101st Commencement Speech delivered by Del-Francis Wreh, Executive Director/ LIMPAC
101st Graduating Class of the College of Business and Public Administration, University of Liberia Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex 24th February, 2021
Professor Dr. Julius J. Sarwolo Nelson, Jr., President – University of Liberia,
The Board of Trustees, the faculty and Administration of the University of Liberia The Dean, Professors, and lecturers of the College of Business and Public Administration
Distinguished Graduates and Scholars of the 101st Graduating Class of the College of Business and Public Administration
The Acting President, University of Liberia Alumni Association Parents, sponsors, and families of the graduates, Officials of Government Members of the Press , Friends, Colleagues and Students, Ladies and Gentlemen
What an honor to stand before some of Liberia’s brightest and most determined minds. Today I join your families, loved ones, mentors and the academic community of the College of Business and Public Administration, University of Liberia to express how immensely proud we are of the incredible feat you have achieved.
Today marks an extraordinary milestone in my professional sojourn to serve as commencement speaker for the 101st graduating class of the business college of the University of Liberia, the Lux -in- Tenebris. My gratitude to Dr. Nelson, the Board of Trustees and Faculty of the University for choosing me from among several qualified Liberians to serve as commencement speaker. For this honor, I shall endeavor to uphold the confidence of your esteemed recognition.
As I look out at the myriad of faces across this field, hopefully contemplating the next level of your lives and of course the unknown that the future brings, I understand the inkling of trepidation any sound woman or man of courage must have before embarking on an incredible journey. My friends, I stand here to give you courage that your success is not out of your reach and that you have been imparted a wealth of knowledge from within the very halls of this College, to attain it.
My education began at a late age. Those who know me well, can tell you that I would probably come last in a dancing contest and my singing would make a baby cry. Had I attended nursery or kindergarten, where children can express themselves artistically, those skills would be more developed and perhaps I would be recognized as a famous dancer and singer, the world will never know. In my early years I lived with my grandparents in Kanweaken, Rivergee county who taught me the value of family and hard work. When my father brought me to Monrovia, he was the driving force in accelerating my education and impressed upon me its importance, the one single gift that he gave altered the course of my life.
I struggled to read and comprehend and only showed strength in mathematics and spelling. This unlocked my self-confidence to overcome my academic shortcomings. Standing on this podium to deliver the commencement speech to you today, is a testament of these efforts and determination to not be defined by my early schooling deficits.
Now as I flip the pages of my own struggles and look up to other Liberians, like our own President Dr. George Manneh Weah who overcame great odds, current Finance Minister Samuel Doe Tweah, Jr, former Finance Ministers Augustine K. Ngafuan, Boima S. Kamara, Amara Konneh, James Kollie, Dekontee King Sackie, Deputy Commissioner General of the Liberia Revenue Authority, many of whom I have had the privilege to work alongside and many others including your professors and lecturers here at the University of Liberia, I see similar struggles most of you have endured to reach today’s commencement.
Just like you, they started with determination to complete studies at the University of Liberia and other universities within and outside of Liberia. That is why as I am proud of them, as I am equally proud of you for transforming your struggles into this milestone achievement today – congratulations!
We all can reasonably argue that the impoverish state of our communities with limited economic opportunities which gave rise to difficult beginnings can be attributed to failed implementation of pro-poor policies- mainly failing because of limited policy champions. Like you our graduates, they too struggled and faced difficult challenges but with determination prevailed and graduated from the university of Liberia and other universities and are in comfortable positions to make Liberia better as is required of each of them. That is why as I am proud of them; I am equally proud of you for transforming your struggles into this milestone achievement today – congratulations!
Looking at reasons for our historical struggles and current struggles of the younger generation which mainly arises out of the impoverishment of our respective communities, please allow me to deliver my commencement speech on the theme: Championing Pro-Poor Public Policy Implementation for Sustainable Poverty Reduction and to Improve Rural Livelihood.
We sometimes wonder why Liberia is so rich in natural resources but yet considered one of the poorest countries in World. Why Liberia develops very good laws, development agendas, and policies but ridiculously failed on implementation? We also wonder why Liberia politicians undermine the implementation of pro-poor policies and projects to gain political capital. Yes, I know you too wonder why those that design policies most times are afraid to implement. The answers for these questions are summed up in the fact that Liberia lack policy champions- champions that can become the foot soldiers for policy implementation ensuring programs and project designed are implemented to specifications. We all whether in the public sector or private sector are guilty for not the doing the most to champion pro-poor policies implementation. But most of the blames are rightfully placed on the decision makers within public sector because it is their responsibility to efficiently utilize the state resources to maximize welfare. This collective failure to champion change especially for the implementation of pro-poor policies keeps sliding more and more of our citizens into poverty as our population grows. Poverty lurks at every turn and is evidenced by the level of joblessness and dependencies, in our families, communities, counties, and our country in general.
Liberians must stand together and champion pro poor policies to remedy the ills that continue to hold Liberia back. It is the educated class of which you now belong, that can be positive agents of change by embracing policies that can increase our communities’ livelihood, and in so doing utilize your education for the common good.
Our actions as the educated class when compare to our education should reflect one of Mahatma Gandhi interpretation of education, which state and I quote “The True Education must correspond to the surrounding circumstances or it is not a healthy growth” In pursuit of this objective and course to change Liberia positively, we rally and recruit new and additional champions in you members of the 101st graduating class.
President Dr. Nelson, as I rally members of the graduating class, I must be fair to some of our past and current policy champions whose works have impacted the development of Liberia. Exploration of their commitment and works can and will inspire you our graduates to make the change and transform your surroundings as is required from a healthy education.
During the Tubman era as far back as 1944, two policies very pro-poor in nature stood out successfully: The Open Door Economic Policy and the National Unification policy. These policies championed by President Tubman had the most positive impact on Liberians and economy. President Tubman’s opening the Liberian economy to other foreign investment beyond just the Firestone Rubber Plantation Company that stated operations since 1926 increased the number of foreign investments beyond just Firestone to 38 major foreign companies by 1968 with a combined investment estimated at US$750 million dollars. Accordingly, Government annual revenue increased from US$1.5million to US$12million providing the fiscal space for the Government of Liberia to pay off about US$5million in debt owed Firestone. Beyond the Fiscal gains to the government, the foreign investments or concessions created jobs, incomes, and livelihoods for local residents, taking them and their generation out of poverty.
Tubman implementation of the National Unification policy provided more social and political cohesion between the ruling Americo -Liberians and the indigenous, a necessity that was needed at that time to ensure a stable and functioning state. Unlike other presidents that abandoned the implementation of their own policies, I can argue for President Tubman that his education corresponded with his surroundings through his practical action on implementation. For this reason, I salute Tubman.
Arguably, after Tubman was Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia and Africa’s first female head of State, Nobel Laureate; an African woman who overcame extraordinary struggles raising her voice among dominant male politicians to champion successful policies. After inheriting a broken country in 2006, fully devastated by 14-years civil conflict, she championed the implementation of developmental and governance policies that transformed Liberia from a failed state to a functioning democratic state. Core to President Sirleaf’s success in her government were some of our compatriots in Augustine K, Ngafuan, Amara M. Konneh, James F. Kollie, Jr, Elfrieda Stewart Tamba, Decontee King Sackie, Boima, S. Kamara, Nya D. Twayen, Jr, James Dorbor Jallah, Neto Zarzar Lighe, etc. many of whom we share struggles and overcame incredible odds like you.
Wanting to make a positive impact to transform Liberia, they all supported President Sirleaf in various capacities, from PFM reforms, to governance reforms, to educational reforms, law reforms, civil service and pension reforms. 8 They helped President Sirleaf implement the Public Financial Management reforms, paving the way for debt relief of over US$4billion in 2010 under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) debt relief initiative, creating the needed borrowing space to fund and implement infrastructure projects that supported pro-poor growth.
Under this reform, Liberia adopted the Public Financial Management Act of 2009, setting efficient rules for the preparation, allocation, and execution of the national budget. Revenue generation also increased from US$80millon in 2006 to US$488million in 2010 through the automation of tax administration. This increased fiscal space allowed the Sirleaf’s administration to expand pro-poor public service delivery including provision of higher education at the University of Liberia whose budget increased from a mere US$500,000 in 2006 to about US$12million in 2010 to keep the University of Liberia constantly operational.
While championing her team, Madam Sirleaf also developed and implemented some critical components of her development agenda, the Agenda for Transformation (AfT). Milestone projects and programs which supported poverty reduction and improve rural livelihood includes the rehabilitation and operationalization of Mt Coffee Hydroelectric dam, pavement of roads including the growth corridors between Ganta, Gbarnga, and Red-light, and Buchanan to Monrovia, Rehabilitation of Robert 9 International Airport (RIA) including construction of a modern passenger terminal, funding for security, health, education sectors, among others.
Like Madam Sirleaf, President Weah too inherited a challenged economy occasioned by the negative impact of Ebola, fall in the price of key export commodities, withdrawal of the UNMIL force, etc. But with support of his team comprising of some of our compatriots in Samuel D. Tweah, Jr. Nathaniel Mcgill, Jefferson Koijee, Dr. Musa Dukuly, Professor Ansu Sonnie, James Thompson, Thomas Doe Nah, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, etc. with whom we all share similar life experiences in term of struggles and challenges, the Government of is tackling the economic challenges through sound macro-fiscal reforms and implementation. The quality of these reforms has attracted recognition and financial support from the international partners, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), African Development Bank, and others. In addition to the donor recognition and support, the government through President championing the implementation of these fiscal reforms and strategies are also helping to restore growth, and a considerable degree of macroeconomic stability.
As Head of State, President Weah continues to show personal political will in championing the implementation of policies that are consistent with the Pro poor Agenda for Prosperity (PAPD), positively impacting critical sectors including education and health. Demonstration of the President’s pro-poor policy actions is reflected in the tuition-free policy for all public universities including UL and community colleges which have experienced increased enrollment and the number of graduates per graduation. Other actions include the digital registration platform for the UL, and the payment of WASSCE fee for public school students. These interventions demonstrate the concept of true education corresponding and responding to surrounding circumstances, as it has also provided relief for parents, and motivation for students within various communities. This represents a clear championing and implementation of pro-poor policies.
Other pro-poor policies implementation of the President and his current team include road construction and rehabilitation, and this includes communities’ roads which have reduced commuting cost for residents and linking local communities to major markets.
To our graduates, giving the growing need for policy implementation champions and your desire to improve the livelihood of your people and communities, let me once again rally and challenge you to become the next generation of pro-poor policies champions. I am challenging you because I believe that once given the opportunity you can do more – by championing more policies and programs that reduce poverty not just in your communities or counties, but Republic of Liberia in general. I have no doubt that you will use your understanding of various concept in your courses studies in Economics, Accounting, Public Administration, Statistics, Econometrics, etc. to maximum welfare for society while also ensuring that the private sector grows.
I stand firmly to encourage you knowing also it will not be an easy task to champion the implementation of change. You will face opposition from unexpected sources; friends, families, immediate workmates, like I and my team experienced during the harmonization of the Central Government Payroll and the on-going National Payroll Clean-up Exercise. We were bullied, called names, and in some instance physical attacked. We were the centered of negative discussions in the media and various communities. But with the political will of the President and support of the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, we did not give up because doing so would have meant comprising the livelihood of 90% of the public sector workforce for the benefit of the 10% that earned extremely high salary allowances based on discretionary system before harmonization.
As you take on this role of championing the implementation of pro-poor policies, believe in your conscience and use criticisms as tools for correcting your implementation missteps. Innovate your team members, triangulate the ideas from team members instead of strangulating their ideas and perspectives on the identifications of problems and the solutions. Commit your conscience and time until the task is achieved. Yes, you have overcome greater challenges before reaching today’s graduation, so I strongly believe you can do it. And as the 101st class of new beginnings, this challenge presents a perfect opportunity to change Liberia.
In my NATIF Story voice….. A graduate like you deserves the opportunity to work…… a graduate like you can change Liberia, and a graduate like you can implement policies that reduce poverty, yes, a graduate like can do it……!!
Let me once again thank and congratulate you all on your milestone achievements. Long live the 101st graduating class, long live
Long live the college of Business and Public Administration, long live,
Long live the University of Liberia, long live
Long live the Lux-in-Tenebris, long live
Long live Mama Liberia, long live
Thank you and God Bless You!