Fliping thru the 4th SONA
What President Weah said then
The fourth working Monday of January 2023 presents the stage for President George Manneh Weah to deliver his sixth and final Annual Message under his first six years of presidential mandate given to him in January 2018.
The message is coming at the time Liberians are expected to go to the polls this October to vote in presidential and legislative elections in which President Weah will be seeking re-election.
In a series of publications, the NewDawn newspaper has been reviewing what Mr. Weah has been reporting to the public through the past five annual messages and what he might be saying this time around.
The President over the years as mandated by the constitution has been reporting to the Liberian people through the Legislature on progress made and plans ahead.
For the most part, President Weah’s administration has made some gains in terms of roads and hospitals constructions, promises affecting the agriculture sector, economy, peace, security amonth others. But the administration is still lagging behind in other areas such as wooing in investors and fighting unemployment.
For instance, in 2021, President Weah repoted that his administrat was making all efforts to connect all the counties through roads. He insisited that road connectivity continued to be his flagship program.
According to him, this was intended to serve as a major catalyst for national development.
He maintained that all of the fifteen counties in Liberia should be interconnected by modern roads.
This, he said, entails the construction of approximately 500 kilometers of paved primary roads, as well as the maintenance of approximately 4,000 kilometers of urban and secondary roads.
In this regard, President Weah said considerable progress had been made, despite the negative impact of the Coronavirus pandemic during the year under review.
He said sixty-six kilometers of primary roads had been completed, and construction was ongoing on an additional 365 kilometers.
Today there are ongoing constructions of roads in parts of rural Liberia and Montserrado,. However there are still challenges ahead.
The president spoke of self sufficiency in food production as a means of addressing some of the economic issues facing the country urging Liberians to go back to the soil.
He encouraged all citizens to utilize agriculture as a vital tool for the revitalization of the economy.
“We have the land, we have the labor, and we have the climate. So let us go back to the soil to grow what we eat, and eat what we grow so that we can reduce our dependence on food imports, create jobs, and increase food security,” said President Weah.
There have been calls here for the government to consider plans to shift from the continuous importation of the nation’s staple and ensure that the country focus on growing what it eats. That call remains a challenge up to date.
In his January 2021 annual message, President Weah assured that the Ministry of Agricultural would have led the way as the focal point to lead and coordinate this drive that should transform the agricultural landscape in Liberia.
“This is a task that is already underway, and which will continue to receive the fullest support of this Government,” he said.
According to him, the activities in the agricultural sector will continue to receive his attention and the fullest support of the government, going forward.
He said Liberians will benefit from their full potential as an engine of development, economic growth, and poverty reduction.
Then in his January 2022 annual message, President Weah recalled his last address to the Legislature when he informed lawmakers that agricultural productivity would be a key priority of the administration.
He said the year in review saw several new beginnings and milestones for the agricultural sector.
He reported that private sector interest and investment in agriculture grew heavily, especially after the holding of the National Agriculture Fair in February 2021.
He stated that the Fair highlighted Liberian agricultural productivity, and while outlining the challenges faced by producers and agribusinesses, it also presented abundant opportunities in agriculture and agribusiness.
“I can proudly report to you that the number of commercial farms and agribusinesses more than significantly increased from 77 in 2021 to 164 in 2022,” he said.
President Weah noted that there were dealerships of agricultural machinery, complete with spare parts and workshops.
“This is a positive development for the efforts to mechanize Liberian farm production, and is a natural next step to the Government of Liberia’s … efforts through the Ministry of Agriculture, to provide tools, equipment, seeds, seedlings to farmers, farming communities and cooperatives,” he said.
According to President Weah, the interventions made by the government have led to increased acres planted for most crops, but especially so for basic foods like rice, cassava, oil palm, and vegetables.
As the country moved into harvest season towards the end of the year, he said bumper crops were reaching rural and urban markets, due to improvements in the logistics and support infrastructure that the government had provided for agriculture.
He stated that dedicated warehouses for cocoa producers were constructed and/or rehabilitated in Nimba, Lofa, and Bong counties.
And processing plants for palm oil were built in Grand Bassa, Bong, and Lofa counties.
“Rice processing plants in Lofa county were finalized in time to process the massive harvests coming in from expanded farms,” he continued.
Additionally, President Weah said the Ministry of Agriculture developed and negotiated, and signed, along with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, key new projects valued at over $73 million US dollars.
He said the World Bank’s Rural Economy Transformation Project, (RETRAP), which is meant to expand the Smallholder Transformation and Agribusiness Revitalization Project, STAR-P, was developed for a total value of $55 million US dollars.
However, as Liberians await the upcoming annual address, many are anticipating that the President will be more pragmatic in his plans especially being an election year.
Weah and his ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) are seeking a second-term bid, the challenge might probably switch back to how he intends to manage his supporters’ quest for his re-election bid.
The annual message due to be delivered on 30 January 2023, will no doubt touch on a lot of issues including the economy, security, and peace, the preparation made thus far for the pending October elections, national unity, and reassuring the people of a successful 2023 political process.
Meanwhile, the question that remains to be answered is whether the promises made during these reporting periods were fulfilled. To be continued.