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President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf says the National Elections Commission (NEC) must ensure that it protects the State from any disturbance, ordering commissioners here to demonstrate efficiency and neutrality in the decisions they make in strengthening Liberians’ trust in the electoral body.

While jointly commissioning Liberia’s ambassador to Qatar, former Maryland County Sen. John Ballout and two NEC Commissioners on Monday, 21 August at her office, Mrs. Sirleaf reminds the NEC officials that Liberia looks forward to a major transition and they must ensure that “we” depend on them.

Under the chairmanship of Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya, the NEC is bracing for what may become its biggest test this October in handling over 20 presidential candidates with roughly a thousand representative candidates that are battling for just 73 seats at the lower house.

Upon administering an oath of office to Commissioners Jeanette A. Ebba - Dividson and Boakai Amadu Dukuly who were led to the President’s office by NEC Chair Cllr. Korkoya and his deputy, President Sirleaf emphasized that the neutrality and efficiency that the commissioners show will built the trust that Liberians want.

Similarly, Mrs. Sirleaf earlier enjoined Amb. Ballout that Liberia expects that whatever he does in his new role as the country’s top envoy to Qatar will throw into his goodwill, not only as good diplomat, but to foster good relations between the two countries.

Mrs. Sirleaf tells Amb. Ballout that government expects the same expediency and quality he carried in his previous task as Senator.

Responding on behalf of the NEC, Commissioner Jeanette A. Ebba - Davidson promises Mrs. Sirleaf that the Commission will continue to fearlessly perform its constitutional tasks, and assures that it will deliver free and fair elections void of violence.

While assuring President Sirleaf that the NEC will create a level playing field for everyone, Madam Davidson takes a moment to appreciate the president for being supportive to the Commission financially and otherwise, whenever her help is needed.

She notes that the NEC will be at President Sirleaf’s door step if there are hitches anywhere that require her help, having acknowledged that Mrs. Sirleaf sees the success of the October elections as one of the biggest legacy she wants to leave.

Madam Davidson encourages Mrs. Sirleaf to trust the NEC Board of Commissioner on grounds that they will do the best they can to make Liberians proud.

She has however admonished Liberians against electoral violence, noting that punching a colleague’s eye will only incite violence. She notes that Liberia has missed a lot of opportunities, and pleads with the citizenry that these October elections must not be one of such opportunities that the country would miss.

In response to a toast proffered by President Sirleaf to the honorees, Amb. John Ballout thanked the President for the tasks given each of them, assuring her that they shall endeavour to do their best. He prays that God Almighty continues to bless the works of President Sirleaf. ---By Winston W. Parley

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The National Elections Commission or NEC, responsible to conduct presidential and legislative elections in Liberia has since declared political campaign officially opened, allowing political parties and independent candidates to seek votes of electorate, but the biggest question left unanswered: Is Liberia’s Executive Mansion, official home of the Presidency ready to accommodate whoever emerges as President?

Liberians received with shocks news of a fire disaster at the Executive Mansion on 26 July 2006 which coincided with the country’s 159th Independence Day celebration.
The fire engulfed the fourth floor of the Mansion in the presence of three West African Presidents, including former President John Kuffour of Ghana, who had come to celebrate with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the time, barely seven months into her first term of office.

Subsequent investigation launched by the Sirleaf Administration with support from foreign experts from the United Nations, America and findings from Johannesburg laboratory, South Africa pointed to “electrical fault” as the cause of the fire incident, which left no casualty.

President Sirleaf eventually vacated the Executive Mansion and relocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Capitol Hill, where she has ran her government up to now with the Mansion yet to be completely renovated and ready for use.

However, several Liberians, who spoke to this paper on 19 August expressed apprehension whether the next elected government of the country would be seated in the Executive Mansion.

57-year-old Jimmy Barcoon of Todee District, Montserrado County; Mrs. Julia Mamie Abaco of Po River, Bomi County, and Ms. Celia Gibson Mark, among others, say since the government pronounced that renovation work was being carried out to restore the building to normalcy, nothing has been heard about progress made or whether it is completed and ready to host the next elected government in 2018.

According to them, the situation is worrisome, particularly to Liberians, who obtained their voter cards and are eager to elect a new President come October and members of the House of Representatives to manage the affairs of state for the next six years.

They stress that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is under obligation to inform Liberians how far work on the destroyed fourth floor of the Executive Mansion has gone, and if the building would be ready to host the next elected government.

The citizens who sounded frustrated, note that it would be a great disgrace to the country to see the next elected regime housed outside of the Executive Mansion, which is the official home of all Liberian Presidents.

When contacted, the Press Secretary to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Mr. Jerolinkmek M. Piah, says that if somebody wants to know whether renovation work is going on, yes. But he refers this paper to the Ministry of Public Works for details on progress of the reported renovation.

However, the Director for Public Affairs at the Ministry of Public Works Jusufu Keita, told this paper on Monday, 21 August that he doesn’t know a person within the Ministry that has technical details on the Executive Mansion renovation.

The Executive Mansion was originally constructed from 1960 to 1963. The entire project was designed and supervised by Stanley Engineering Company of Africa; and the construction contractor was Liberian Construction Corporation (LCC). The project was officially dedicated on 3rd. January 1964.

The building also has an eight-storey horizontal arch-like (semicircular) structure, constructed primarily of reinforced concrete post and lintel system, covering a total area of approximately 26,500 sq. feet.

Vertical circulation throughout the building is by means of four major staircases and six elevators. One of the elevators is solely used by the presidency and visiting dignitaries, while another one is used for freight and the rest of the other four elevators are used by the public.

By Emmanuel Mondaye-Editing by Jonathan Browne

Partial view representatives of 26 African countries n Liberia attending a three-day Capacity Building Workshop of July 26-28 in Monrovia Representatives of 26 African countries are in Liberia attending a three-day Capacity Building Workshop for the third edition of the African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) Tax Outlook Publication.

According to a press release, the three-day workshop, being hosted by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) is highlighting means of improving cross-country comparison and benchmarking comparable data on tax policies and tax administration and related legislations, among others.

The gathering seeks to provide analysis of tax data trends and identify good practices as well as understanding of the Tax Outlook Publication data collection processes. Addressing the opening session on Wednesday, LRA Commissioner General Elfrieda Stewart Tamba describes the workshop as a critical milestone of the African journey in providing high quality and reliable statistical data on tax administration covering the continent.

She praises ATAF for spearheading such initiative, noting that it will further enhance the collection and compilation of accurate tax data in Africa. The LRA boss also points out that the hosting of the workshop in Liberia demonstrates the importance of statistics in tax administrations and the vital role it plays in informing public policy decision.

She urges participants to dedicate their attentions in acquiring the requisite skills with the aim to improve the level of revenue collection across the Africa region. For her part, the Director of Research of ATAF, Dr. Nara Monkam, indicates that the training is aimed at enhancing revenue administration in the region through knowledge and experience sharing and comparison analysis.

She notes that the event is also a means of preparing for the third African Outlook Publication, which highlights factual and evidence-based statistics on all tax related matters on the African continent. The workshop will climax with the tour of the LRA Headquarters on Friday, January 28, in Paynesville. Press Release

The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning or MFDP has strongly rejected a local daily’s report of a potential US$41 million dollars deficit for the just ended fiscal year 2016/2017.

In a press statement issued here Thursday, 20 July the ministry ays its attention has been drawn to the Tuesday, July 18, 2017 Edition of the FrontPage Africa Newspaper in which the paper erroneously reported a potential US$41 million dollars deficit for the just ended 2016/2017 fiscal year, not on the basis of factual reporting, but on account of “reliable or financial experts.”

The release says the paper based its story on an unsubstantiated year-end fiscal reconciliation report of the consolidated account, indicating a wrong year-end revenue collection of US$522million and US$42 million as potential deficit; even though, the year-end expenditure estimate needed for accurately determining deficit or surplus was not mentioned.

The release claims the paper further suggested that the deficit could increase to US$50 million if US$4million payment for the Executive Mansion renovation and US$6million payment to George Haddad’s Prestige Motors were made, which it maintains, are all concoction of a “financial expert’s” imagination.
It explains that the Budget year FY16/17 successfully ended with a surplus of US$1.8 million brought forward to the FY17/18 budget, which has been approved by the Lower House and awaiting concurrence by the Upper House of the National Legislature.

According to the Ministry, Gross Revenue collected at end June 30th, 2017 is estimated at US$550.8 million, saying “This amount net of the ECOWAS Trade Levy of US$3.2 million brings the net revenue available to GoL at US$547.57 million. This fact contradicts FrontPage reported net revenue amount of US$522 million.”

The release further refutes allegation that Finance and Development Planning Minister Boimah Kamara has usurped the allotment functions of the Deputy Minister for Budget and Development Planning, and is not holding weekly Fiscal Management Team meetings with senior technicians regarding the formulation and execution of the national budget.

“In keeping with supervisory oversight of every department to ensure proper and accountable usage of tax payer money; it says, “Minister Kamara has instituted several reforms including the following:

The authorization of allotments to spending entities still remains a function of the Deputy Minister of Budget, but with the expressed approval of the Minister as provided under the PFM Act. The procedures for allotments, which are the first layer for authorizing, spending from the National Budget, have been revised to effectively minimize unauthorized allotments;

In tracking the execution of the national budget with respect to revenue performance and expenditure monitoring, the Minister still holds regular Fiscal Management Team (FMT) meetings with senior technicians of the MFDP and the Liberia Revenue Authority to discuss various fiscal reports and reconcile the financial position of the Government of Liberia. These meetings are in addition to regular Senior Management Team (SMT) meetings and general staff meetings aimed at cultivating a working culture that promotes team spirit and effectiveness.

The MFDP release says in the fight against corruption, the current management team is on record for improving systems and controls within the Ministry and taking punitive action against individuals caught in the act of misuse of entrusted public resources.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning encourages media entities to seek clarifications on news relating to government’s fiscal operations from relevant authorities within the MFDP before publications. The Ministry cautions against spreading false news, especially on fiscal operations of government because it has the propensity to undermine the economic viability of the State by scaring away potential investments and development assistance. Press Release

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Presidential hopeful and standard bearer of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) Senator George Weah has for the second time conspicuously evaded crucial national debate here with rival candidates on issues affecting Liberians as the country goes to elections on October 10th .

Organized by the Deepening Democracy Coalition or DDC, a conglomeration of five Liberian media organizations, including the Press Union of Liberia, the debate is sponsored by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, OSIWA.

The issues centered around six thematic areas: economy, youth empowerment, peace and reconciliation, rule of law and security, corruption, education and health.

The first debate was held on Thursday, 17 August among the first six top candidates in the race at the Paynesville Town Hall outside Monrovia. All but two of the six candidates were present.

Candidates in attendance were the standard bearer of the governing Unity Party(UP), Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine of the Liberty Party (LP), businessman Benoni Urey of the All Liberian Party (ALP) and corporate executive Alexander B. Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC).

Candidates George Weah of the CDC and Dr. Joseph Mills Jones of the Movement for Economic Empowerment were conspicuously absent at the debate. Senator Weah is reportedly visiting the Ivory Coast, while Dr. Jones is said to have gone on a campaign spree in Western Liberia.

But the organizer says all candidates were formally written and informed about the debate. “All of them were invited and they all committed to come”, says Malcom Jospeh, a member of the DDC.

The DDC stresses that the exercise provides an opportunity for Liberians to question and evaluate those vying to become their next leaders what they say they would do and how they intend to achieve those.

In 2005, the CDC presidential candidate Weah similarly dodged a debate among candidates for the presidency both at the Centennial Pavilion and the Monrovia City Hall. Weah has always avoided sitting with rival candidates to publicly debate the issues that confront Liberia’s governing process. Even at the Liberian Senate, where he was elected in 2014, he has been publicly rated for poor performance when it comes to debating issues brought on the floor.

Analysts say, Weah would have to live with this weakness for long in his public service career unless he musters enough courage to be able to articulate clearly his dreams and aspiration for the people and country that he wants to lead now or in the future.

-Story by Jonathan Browne

Vice President Joseph Boakai, who is vying for the presidency comes October, attributes consisting budget deficit in government in the past several years to lack of fiscal discipline, stressing, “We need to spend our money wisely.”

Vice President Boakai is on record for his public admission that most of the opportunities that came to the country during the nearly 12 years tenure of the Sirleaf administration in which he serves, were squandered.

Participating in a national presidential debate at the Paynesville Town Hall outside Monrovia on Thursday, 17 August organized by Deepening Democracy Coalition or DCC with support from Open Society Initiative for West African or OSIWA, he says raising taxes is not solution to the country’s fiscal challenges, but operating a balanced budget.

He is asking Liberians to elect him in October as the next President of Liberia, with an analogy that a racing car that is packed in the garage would have to be tested in order to determine its strength.

But Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine of the Liberty Party disagrees, countering that the Vice President cannot receive salaries and incentives for the past 12 years and yet claims he has not been tested for leadership.

Brumskine vows to reduce his own salary and salaries of top government officials, including members of the Liberian Legislature if elected President, in order to redirect those funds to improving salaries of civil servants, teachers, police and other apparatus.

The debate was attended by four of the six top candidates that were formally invited, including the governing Unity Party standard bearer, Vice President Boakai, Cllr. Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party, corporate executive Alexander B. Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) and businessman Benoni Urey of the All Liberian Party (ALP).

For the second time since 2005, George Weah, senator and standard bearer of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) was conspicuously absent at the debate hall. Dr. Joseph Mills Jones of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE) also did not attend.

But on the question of the economy, ANC standard bearer Cummings believes the prescription is to grow the national budget from US$5.6 million to 2 billion, emphasizing the need to create middle class Liberians as opposed to President Sirleaf’s poverty reduction strategy.

For his part, ALP standard bearer Benoni Urey stresses adequate planning and wants the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs recreated to properly plan the country’s development agenda.

Urey continues that budget deficit persists because the government appears to be business unfriendly, adding that “We will continue to have deficit unless we plan properly.” He points out that 80 percent of the budget is on recurrent expenditure, particularly salaries and other benefits, while the remaining 20 percent which is very insufficient, is directed at development.

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The National Elections Commission says it is not aware of the pending political rally of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) scheduled for Saturday, August 19, but the CDC claims it has written the NEC.

The commission says the rally under the banner, ‘Blue Day’ which is expected to mobilize about two million people in the streets of Monrovia is being planned without its acknowledge.

But the National Secretary General of the CDC, Janga Augustus Kowo, denies, saying that the CDC secretariat wrote the NEC and that the communication was delivered on Tuesday, August 15, at the headquarters of NEC received by a lady identified as Mercy Yapkpazue.

Mr. Kowo says the CDC is not naïve enough to not have written the NEC officially about its upcoming political campaign, though he did display copy of the letter purported written to the NEC.

NEC Chairman Cllr. Jerome Korkoya told a press conference on Wednesday, 16 August in Monrovia that the Coalition is yet to formally inform the commission about the rally.He says if authorities of the CDC did not inform the NEC, the rally will be in violation of guidelines of the commission.

Mr. Kowo calls on Cllr. Korkoya to check his records well before making such public utterances against the CDC. Guidelines of the National Elections Commission require all political parties and independent candidates participating in the October 10, 2017 Representatives and Presidential elections to present their calendar of events to the NEC for proper coordination to avoid clashes between and among rival parties.

Chairman Korkoya says it is the prayer of the commission that the Coalition will do a formal communication to the electoral house to avoid coming in conflict with the electoral guidelines.

He stresses the need for political parties to responsibly handle electoral matters in order to maintain peace and stability across Liberia. Chairman Korkoya’s comment followed utterance the CDC youth wing chairman, Jefferson Koijii that the company hired by the NEC to print ballots for the October 2017 election is alleged owned by a relative of Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, who is candidate for the Presidency.

Cllr. Korkoya explains that the company is based in Europe with no indication of having local branch or any contact in the country, noting that Koijii’s assertion is intended to spark tension ahead of the polls. A total of 2,183,683 Liberians have registered to participate in the impending elections, according to the NEC.

By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor-Editing by Jonathan Browne


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