Our commitment to freedom of the press and free expression, as well as the civil and political rights of all of our people will remain unshaken. Yet, as a people, we should recognize that the exercise of freedom carries with it both a responsibility and a duty: to preserve and secure our national peace and security and stability; and respect the freedom, rights, and privacy of our fellow citizens. Our Constitution is clear and unequivocal on this. I will therefore be submitting to you, for your timely consideration, draft legislation consistent with the Table Mountain Declaration, which affirms our commitment to support press freedom.
It is also time for transformation of our media. We will all agree that improvement is required in the manner in which we inform and communicate our progress and challenges to the people. As a result of this inadequacy, perceptions are formed on the basis of misinformation, rumors and, many times, false accusations. We continue to partner with the media – print and voice – encouraging respect for their independence and freedoms to join the forces for positive change. Sometimes it works, but most times it does not, because the media lacks training and financial support. We take the position that government should help the media to enhance their professionalism without prejudice to the important role which they play in exposing and challenging wrongs in government and the society at large.
Specifically, I suggest that we take responsibility to construct and equip a media house that will provide the facility to access worldwide information and to have them benefit from distance learning. The structure could be built on the site of the demolished Government Hospital on Ashmun Street, where the new National Library will be built. With your concurrence, budgetary allocation for the construction will be included in the next fiscal year budget.
Honorable Legislators: We recognize that economic transformation must be accompanied by improvements in socio-economic indicators for Liberians through a process that increases citizens’ participation in all sectors of the economy. This process of Liberianization must be accelerated to increase our participation in the workforce and as owners of productive assets. Economic output that is manifested in higher growth numbers but does not benefit Liberian business is business as usual and is unsustainable. We must therefore design and implement programs that increase Liberian participation in all productive sectors of the economy.
Our model of Liberianization will include training and entrepreneurship development through business incubation, ranging from enterprise engaged in imports of consumer goods, to warehousing, trade financing and manufacturing, to agricultural production through support to smallholder farmers. We will aggressively pursue Liberianization in the mineral sector by demanding local content not only in the provision of goods and services during exploration and production but, in value added, but also in ensuring that Liberians participate as equity owners during the development and exploitation of our natural resources.
We will implement measures to ensure that Liberian vendors and suppliers of services get a greater percentage of public expenditure dollars, by strict adherence to procurement regulations for Liberian businesses. You will recall that, as part of the 2012/2013 budgetary process, the Administration announced that 25 percent of all amounts appropriated for furniture will go to Liberian-owned businesses. We must now consider how we may add to other expenditure items into Liberianization of this process.
We agree that it is time for Liberians to become more engaged in the import, wholesale and distribution of externally produced consumer goods. We will therefore engage financial institutions to aggressively support Liberian entrepreneurs by working through the Liberian Marketing Association, the Liberian Business Association, the Petty Traders Association and other business support organizations. However, until we acquire the necessary energy efficiencies, we will best explore means to provide further incentives to enable to meet this gap caused by high electricity costs.
Honorable Legislators, in previous decades, we fought for political freedom and the right to vote and participate in a democratic process. It is now time for economic freedom, which can only be achieved through citizens’ increased participation in our economy through the robust implementation of an aggressive Liberianization model. However, there are things that need to be done. We are prepared to make the hard decision to achieve this goal.
But as we pursue the goals of Liberianization, our citizens must be guided by the principles of business ethics, such as honesty, trust and creditworthiness. No country can improve the lot of its people, if business relationships are categorized by a lack of trust and refusal to pay legitimate debts. We urge our citizens to prepare themselves to move into profitable areas of the economy through a process of learning, apprenticeship and, above all, a burning desire to make substantial contributions to our economic growth and development. Our citizens must be prepared to relinquish long-standing business relationships and forego vested interests, if our Liberianization is to be real and realized.
Honorable Members of the Legislature: I have already briefed you about the Monrovia Meeting of the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Framework, starting tomorrow with the technical sessions. We call for the support of all Liberians to make the Meeting a ringing success. We welcome suggestions on crafting a post-2015 development agenda, critically infusing the perspectives of Liberia as a rising post-conflict success story.
Mr. Vice President and President of the Senate, Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro-Tempore, and Honorable Members of the Legislature: In my last Annual Message, I stated that the country was at a crossroads, and urged that we choose the right path. I say to you today that we have chosen the right path. We have set our priorities. The journey to transform our country has begun.