PoliticsNews & AnalysisYouths need a future - President of Liberia

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Posted on Thursday, 16 August 2012 16:04

Youths need a future - President of Liberia

By Tamasin Ford in Monrovia

President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson SirleafThe Nobel Peace Prize winner has received her fair share of criticism at home in the form of youth riots and allegations of conflict of interest.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sees her government's main task as providing an environment that allows the young population to prosper while ensuring that international investors engage with their host communities.

The Africa Report: With the recent discovery of oil in Liberia and your admission in the past that corruption at all levels is a problem, how can you ensure transparency when oil revenues will be in the hands of a state company?

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Let's first of all be very clear about what's happening in the oil sector. There was a discovery, but it still has to be determined whether there are sufficient quantities commercially. By the time they start to drill oil, it will probably be at the end of my administration anyway. However, our responsibility is to ensure that we put in the right laws, the right policies so that the funds from oil will be used for the national interest. We are working – Sierra Leone and Liberia – with the Norwegians to see if we can benefit from some of their experiences, structures and systems. We are working with ASET [International Oil & Gas Training Academy] and they've already started workshops. And let me say that we've also tackled corruption in almost the same way by adopting different laws, by putting in systems, by putting in structures, by building capacities, by improving compensation. So, today, even though corruption is a problem, it's been addressed and it's largely reduced. Punishment is the only area that we now need to work out with the judiciary.

Already, there have been allegations that appointing your son, Robert Sirleaf, as chairman of the board of the National Oil Company of Liberia is a conflict of interest.

No, it certainly is not. First of all, he's had 20 years on Wall Street so he knows most of the companies with which he deals. He's the chairman of the board, he's not the chief executive. He serves pro bono and so he's just bringing his own technical expertise, working with the management of the company to do that, so there's really no conflict of interest there. As a matter of fact, as I've said, what we're working on are just the laws, the systems, the structures and whatnot. There is no oil revenue now and won't be until another five years at least.

"Even though corruption is a problem, it's been addressed and it's largely reduced"

In the past year there have been youth riots in Liberia; how can you move forward and engage the young people in Liberia?

That's exactly one of our preoccupations right now. Consultations are going on with many of the youth organisations. We're looking at programmes that are going to address unemployment among the youths and we think that's where the challenge lies and if we address that I think we can manage some of their disappointments. We can raise expectations by putting them to work, by providing them the opportunities for education which have bypassed them over the years. There will always be young groups at times who will express their dissatisfaction by coming out on the streets. They have that right. As long as they're peaceful we will support them and listen to some of their ideas. So right now I think we're moving in a direction of ensuring that the youths themselves feel part of the future. That's what we want to do, to give them a future, a stake in society.

So it's about job creation?

Essentially. In the Liberian context, I think that's the greatest challenge and our greatest response to youth anxiety. But don't leave here with the impression that all Liberian youths are disillusioned. There may be pockets of them, but there are lots of youths who are engaged in productive endeavours. Even the motorcyclists, they are providing transport services to people and they are pleased to be part of the development of their country. And so the larger numbers of them are really pursuing an education, learning skills, have small businesses, are petty traders. And quite frankly, when they look at where they are today as compared to where they were six years ago, I think you'll find the majority of them think they have come a long way and are contented.

Also read:
Liberia's growing pains
Africa shouldn't return to the men's club
Land for sale - Liberians the last informed
Liberia under a Nobel Peace Laureate

Liberia has seen a lot of interest from foreign investors. It's a very attractive place to be, but how can you make sure local people benefit as much as the investors themselves?

If you look in our concession agreements, you will see that for the first time in our history local people have to be consulted. You'll find it's the first time we have particular social development funds that are paid by the concession into the areas in which the resources are. There's room for improvement, no doubt, but we've come a long way from the traditional Liberian way of doing things, and we're very open to discussion. We consult with them. If something in the agreement has fallen short of the ideal and we need to revise it, we will revise it in consultation with the people. So this government is very people oriented. And if things aren't going exactly the way we want, we'll work with them and change, and that's what we're doing●

 



Last Updated on Thursday, 16 August 2012 16:55

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