paid to the Central Bank of Liberia, to commercial banks for treasury bonds, and to other institutions for domestic debt, while $32.3 million US dollars was paid to multilateral and bilateral partners.

Of the domestic payment of $57.07 million US dollars, about $17.8million dollars, or 31% percent was paid to the Central Bank of Liberia. This payment, and the ongoing continuous payments of Government’s obligation to the Central Bank, clearly demonstrate our Government’s commitment and support to the financial and operational independence of the Central Bank of Liberia.

MR. SPEAKER:

I am pleased to report  that the audit of the Consolidated Account is now current; with all audit backlogs being cleared.  Currently, the General Auditing Commission is concluding an audit of the Special Fiscal Year 2021, the Fiscal Year 2021, the Payroll Audit, and the audit of the Domestic Debt. These audit reports are expected to be submitted to you within the next 30 days.

MR. SPEAKER:

We continue to implement reforms for the Central Government payroll and pension systems, with the objective of improving the welfare of both active and retired employees of government. Through centralization and digitization, our payroll is now easily auditable, predictable, and adjustable; in order to ensure fairness and efficiency, while at the same time increasing the welfare of civil servants.

Since establishing pay-grades for all positions at the start of our reforms in 2019, we have partially or fully increased or adjusted the gross salary of more than 28,000 Government workers, out of more than 70,000 Government employees. These beneficiary employees include teachers, health workers in rural and hard-to-reach counties, and security officers within various security agencies.

Others include academic staff at the University of Liberia, Tubman University in Maryland County, and other community colleges outside of Monrovia. These adjustments have been made possible through the larger fiscal space created under our reform efforts.

MR. SPEAKER:

Because of the integrated nature of these reforms, today we are executing the Legal Power of Attorney (LPA) scheme, and the Quick Cash Credit scheme, which now benefit thousands of civil servants who, through salary deduction, now have access to fast credit for cash, building materials, furniture and fixtures, electronics, and food items.

This year we plan to expand the LPA scheme to rural Liberia to benefit more civil servants, including teachers, health workers, security officers, traditional leaders and workers. This expansion will also benefit rural businesses by increasing their sales and profits.

MR. SPEAKER:

As domestic revenue improves, we remain committed to enhancing the welfare of Government workers. I have been informed that some 15,000 Government workers still make below the minimum wage of $150 US dollars, as mandated by the Decent Work Act.

This is completely unacceptable. No Government worker should make below the minimum wage mandated by public law. I have therefore directed that, as part of the 2023 budget, the wages for all such workers be raised at or above the minimum wage. I am informed that the cost to achieving this is estimated at $6 million US dollars annually.

And so Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro-Tempore, and Distinguished Members of the 54th National Legislature, as we accelerate the discussion for the 2023 National Budget, I urge you to make the securing of this amount of $6 million US dollars for these 15,000 workers one of your highest priorities.  I look forward to engaging you further  on this.

MR. SPEAKER:

Official Development Assistance (ODA), otherwise referred to as Foreign Aid, is critical to Liberia’s economic growth and development, as it represents an important share of the national budget.

In 2022, we negotiated and signed approximately nine (9) financing instruments with Development Partners worth a total of about $282.2 million US dollars. These projects and programs supplement our continual commitment to inclusive growth and development in Liberia.

We continue to take steps to improve aid coordination.  At a  Steering Committee Meeting of the PAPD held last year, I emphasized to our Development Partners the importance of coordinating resources in critical sectors such as health, education, and agriculture for more transformative results.

The Government and its partners have both reaffirmed their commitment to upholding the tenets of the Paris Agenda on Aid Effectiveness, and are delivering frameworks under the PAPD to achieve this. But much more work needs to be done to deliver more results for the Liberian people.

MR. SPEAKER:

Two years ago, I delivered an address at COP 26 in Glasgow calling for carbon trading on the African continent.  I repeated similar themes at COP 27 that was held in Egypt last year. My vision is to have Liberia work with the international community to enhance Liberia’s potential of being a carbon sink for the world,  given our huge forest reserves. Smart climate finance is the way we want to go, and we encourage our international partners to help to get us there.

We are committed to doing our part to transition to this new model of climate change financing in Liberia.  Liberia remains committed to the global climate change agenda and to meeting its Nationally  Determined Contributions.  We are looking to improve governance of the forest sector and move toward a more effective management of our forest reserves, as a means to transition to a better model of climate finance.

We are also working to enlarge our protected areas and are committed to reducing our reliance on commercial logging. But much more needs to be done in these areas, and we will continue to work along with our development partners achieve these goals.

Towards this end, I will open a climate finance forum to be held at the EJS Ministerial Complex in a few days, where the Government and its development partners will explore ways of re-thinking climate change, climate finance,  and carbon trading in Liberia.

MR. SPEAKER:

Climate change is affecting Liberia in various ways, and we are accordingly responding with meaningful projects. For example, following submission of a coastal defense funding proposal to the Green Climate Fund in 2021, a $25 million US dollar coastal defense project for the Township of West Point was approved and the project has commenced.  Another coastal defense project for Greenville, Sinoe County, has also been approved by the Global Environment Facility, at a cost of $10 million US dollars.

These two coastal defense projects are expected to reduce the vulnerabilities of the respective communities against the adverse impact of climate change. In this regard, I would like to thank our partners and stakeholders for assisting Liberia to secure the needed resources to address these glaring manifestations of climate change damage to some of our coastal communities.

My government values the support provided by the UNDP, which is not only co-financing both projects, but which has helped Liberia to secure the resources needed from the GCF and GEF. UNDP is also partnering with the EPA and the Ministry of Mines to implement the programs.

MR. SPEAKER:

Together, we have worked together to improve governance and to  strengthen the fight against corruption and public accountability. You recently passed a new Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Act that gives the LACC the prosecutorial power it has lacked, and also giving it greater independence from interference.

For example, none of the seven LACC Commissioners under this new law can be removed or dismissed by any President, including me. I have made sure that this provision was enshrined in the law because I wanted to make it very clear that my Government has nothing to hide and we are committed to fighting corruption. You have also passed the Witness Protection Act and whistle-blower laws.

Additionally, my Government has increased budgetary support to both the General Auditing Commission and the LACC. In the proposed budget the LACC will receive the highest share of funding it has ever had in its history.

We have also placed new leadership at the Internal Audit Agency. The Government is working to place the IAA at the center of the fight against corruption, since it is the first anti-graft institution that can prevent corruption before it happens. We will increase the level of funding to the IAA in this 2023 budget, and we now challenge the new management of IAA to find innovative ways to protect public resources.

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