Ellen breaks grounds for Public Health Institute

President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf and US Ambassador Christine Elder have broken grounds for the construction of facilities for a National Public Health Institute, National Reference and Regional Reference Laboratory at the SKD Boulevard Junction in Congo Town.

During the event on Thursday, 5 October, President Sirleaf said “today we celebrate” the partnership, the National Public Health Institute and Liberia’s doctors and nurses who paid the ultimate price of live [during the Ebola crisis].

She said the initiative was worth celebrating because it will not only go beyond public disease control center that will be built, but will also bring the people to consciousness to continue the individual practices such as hand washing and other measures that enable “us” to keep safe.

In the next two years when all the facilities are functioning well, Mrs. Sirleaf says they will ensure that Liberians will no longer have to suffer what they went through in 2013 and 2014, referring to the years that Ebola struck here.

Mrs. Sirleaf recalls her conversation with former U.S. President Barack Obama during the Ebola crisis here saying, he was responsive and sent his soldiers to Liberia to start the process of addressing the deadly disease.

Since then, she notes that the partnership which had already existed has been enhanced. Thanking the US Department of Defense and all those that helped, Mrs. Sirleaf said the US soldiers went beyond military threat to be able to address health crisis here.

U.S. Ambassador Ms. Christine Elder says the initiative includes the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, a National Reference Laboratory and also a Regional Reference Laboratory.

It is a collaborative effort between Liberia’s Ministry of Health and the US Department of Defense, she says, adding that when completed in 2019, the facilities will be able to help Liberians to be able to monitor health issues [involving] biosecurity and biosafety.

Liberia’s Health Minister Dr. Bernice says the Public Health Institute will help Liberia ensure implementation to achieve international health regulation core capacity established by the World Health Organization.

Dr. Dahn recalls that during the Ebola outbreak here, it took Liberia more than 90 days to identify Ebola and other diseases like lassa fever. But today it takes less than 48 hours to detect those same diseases.

She says the Public Health Institute plays a critical role in Liberia’s health system, recalling that prior to 2015 the Ministry of Health had an emergency preparedness and response unit with just three staff which says now has an entire institute today.

By Winston W. Parley-Editing by Othello B. Garblah

Cummings condemns Senate’s amendment of rape law

Alternative National Congress or ANC standard bearer Alexander B. Cummings condemned the decision by the Liberian Senate, led by Vice President, Joseph N. Boakai, to amend Liberia’s rape law which originally treated rape as a non-bailable offense.

He said with said action, the Senate is prioritizing bailing out accused rapists instead of giving due attention to upholding the judicial system and to ensuring swift justice for women traumatized by rape.

The non-bailable law was initiated following the second Liberian civil war, to address the many atrocities Liberian women endured. The law, making rape a non-bailable offense, addressed the culture of violence against women that once engulfed our country.

Legal deterrence to rape and to violence against women in general, is a key legacy of the past 12 years of peace and stability, which we as a country have enjoyed.

The move in the Senate today takes our country backwards and it sends a clear message to women that our current law makers will not prioritize women’s safety and rights. Mr. Cummings, is taking a stand against gender based violence and letting women and offenders alike know that he will uphold our judicial system and fight for the rights of all Liberian women and girls.

Stated Mr. Cummings, “I want the Senate to know that when this bill comes across my desk as President, the first thing I will do is veto it.”-Press release

Liberian women condemn amendment of rape law

Liberia Women from various groups are calling on members of the House of Representatives not to concur with the Senate to amend the rape law.

Women in the campaign come from various groups including Liberia Feminist Forum (LFF), Liberia Girls Guide Association, Medical Liberia, Action Aid Liberia, Community Health Care Initiative (CHI), Paramount Young Women Initiative, INCHR, YAPE, UMC/HRM, and WONGOSOL

The Liberian Senate is said to have voted on 3 October to amend the New Rape Law, but the women groups claim that the Senate’s action is in an effort to weaken the law by neutralizing the intended purpose of the 2005 amendment that serves as deterrent to statutory rape.

In a release issued Thursday, 5 October, they say the amendment includes making rape bailable for all offenses and granting convicted rapists’ parole.

Currently, the crime non-bailable for first degree felony and convicts do not get parole. These two major amendments defeat the purpose of having a strong rape law despite the challenges, the women groups warn.
Their press release says the Senate has forwarded the amendment to the House for concurrence. Currently, there is only one sexual offenses court which is situated in Monrovia. No DNA testing facility or equipment are available in the entire country and there is an overcrowded docket of pre-trial detainees awaiting trial while the victims live in fear and trauma with no justice in sight.

The women argue that in the midst of these challenges, the Liberian Senate has chosen the option to avoid addressing the structural and logistical barrier to ending violence against women and girls.

Having expressed their disappointment in the action of the Senate, the women call on lawmakers at the Lower House to vote against the new amendment because it is not in the true spirit of justice and equality.

“We call on lawmakers to be progressive by ensuring budgetary allocations and policies that further invest in the implementation of the law such as the establishment of county levels SGBV crimes unit and branches of criminal court “E”, invest in forensic technology for the preservation and gathering evidence,” a press release says.

They call on lawmakers to rethink this regressive legal direction when Liberia faces multiple transitions. It is important to highlight the non-negotiable action of aligning future actions, particularly from the House of Representatives to national women’s rights context on violence against women and girls, the release adds.--Press release

FDA empowers local communities

The Forestry Development Authority, FDA, says it has empowered 15 communities to manage over one hundred and fifty thousand (150,000) hectares of forest land as a means of enhancing food security and reducing poverty.This action forms part of the government’s forest sector reform policy which emphasizes a three – prong forest management practice that includes commercial, conservation and community forest practices.

FDA Managing Director Darlingston Tuagben says the forestry sector plays important roles in the socio-economic development of Liberia in the form of providing employment, industrial output, national income and revenues. However, the FDA Managing Director pointed out that the high increase in our “population, urbanization and the demand for land use” continue to put pressure on the forests.

Tuagben disclosed that the forests can no longer sustain demand on “timber, food, and other forms of livelihood”.  The FDA Managing Director spoke Friday September 29, 2017 at the Civic Education Forum on Electoral Environment discussing Agriculture and Food Security organized by the Governance Commission. He spoke on the theme “The role of the Forestry Sector (biodiversity conservation, protected areas management and reforestation/ afforestation) in enhancing food security and poverty reduction in Liberia. The Forum was at Corina Hotel in Sinkor.

Hon. Tuagben encouraged all presidential candidates in the October elections to include the forestry sector reform in their respective political platforms for implementation beginning January 2018. The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government, since the past decade, put in place forestry reform programs and other initiatives intended to improve the forestry sector. However, Liberia is still involved with exportation of raw materials which undermines development and minimizes job opportunities in this country. Liberia needs infrastructures – factories, manufacturing companies –to enhance and sustain development and greatly address the issue of poverty in Liberia. 

The Friday September 29, 2017 Civic Education Forum on Electoral Environment was third in the series of Forums organized by the Governance Commission in September 2017. The first was held on Education and Healthcare Delivery held at the Mamba Point Hotel on September 14, 2017, and the second on Sustainable Economic Development and Growth held at Corina Hotel on September 21, 2017.


NEC rejects UP’s request

The National Elections Commission (NEC) says it has rejected ruling Unity Party (UP’s) request to climax its campaign activities on Saturday, 7 October, the same day the Commission says opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) intends to climax its campaign.

“There has been a clash of timetables regarding campaign rallies planned for Monrovia this weekend. Both Alternative National Congress and the Unity [Party] submitted plans for campaign rallies on 07 October,” NEC Chairman Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya said at the Commission headquarters Wednesday, 4 October.

Having announced the receipt of two separate communications from the UP and ANC which request to close their campaigns on 7 October, Cllr. Korkoya says the Commission has turned down the request of Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai’s UP and rather accepted the request of opposition Alexander Cummings’ ANC to close on Saturday, 7 October.

Cllr. Korkoya’s justification for turning down UP’s request is that the NEC had earlier received ANC’s request ahead of the UP’s request.

On the basis of best practice, the Commission says it resolved to give October 7 to the ANC and urged the UP to find another option, which is Sunday only.

Korkoya explains that in the interest of public safety, the NEC has informed the UP that it should look at other options for holding its rally, adding that an official letter has been sent to the ruling party.

“We have explained to them that the ANC submitted their full details of the event first and in the interest of fairness the National Elections Commission believes it should be able to hold its rally on the 7th of October,” Cllr. Korkoya says.

According to the NEC boss, the UP has already informed the Commission that it is considering the position of the electoral house and it will revert to it shortly.

The commission says it is convinced that its position in the matter will be accepted by all parties. Commenting on the close of political campaign here, Korkoya maintains that official campaign period ends this Sunday, October 8.

“So far the campaign has been largely peaceful. I would like to congratulate the political parties and the general public for their actions to date. Please let us make sure this continues over the week and the final weekend of the campaign and beyond as final preparations for the elections are completed,” he has pleaded with the public as saying.

Cllr. Korkoya says no more campaigning shall be permitted after the official campaign period has ended, reminding the media to be responsible in their coverage on elections day.

“The media should report event accurately and impartially to the public and the world. The public will rely on the media for information on elections day,” he concludes.

By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor--Edited by Winston W. Parley

Estella Brumskine lifts women’s hope

The wife of the Standard Bearer of the Liberty Party, (LP) Mrs. Estella Brumskin says if her husband is elected President, she would complement his efforts by working with women across the country to advance programs to address education for children, extra-curriculum activities to keep them off the street after school, including reading exercises.

Speaking on Wednesday, 4 October during a live radio talk show she notes that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as a female president did a great job, but there are still a lot to be done for women.

Madam Brumskine names education, health and running water, among others as some basic needs a LP-led government would prioritize.

She says the government under Cllr. Charles Brumskine and Harrison Karnwea will protect all citizens’ interest, and nobody will be left behind.

“Regardless who you are, where you were born or your religious background, all should benefit from the country’s resources”, she stresses.

The first lady to-be notes that a LP-led government will be more concern about children selling in the streets, and wants to enroll them in school, because they are Liberia’s future leaders.

According to her, for the past 40 years she and her husband have been helping people, providing scholarship to many youths. Commenting on Tuesday’s polls, she says things will be different this time around regarding the party’s performance unlike results of the past two elections on grounds that the Liberian people are tired and need change.

She further vows that under her husband’s leadership, there will be no practice of nepotism, adding that her children are all lawyers and they don’t have any intention of working in his government, if he wins.

Mrs. Brumskine explains that for the past time she has been a backbencher, but has taken the front stage because she has seen the needs of Liberians, and would want to help if her husband is elected the next President of Liberia.

By Samuel P. Kamara-Editing by Jonathan Browne

NEC defends contingency ballots

Amid increased public concern and fear in some political parties over the printing of excess ballot papers for Tuesday’s Presidential and Representative Elections the National Elections Commission says “printing contingency ballots are consistent with industry standard practice.”

NEC Chairman Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya reassures political parties, stakeholders and voters across the country that there is no question to the integrity of the number of ballot papers being deployed in polling places across the country ahead of next week’s polls.

“Although we have sufficiently addressed this question prior, the Commission would like to, once more, reassure political parties, all stakeholders and voters that there is no question related to the integrity of the number of ballot papers being deployed. Printing contingency ballots are consistent with industry standard practice”, Chairman Korkoya says in a regular press conference on Wednesday, 4 October in Monrovia.

He says deployment of materials is in progress, as NEC operational personnel are working around the clock to pack materials at the Commission’s warehousing facilities. “And these materials are being delivered to the various counties presently. Security is in place at all levels.”

At the same time the NEC is encouraging voters to check their voter’s card details thru SMS by texting 1847 to the Commission’s data base for instant response.

He further assures there are full accountability mechanisms in place to account for every single ballot paper, adding, “Every ballot will be accounted for at opening and closing of polling places. Those that will be used, not used and spoilt will be fully accounted for in a transparent and consistent manner.”

Apprehensions of probable attempt by the NEC to cheat in the wake of excess ballots brought into the country, has gone viral, specifically in Monrovia and its environs with various constructions and threats of violence, sending fears among voters.

Meanwhile, Chairman Korkoya discloses here that NEC has also taken delivery of a shipment of electronics equipment from South Africa, including photocopiers as part of building a stronger institution.

“I would like to thank the South African Government and people for this donation. I would also like to thank H.E. the President, Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for the formal request to the Government of South Africa for this equipment on her recent official visit there. And for her government’s support to the National Elections Commission throughout this process.”

The final batch of ballot papers for candidates vying for the House of Representatives was scheduled to arrive in the country Wednesday, making the arrival of all election materials for the elections.

Chairman Korkoya says delay was largely due to the irregular size of the ballot papers in few electoral districts in Montserrado County that have up to 28 candidates, but notes the issue has since been resolved and all ballots printed.

Official campaign for political parties and Independent Candidates ends at midnight Sunday, 8 October across the country. The exercise has been relatively peaceful except for an isolated violence recently in Nimba and Montserrado Counties between the Coalition for Democratic Change and the Liberty Party on one hand, and the Coalition and the governing Unity Party on the other.

-Story by Jonathan Browne

260 million children not in school

A World Bank 2018 World Development report entitled: “Greater Measurement, Action on Evidence” says its statistics do not account for 260 million children who, for reasons of conflict, discrimination, disability, and other obstacles, are not enrolled in primary or secondary school.

According to the report, while not all developing countries suffer from such extreme learning gaps, many fall far short of levels they aspire to, and learning international assessments on literacy and numeracy show that the average student in poor countries performs worse than 95% of the students in high-income countries.

Former Peruvian Education Minister, and now the World Bank’s Senior Director for Education, Jaime Saavedra says developing countries are far from where they should be on learning because they do not invest enough financial resources and need to invest more in the capacity of the people and institutions tasked with educating the children.

He suggests that urgent reform is needed and requires persistence as well as the political alignment of government, media, entrepreneurs, teachers, parents, and students who have to value and demand better learning.

It identifies the shortfalls as the ways in which teaching and learning breaks down in too many schools, coupled with the deeper political forces that cause these problems to persist.

The report adds that three-quarters of students did not understand what is said in rural India, and nearly three-quarter of students in grade 3 could not solve a two-digit subtraction.

The report notes that significant progress is possible when countries and their leaders make “learning for all” a national priority, education standards can improve dramatically from a war-torn country with very low literacy rates.--Report


Supreme Court orders new trial for Matilda Parker

Liberia’s Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for suspended National Port Authority (NPA) managing director Ms. Matilda Parker, citing trial judge Blamo Dixon’s failure to have conducted thorough investigation into a jury tampering claim made by prosecution.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday, 4 October comes after reviewing the matter based prosecution’s petition filed for a writ of certiorari through which the high court makes corrections on errors made at the lower court.

The Supreme Court affirms the decision of Justice - in - Chambers Jamesetta Howard - Wolokollie, granting certiorari to correct the prejudicial and reversible errors committed by Judge Dixon and has ordered that a new trial with a new jury pennell be conducted in the main case.

Ms. Parker and her Comptroller at the NPA Mrs. Christiana Kpabar - Paelay, were jointly indicted on multiple crimes of economic sabotage, theft of property and criminal conspiracy in the amount of US$837,950.00.

Prosecution accused the indicted officials of conspiring and awarding two contracts to Mr. Deneah M. Flomo and his Denmar Enterprise, valuing US$500,000 and US$300,000 respectively.  Prosecution says Flomo and his enterprise were contracted to remove wrecks from the Port of Greenville in Sinoe County and to provide security consultancy at the ports of Monrovia, Buchanan and Greenville on behalf of the NPA.

But the State says the contractor Flomo and his Denmar Enterprise did not possess expertise in regards to the contracts, and that the required services were not rendered to the NPA. In the course of the trial in 2016, prosecutors requested Judge Dixon to disband the entire jury panel after claiming that police officers assigned at the jury quarter intercepted communications from bailiffs William Nyankun and Bendu Dukuly that were intended for some jurors in the case.

But Judge Dixon declined to dismiss the entire jury panel, and rather removed jury foreman Kissi Kamara, jurors Melvin Teah Neowen and Kebbeh Kollie to whom letters were allegedly addressed, and also fined and removed bailiffs William Nyankun and Bendu Dukuly from guarding the jurors.

Chief Justice Francis S. Korpor, Sr. said Wednesday, 4 October that Judge Dixon’s ruling was inconsistent and clearly ran contrary to the findings in the case.  The Supreme Court wonders on what basis did Judge Dixon remove the three jurors that were implicated in the communications when he held that the communication did not reach the jurors for whom they were intended.

The Supreme Court says content of the communication addressed to the jurors attempts to show there had been prior contacts between the authors and those to whom they were addressed.

Two typed - written letters were said to have come from then assistant jury manager Peter Wisdom Fayiah and two hand - written letters originating from Judicial Cook Janneh Kamara, who was later found to be mother of jury foreman Kissi Kamara.

The Supreme Court rules that Judge Dixon committed reversible errors in the matter, and that he abruptly terminated the investigation without seeking the originals of seized letters submitted to Montserrado County Attorney.

The Court says the investigation was inconclusive, citing Judge Dixon’s failure to have called the County Attorney to get the original communications, subpoena Lonestar MTN to review juror Kamara and cook Janneh Kamara’s contacts to substantiate prosecutors’ claim that the cook was the mother of juror Kamara, among others.

By Winston W. Parley

Candidate pledges to redeem Montserrado District #10

Montserrado County Electoral District #10 independent candidate Albert J. B. Cooper says the district needs redemption and deliverance, telling supporters at his campaign launch on Wednesday, 4 October that the district deserves better.

The businessman turned - politician explains that district is left behind in terms of development, claiming that developments can only be achieved under his leadership as representative.

Mr. Cooper says he has already undertaken several projects throughout the district, saying the full representation of the district is not felt at all categories of the legislature including law-making, representation and oversight.

He promises to change the table when given the opportunity by residents of district #10. A 68 - year - old woman named Nora Gbor says since she started following legislative elections here, Mr. Cooper’s campaign launch drew the highest crowd she has ever seen in her lifetime.

“I think the people are right to come up in this manner because this man has done so much for this district despite him not being elected yet,” she says.

Cooper says he has undertaken several projects ahead of the 2017 legislative race, which include building of a bridge connecting the Transformer Community to school, renovation of a hand pump in the Tweh Johnsonville Community, building of a toilet in the Ma Estate area, a palaver hut in the Vanwick Community behind Nigeria House and two toilets in the Keyhole Community.

Other projects are the renovation of a hand pump in the Devine Town Community, fixing of a hand pump on Peace Island, bringing of Water and Sewer for the public use in Yekpee Town and fixing of a Road in Yekpee Town, among others.

By E.J. Nathaniel Daygbor--Edited by Winston W. Parley

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