Editorial

Accessible and affordable power stimulates economic growth

The Government of Liberia thru the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has announced a major boost to the energy sector here, with the reported approval of US$42.48 million, a combined loan and grant financing agreement with partners to smoothly implement the Liberian Energy Efficiency Project or LEEAP, for short.


A release from the MFDP says the project is a multi-partnership approach financed with the African Development Bank Group’s resources from the African Development Fund (ADF), the Transition Support Facility (TSF), and the Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF), as well as from the European Union Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund (EU-AITF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) trust fund and the Bank as implementing agency and the Government of Liberia providing counterpart funding.

Liberia’s Finance & Development Planning Minister, Boima S. Kamara, signed the grant recently on behalf of the Liberian government, which is to be forwarded to the Liberian Legislature for ratification.
Efforts by the government to provide accessible and cheap electricity across the country with support from partners are highly commendable and should be welcomed by all well-meaningful Liberians. Energy is a viable lubricant that moves the engine of any economy.
The economy here will not make any remarkable stride if we remained on the traditional practice of exporting raw materials rather than processed products, which are one of the key stimulants for GDP growth. However, investors would never be attracted to manufacturing if lack of accessible and cheap power continues to pose a challenge.

According to the release, the LEEAP project has a four-year lifespan with preparatory activities that commenced in 2016and is expected to provide a total of 13,000 electricity connections that would impact about 65,000 people, who will gain access to reliable electricity, through the connections of up to 40,000 households.

The objective is to increasing access to electricity from the current 2 percent to 5 percent by 2019, while promoting energy efficiency and strengthening the institutional capacity in the electricity sector.
LEEAP is part of a larger multi-donor program that aims to improve access to electricity across Liberia, which involves construction of 46.1 km of transmission line and 280 km of distribution line in the corridors of the Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Margibi County, and probably beyond.
However, we caution authorities at the Liberia Electricity Corporation and the government as a whole to move aggressively in tackling power theft that poses serious hindrance to energy deliverance and sustainability. Government should clampdown specifically on unscrupulous business people who want to make their wealth by stealing power, often in connivance with insiders instead of paying required fees.

We strongly believe this is where government should lay emphasis if sustainability of the current effort to provide accessible and affordable electricity is to be achieved, not only in the interest of the entire country, but to maintain partner’s trust.

We applaud the Supreme Court’s decision

Towards free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections here in October, the Supreme Court of Liberia has announced suspension of vacation for members of the full bench for the March and October Terms of Court respectively, in order to devote full attention to hearing and deciding election cases expeditiously in line with the Constitution.


His Honor Chief Justice Francis Korkpor made the disclosure in Monrovia on Monday, 13 March, when he addressed the formal opening of the March Term of the Supreme Court of Liberia, emphasizing that the ensuing elections are very critical to the maintenance of peace and security, as well as the survival of the country’s democracy.

The occasion was graced by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her officials, including Senate President Pro-Tempore ArmahJallah, and members of the Diplomatic Corps, among others.

“It is therefore incumbent upon us Liberians, especially those in government, both the public and the private sectors, as well as those from all walks of life to do all we can to contribute to the smooth and transparent conduct of the elections”, Chief Justice Korkpor added.

We wholeheartedly applaud the decision by the High Court, which we believe is not only in the interest of peaceful elections, but a clear caveat to candidates and political parties, and the National Elections Commission to adhere to the Constitution by forwarding all complaints within the constitutional timeframe of seven days so that the Supreme Court would hear and come down with opinion accordingly.

The Chief Justice noted that election cases are direct and time-bond under Article 83 (C) of the Liberian Constitution, and that any party or candidate, who complains about how the elections were conducted or who challenges the results thereof, shall have the right to formally complain to the Elections Commission, and that such complaints must be filed no later than seven days after the announcement of the results of the elections; similarly, any candidate or party affected by a decision from the Elections Commission shall no later than seven days appeal against it to the full Bench of the Supreme Court, and after receiving all records pertaining to the case, the Supreme Court shall hear and decide the case in seven days.

This is where we demand strict adherence to the rules by all sides in making sure outcomes of investigations are eventually announced or made public to quickly dispel rumors and speculations that may not be healthy to the entire process.

We think that delays in filing or hearing complaints coming from the field could create room for anxiety, misinformation and unnecessary tension in a country that faces a fragile peace as it moves towards its first post-war political transition.

Chief Justice Korkpor further emphasized that the best way the Judiciary can contribute to the smooth conduct of the ensuing elections is through fair and timely application of the rule of law to all, in cases involving electoral disputes whether regarding candidates’ conduct or political parties’ or application of the rules of the Elections Commission.

And this is true if the process is not only to be rated generally as free and fair, but transparent in the eyes of both local and international observers as well as political parties and candidates. We believe strongly that this is achievable only if all stakeholders work together, putting Liberia first, above all else.

 

Embrace family planning for

Each year tens of thousands of girls globally are reportedly forced into child marriage, nearly one third of them before age 15. One woman in three experiences gender-based violence in her lifetime, while some 200 million women and girls have endured female genital mutilation, and 225 million others who want modern family planning, don’t have access, and therefore are unable to choose whether or when to have children.


This grim picture on the plight of women and girls around the world is contained in a statement released by the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017.
He stressed that the ability of women and girls to exercise their basic human rights, including their right to sexual and reproductive health, is a prerequisite for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, disclosing that studies have demonstrated clearly that family planning is the best investment countries can make for human development.
We wholeheartedly agreed with the UNFPA boss that family planning is cardinal to promoting healthy and sustainable family life without which our society would continue to grow in human population without a corresponding growth in human capital and development.
In Liberia, one needs not to look further to see a boom in childbirth or baby factories if you like, across the country, particularly involving girls ages 13, 14 or 15, as evidenced by the huge presence of street kids roaming between moving vehicles, selling water, biscuits, candy, etc. rather than being in school to secure a better future.
The problem of “babies bearing babies” has become prevalent here, notably during and after the civil war, leaving behind broken homes and families with children left to provide for themselves at an early age.
This is the foundation for child prostitution and unwanted pregnancies, because when the girls children are left along to care for themselves or with single parents at teen ages with little or no education, they are highly vulnerable and predisposed to almost any and everything. And this is where early sex education, including family planning becomes necessary. Having unprotected sex always leads to unwanted pregnancies and babies.
With shooting breasts, plump bodies and faces, teenage girls become very attractive to the opposite sex, not only their peers, but even to men thrice their ages, who are capable and willing to offer whatever inducement, including cellphones and little cash to go in bed with them. Those men with such habit do so not with a desire to keep them as wives, but to quench their selfish sexual desires and subsequently abandon their victims, leaving them with unwanted pregnancies and babies in a vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy, disease and miseries.
Dr. Osotimehin further emphasized that ensuring universal access to voluntary family planning means putting the poorest, most marginalized and excluded women and girls at the forefront of global efforts, particularly those in conflict and fragile settings.
“Women and girls who can make choices and control their reproductive lives are better able to get quality education, find decent work, and make free and informed decisions in all spheres of life.
Their families and societies are better off financially. Their children, if they choose to have them, are healthier and better educated, helping break the spiral of poverty that traps billions and triggering a cycle of prosperity that carries over into future generations”, he says.

Women colloquium must touch ordinary lives

Liberia is hosting a two-day International Women Colloquium, beginning today, March 7, the second under the Sirleaf administration. The colloquium or conference is being held at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports stadium in Paynesville, outside Monrovia jointly convened by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the ex-Deputy Prime Minister of Spain, Ms. Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega.


Liberia’s Deputy Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Siene Abdul Bak told a news conference in Monrovia last week that about 1,500 participants from Liberia are expected at this year’s Colloquium, which will focus on women leadership across various sectors, identify challenges and highlight lessons learned to enhance women empowerment.

But we believe the International Women Colloquium would become another mere talking shop here and thus meaningless, if its outcome does not impact ordinary lives, particularly women from the lowest echelon of society, who survive daily on the fringes of life.
We’re talking about women at the grassroots level, who give their all to upkeep the family and the home as well as the economic wheels turning. They are the foot soldiers in the continuous struggle to elevate women from the back seat of society to the front.

Over the years, we have observed with much disdain that women from the fringes of society are usually mobilized whenever such international fora are in the making so that they can play to the glares of the media and foreign guests, after which they are abandoned.
Advocates and champions of women empowerment and leadership should be reminded in no uncertain terms that the struggle would become meaningless if there were continuous disconnect between the few privileged women at the top and the vast majority, who hang on the fringes.

This is why we think it is important that the current colloquium also brings on the table for discussion issues that affect women at the grassroots level, including safe-drinking water, electricity, health and maternal mortality, paved roads and access to market as well as schools for their children, among others.

These are the survival issues that are militating against their overall wellbeing and thus, denying them a voice. We challenge the conveners of the 2017 International Women Colloquium – President Ellen Johnson Sireaf and the Spanish ex-Deputy Prime Minister Ms. Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega to include these issues in the discussions for these two days, not only for the benefit of Liberian women, but underprivileged women all over the world.

 

Weah must demonstrate accountable leadership

A recent memorandum released by the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament Senegalese-born Moustapha Cissé Lô in which he raised concern that some parliamentarian delegates, who go to represent their respective countries, only sign for per diems and abandon session, is not only despicable but lay bare or exposes the character of people who clamor for leadership on the continent.


Speaker Cisse’ Lo in his memorandum dated 10 February described the practice of parliamentarians signing in and abandoning session as “betrayal of confidence reposed in us as by the West African populace who are anxiously looking up to us to turn their checkered fortunes.”

“At a personal level, I need hardly emphasize that this conduct is not benefitting our highly exalted offices as representatives of over 300 million citizens of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)”, he emphasized and added that most members of the Parliament, who are in the habit of not staying for the entire duration of session, do so immediately after collecting their stipends for the entire period they are supposed to stay for session/meeting.

Cisse’ Lo did not specifically name any delegate, but this paper has gathered that Senator Weah did in fact, leave the session after he signed for his stipends for Ghana. It was not established where he did return for the closing session.
But the disclosure by Speaker Cisse’ Lo prompted a member of the Liberian Senate, G. Alphonso Gaye of Grand Gedeh County to have written plenary on February 21, requesting that body to make Liberia’s official delegation to the ECOWAS Parliamentary conference to report on its deliberations from the regional forum.

Montserrado County Senator George Weah heads Liberia’s delegation to that parliament, accompanied by Senator Prince Yormie Johnson of Nimba County.
According to Senator Gaye, since the induction of the two senators by plenary to represent Liberia at the ECOWAS Parliament, there is no indication they have submitted report on their deliberations that could benefit the ECOWAS region in general and Liberia, specifically.

The senate plenary has accordingly requested Senators Johnson and Weah to make comprehensive report within one week on their activities at the Parliament.
It is highly regrettable to the say the least that leaders designated to represent the country at such important regional forum would go out, returned and conspicuously sit down in silence without informing the people they claim to represent.

Both Senators Weah and PYJ should be reminded in no uncertain terms that leadership is about accountability and transparency, not self. If Speaker Cisse’ Lo had not raised concern in his memo, Senator Gaye would not have been moved to request plenary to make both men to account so that the Liberian people would be informed. If this is how the two senators, who are respectively vying to become the next President of Liberia, intend to provide leadership, then we think they should think again.

Senator Johnson should suggest alternative

Drama unfolded in the Senate’s chambers on Tuesday, 21 February during plenary when Nimba County Senator Prince Yormie Johnson exploded in emotional outburst characterized by walk out over a communication from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the Liberian Legislature, seeking lawmakers’ consent to cut salaries and benefits of senior officials of all three branches of government by 25 percent.


The President’s proposal is part of ongoing prescriptions or fiscal policy by the government to nurse the economy out of recession. President Sirleaf had earlier announced a suspension of all foreign travels of officials here for 90 days as part of the austerity measures following separate meetings of the cabinet and the government economic council.

The current rescue mission followed a three-day locked down by local business houses under the banner Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia or PATEL in protest against high tariffs and 4G depreciation of the Liberian dollar to the U.S. dollar with the exchange rate hitting three digits for the first time in the country’s history. The locked down particularly in Monrovia and its environs nearly brought the already ailing economy to its knees.
But we are completely flabbergasted by the attitude of Sen. PYJ, who is a former presidential candidate and presently seeking the nation’s highest seat for the second time come October.

He argued that that Sirleaf -led administration received millions of dollars from the international community besides millions collected thru taxes, but the government failed to account for these monies, noting that cutting officials’ salaries and benefits would be like a drop in the bucket, which could amount to making mockery of ongoing efforts aimed at stimulating the economy.

The Nimba County lawmaker is enjoying 18 years or two nine-year tenures in the senate with fabulous salary and benefits, including cook, driver, housing and gasoline allowances as well as vehicle to enable him execute his job besides a salary of US$15,000 or more.

Paradoxically, he wants to become President but is unwilling to make sacrifice in the interest of the state and its people that he aspires to lead. Senator Johnson’s posture on the current situation clearly exposes his depth of insensitivity to the plight of the people.

He has enjoyed taxpayers’ money since 2005 as member of the government, but blames President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for the economic woes in the country. He should be man enough to share in the current unfavorable condition rather than shifting blames.

We wonder how Senator PYJ expects the government to support or maintain the current fabulous salaries of senior officials when the economy is unhealthy amid skyrocketing prices with the pinch being felt by ordinary citizens in the face of serious unemployment.

We challenge the senator to provide alternatives to the President to salvage the economy if he opposed salaries’ cut. PYJ does not need a rocket scientist to make him realize that if you can’t sustain your present consumption the prudent step to take is to reduce expenditure to an affordable level. This is plain elementary economics and the reality is very vivid here with many ordinary Liberians unable to find daily meal.

Candidly, we await those alternatives from the Nimba lawmaker and presidential hopeful on the way forward in rescuing the economy from total collapse other than current measures being advanced by President Sirleaf.

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