|Presidential candidate T. Q. Harris left |
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf right
Photo: Ousman Diallo/Executive Mansion
In welcoming Mr. Harris, the President said: “We would like to see people come home. If they can come home for good, we applaud; if they can come home for a little while, see what we are doing, give us their suggestions, join in the effort, we welcome that too.”
The President continued: “This government is open; we’re not perfect, we’ve made some mistakes, no doubt about it but, by and large, our commitment to do the right thing is there. The political will is there; our institutions are weak, our capacity underdeveloped, so sometimes we don’t achieve the targets we set. But our aim is to do for the country the best we can, and to leave it better off than we found it.”
Among issues he sought to raise with President Sirleaf, Mr. Harris said, were these: funding for the 2011 campaign to create a “level playing field” for all candidates; the plight of ex-combatants; land disputes in Nimba and elsewhere; the need to improve the economy in order to create jobs for the youth; and implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), urging that all the work done not be ignored.
Responding, President Sirleaf commended Mr. Harris for his “spirit of positivism and commitment” to be part of the constructive forces of change and development in Liberia. She pointed out that in all the areas he had mentioned, things are happening. She urged him to consult with the institutions concerned that are handling these matters to be briefed. Efforts were being made to assist ex-combatants through vocational and other training, the President said. Jobs would come as a result of the concession agreements that had been signed, as government could not absorb everybody.
Concerning the land issue in Nimba, the President said that what was needed was implementation of the recommendations of the Special Commission, and that would be done with funding support from the Peacebuilding Fund. The land issue existed in many parts of the country, and a Land Commission had been established to sort out the various disputes. She urged Mr. Harris to visit that Commission to be briefed on the work being done there.
On the matter of campaign financing, the President said that at some point there would have to be election financing reform, but she doubted that it could be done this year because of the serious budgetary implications and the need for legislation to achieve that objective. Liberia would get to that point, but was not there yet. She was, nevertheless, open to suggestions on how to achieve that.
As to the TRC Report, President Sirleaf said that its recommendations were so profound and complex that there was no way to implement all of them at once, and their implications had to be studied. The body responsible for this work was the Independent National Human Rights Commission, which was now operational and working on a roadmap for implementation. There were also serious financial and constitutional implications associated with the TRC recommendations and these were being looked at by lawyers. Again, the President urged Mr. Harris to visit any and all the institutions dealing with these matters. Hers was an open government, with no secrets to hide. And under the Freedom of Information Act, everyone was entitled to information.
In any of the areas discussed, the President said, if there was something specific which Mr. Harris and his group believed they could partner with the government, she welcomed an exchange on those areas where cooperation was possible. “That does not take away from the fact that you want to run; that is your constitutional right, so you can exercise it.”
The President said she welcomed open, constructive and positive competition. “Let us all respect the process; that we do not say things that will incite and create the kinds of problems that will come back to haunt all of us. That’s why maintaining the peace, encouraging people to go and exercise their mandate, being a part of the process, and working constructively to make sure that these elections are free, fair and acceptable is so important. Whoever wins will want to have a very clear mandate that passes the test of time. In that way, we can build upon the progress that we have now because we need that in order to take Liberia to a different level, and the potential for doing that is very good. All we need is a positive, constructive spirit in working together.
Mr. Harris came to the meeting with a six-member delegation, including a television crew.