March 22 Press Briefing Notes

Monday, 22nd March 2010

 • President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf welcomes the Report from the U.S. State Department on human rights issues in Liberia. It points to the many challenges President Sirleaf has sought to resolve since assuming office in 2006. The Report, among other issues, speaks about corruption. Corruption is not new in Liberia; it has been the cancer that ate up the fabric. But what is new, however, is the fact that President Sirleaf, following in the footsteps of the United States, has begun the process of creating institutions to check corruption.  Even the United States Government recognizes the tremendous progress and the challenges in building institutions and reasserting civilian authority in a post- conflict developing nation such as Liberia.
For instance, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), the General Auditing Commission (GAC), the Governance Commission (GC), and many other institutions have been made independent and given the means to work freely, in an atmosphere of unprecedented freedom of speech. A Code of Conduct, submitted to the National Legislature by the President over a year ago, is also part of the measures being adopted to help confront this national malaise.
Regarding the judiciary and its weaknesses, the President has been working on this issue from Day One, and the fact that this Government has had three Ministers of Justice in the past four years, is a clear indication of the urgency she attaches to this matter. The fact that judges allegedly receive or demand bribes, or that some people get off easily because the jury let them go, or because they have a good lawyer,  are all part of a judicial system that has been compromised over the many years of conflict. Do we want to change it? Of course!  But can we do it in four years? Of course not!  If a jury sets someone free, should the Government lock up the jury?

In any event, the judiciary appears to be showing some signs of progress. There have been some convictions on both corruption and criminal charges.
We know that the U.S. Report points to weaknesses in governance and, therefore, it should serve all of us to move forward. The press, the judiciary, the police, everyone should take note of their weaknesses and put in place corrective measures. The President and the Government cannot be everywhere at all times to find out what is done right or not.

Liberians are aware of the many changes which this Government is putting in place to end the old culture of impunity, uncontrollable corruption, and a weak judiciary.

• The President is grateful to the U.S. Government for extending the TPS for Liberians in that country. President Sirleaf has engaged her friend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the issue and has communicated to the White House, through her, that although Liberia needs all its capable hands on board for the reconstruction process, the country cannot absorb the thousands of Liberians currently in the U.S. all at once. Special thanks go to all individuals and institutions that have advocated for the extension of the TPS and other immigration matters affecting Liberians in the United States. They include: Senator Jack Reed  and Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island; Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota; and Representative Donald Payne, Sr. of New Jersey. The President also applauds the Union of Liberia Associations in the Americas (ULAA) for spearheading the effort; as well as such  advocacy groups as Advocates for Human Rights, HIAS &  Council, and the City Council of Philadelphia, among others, for their roles in helping to secure an extension for the TPS program.

The President expresses the hope that our compatriots will seek ways to adjust their immigration status to end this short-term arrangement.

• The President will on Tuesday, March 23, deliver the keynote address at an International Conference of the Economic Community of West African States, which convenes in Liberia from March 23-28, to commemorate and evaluate the organization’s 20 years of involvement in peace processes in West Africa. The Conference is being held under the theme: “Two Decades of Peace Processes in West Africa:  Achievements, Failures and Lessons.”
Several prominent current and former executives of ECOWAS, including a number of former Heads of State and Government, are expected to attend the ECOWAS Conference.