27 September Press Briefing Notes

Monday, 27th September 2010

Colleagues of the Media:

Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, on Saturday concluded a successful visit to the United States, where she addressed the 65th ordinary session of the United Nations General Assembly.  During her stay in New York, the President participated in several side events and held discussions with leading personalities, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. 

Liberia's progress in tackling corruption, boosting human rights and consolidating peace since the end of the civil war in 2003 were the focus of the talks on Saturday between President Johnson Sirleaf and Secretary-General Ban. The two officials also discussed preparations for presidential and parliamentary elections next year in Liberia and reform of the country’s justice and security sectors.

Mr. Ban welcomed the long-awaited creation of Liberia's Independent National Commission on Human Rights and voiced hope it would start work quickly. He also congratulated Liberia for reaching the completion point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, in which countries are eligible for special assistance from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Mr. Ban and President Sirleaf also discussed the future of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which has helped bring stability to Liberia since the end of the brutal civil war.

Events at the United Nations included a three-day Millennium Development Goals Summit, which President Johnson Sirleaf addressed on Tuesday, September 21st, and reported on Liberia’s progress in implementing the eight Goals by the year 2015. The President also participated in the Clinton Global Initiative’s Plenary Session on “Empowering Girls and Women”; and attended a breakfast meeting of Heads of State and Delegations of Member States of ECOWAS, hosted by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.  She also attended an evening reception hosted by United States President Barack Obama for world leaders, and a luncheon hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The President also participated in a panel of Women World Leaders, the topic of which was “Women as a Critical Force in Democratic Governance.” A breakfast meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also formed part of the President’s schedule while in New York. Mr. Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) is currently working with the Ministry of State to help improve capacity.

A significant issue which emerged from one of the meetings the President held is a commitment from the World Bank that it will support a 10-year road development program for Liberia.  Collaborating with the Ministry of Public Works, the World Bank will work on a road building program that will include a feasibility study on the road network in Liberia. The importance of the 10-year road development program is that it will enable Government and other development partners like the World Bank to effectively implement road projects and avoid the delays usually associated with such projects.

During the meeting with World Bank Vice President Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili, it was agreed that the current method of road reconstruction, where laterite is used, is a waste of money, given that weather conditions in Liberia have proven that such roads cannot withstand the heavy rains. The plan will include the pavement of all primary roads under a long-term program as funding becomes available, to tackle the bad road conditions the country experiences especially during the rainy season.

The World Bank Vice President also confirmed a US$11 million budgetary support for Liberia during fiscal year 2010-2011. She also informed the Liberian leader that a European Union US$80 million contribution for the Red Light to Ganta Road Project is on course.

Responding, the President expressed appreciation to the Bank for its contribution towards the infrastructure development of the country.  She made particular mention of the Buchanan road project, which she said has been accelerated and is already being hailed as one of the best roads under construction.  The President, however, expressed concern over the delay in the construction of the Caldwell Bridge, which she said poses a serious danger to public. The World Bank Vice President assured the Liberian leader that all was being done to ensure that construction on the Caldwell Bridge commences within a reasonable period of time.

• Misunderstanding among some Muslim groups in Liberia over a number of contentious issues has claimed the attention of the President, who is concerned that such misunderstanding is not in the interest of Liberian Muslims and peace within the greater society.  She is, therefore, calling for unity among Muslims to successfully foster the programs of the Muslim community.

• The President has been briefed about an incident last Saturday when the Security at the Roberts International Airport discovered few rounds of ammunition in the overnight bag of a passenger believed to be an American-Liberian. The appropriate security authorities are investigating the incident.

Let us state, categorically, that contrary to reports by some media institutions suggesting an attempt on the life of the President, neither the President nor any member of her delegation was at any time under any threat whatsoever. Let us stop making the issue what it is not.

What the interception demonstrates, though, is the vigilance of our airport security and that the system is working.  Thanks for the cooperation of all citizens, especially air travelers. It is essential that we continue to cooperate with airport authorities to ensure that the system put in place continues to work for the common good of all.