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Liberia’s VP Seeks to Succeed President Sirleaf in 2017

Vice President Joseph Boakai with Liberian Ambassador to the United States Jeremiah Sulunteh and VOA's James Butty.
Vice President Joseph Boakai with Liberian Ambassador to the United States Jeremiah Sulunteh and VOA's James Butty.

Liberia’s Vice President Joseph Boakai said he’s running to succeed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the 2017 presidential election. He said he will be running on the Sirleaf government’s record, which he said includes 10 years of unbroken peace, infrastructure development and freedom of the press.

Vice President Boakai, who is nearly 71 years old, dismissed suggestions he’s too old and could be challenged by younger candidates from both the ruling Unity Party and the opposition. Boakai said age is not a handicap but rather a blessing. He said he has more experience than any of his possible challengers.

“Wherever I have been in this country, people start saying at least 10 years of peace. Without peace you can achieve nothing. Ten years we have not heard about political prisoners; they have not heard about gun shots. They can move around their business. Apart from that, you can see around the country freedom of the press; you can see around the country that are connecting. In spite of all the challenges, you can see that governance structures are being put in place,” he said.

Boakai defends Sirleaf administration

Vice President Boakai brushed off criticisms by some who say the Sirleaf government, in power now for 10 years, has failed to deliver basic infrastructures such as dependable electricity and running water.

He said Liberia is 168 years old and a lot has happened since independence. He said the Sirleaf government inherited a lot of the problems it has been trying to correct.

Boakai said the government is trying to address the problem of corruption, although no country can actually claim it can defeat corruption.

“Nowhere in the world where corruption has been completely eliminated, but we know that other than physically arresting people and putting them in jail, we are putting in place systems that will control. And I want to believe that most of the people who talk about corruption, they can’t actually find who is corrupt,” he said.

He said the government recognizes that there are certain individuals who undermine the economy through their conduct. But he said they are being prosecuted whenever the law catches up with them.

FILE - Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
FILE - Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Change in length of terms of office

Earlier this year Liberians began debating amendments to the country’s constitution. A constitutional convention held in April in central Liberia endorsed an amendment to make Liberia a Christian country.

The delegates approved an amendment limiting the term of office for president from six to four years; the term of office for senators was reduced from 9 to 6 years, while members of the House of Representatives would serve for four rather than six years. Superintendents, chiefs and mayors across the country would be elected to office rather than appointed by the President.

On the presidential term of office, Boakai said every African government should have a chance to serve at least two terms (8 years) to enable that government to implement its development agenda.

He said if the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government had been elected for just four years, it would have been out of government by now and would never have had the time to talk about reconciliation and peace.

Boakai did not seem to favor another proposed constitutional amendment – the right of indigenous Liberians to ownership of their land.

“I think Liberia should be looked at as a country – indigenous or non-indigenous we are one Liberia. And then we should look at Liberia as a country and everybody who is a Liberian should be an opportunity. Being indigenous is not a credential; we all belong to Liberia,” he said.

A look to the future of the Liberian economy

Vice President Boakai and Liberia’s Planning and Economic Affairs Minister Amara Konneh on Monday participated in the ceremonial signing of a $257 million Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact at the U.S. State Department in Washington.

The agreement highlights the United States’ re-engagement with Liberia in its post-Ebola recovery, and will focus on hydropower generation, electricity sector reform, and better road maintenance.

Boakai said the agreement is about governance and underscores the fact that Liberia is trying to do its best to put in place the right institutions. He said the agreement also shows the United States is a true partner of Liberia.