09 January Press Briefing

10 Jan 2013

09 January Press Briefing

Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)
Good morning everybody my name is Aleem Siddique, I am the spokesperson for UNMIL. And a very special, warm welcome to our UNMIL Radio listeners from across Liberia who are joining us for this live press conference from UNMIL’s headquarters in Monrovia.

We are very pleased to be joined today by the new Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Recovery and Governance, Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma who has recently arrived in Liberia. In a moment I will hand over to Mr. Chuma for him to make opening remarks on some of his first impressions of the achievements, challenges, and priorities facing Liberia as we begin 2013. Mr. Chuma brings with him an impressive track record of senior positions within the United Nations in Africa, the Arab states and also at headquarters in New York. He has served with the UN in Uganda, Mozambique, and Zambia.

In 2008 he was appointed the UN resident coordinator in Kenya, a post he held until most recently. In 2011 Helen Clark the UNDP Administrator appointed Mr. Chuma as a UNDP Representative to the Nairobi headquarters of the UN Environmental Programme and UN Habitat. Mr. Chuma used this position to strengthen the collaboration of the many UN agencies working to support the Delivering as One Initiative. Some of you will recall that the Delivering as One initiative was launched here in Liberia in 2007 to increase the collective impact of the UN families work in Liberia. This initiative enables the UN family to provide development assistance in a far more coordinated way.

So without further ado, can I please welcome Mr. Chuma to make his opening remarks after which we will be happy to take a few questions from journalists gathered here in Monrovia. Thank you so much Mr. Chuma.

Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

Thank you very much indeed Aleem. I want to say good morning, to you and to thank you for finding time to join us on this special occasion. As mentioned by Aleem, I am the new Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General responsible for Recovery and Governance. In particular the consolidation of democratic governance in Liberia.

I have been here for exactly four weeks. This is my fourth week. So I still have a lot to learn about Liberia and I am in the process of talking to my colleagues at the mission and also within the United Nations country team in Liberia and with important government interlocutors, ministers, heads of commissions and other statutory bodies. So it’s still part of the learning process for me. But let me say that I am quite impressed by what I have seen in Liberia, particularly the progress that has been made since the [peace] agreement was signed ten years ago in Accra. Liberia has made remarkable and commendable progress in terms of the democratic transition process of consolidating democracy in the country. You have had two successful elections. We’ve also seen Liberian refugees returning; and we’ve also seen growth in the economy so there has been progress, it has to be acknowledged. It has to be celebrated. Your progress always has to be celebrated. But we have to build on it going forward. Having said that, I want also to acknowledge a point, that the Liberian leadership also acknowledges, which is that there are challenges ahead.

One of the challenges is to consolidate the democratic traditions that have been introduced in Liberia and going forward. This is not an overnight task. It requires due diligence and eternal diligence in making sure that the country doesn’t fall back into the type of strife that wasted a lot of lives and livelihoods and took Liberia backwards.

So this is the challenge; how to continue to build peace, to build stability and to build security in the country; and also how to address the challenges of a young population in terms of employment, in terms of also addressing the poverty. But above all in terms of rebuilding the nation and expanding the economic activities, rehabilitating the infrastructure that was damaged during the strife.

So there has been considerable progress, I want to say that, but there are also challenges that remain and I think the government is fully aware of this. The United Nations mission in Liberia is very happy to contribute towards the consolidation of peace and security and stability also working with the government and building national institutions to be able to continue the work that has begun here. So let me say that, as I mentioned earlier, I am relatively new here. I still have a lot to learn. I am quite impressed by what I have seen, but I also recognize the challenges going forward. I am delighted to be able to join the United Nations Mission in Liberia, which is led by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General ; Ms. Karin Landgren. It’s an excellent team. It has done extremely well and also will lead the United Nations country team in Liberia which has been here for a much longer period than the mission and will continue to be here and continue work very closely with the Government and the people of Liberia.

So let me stop there those are my opening remarks, if I may Aleem and then we can take questions and have a bit of dialogue. One of the things that I would hope for is that you don’t just ask questions but also you give suggestions as well as to where the United Nations can be much more helpful in supporting the journey that Liberia is taking going forward. So thank you very much indeed.

Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)

Thank you so much Mr. Chuma for your brief remarks. It gives us plenty of time to take questions so without further ado can I ask if we have any questions from the journalists gathered here in the press conference in Monrovia? If you’re just joining us on UNMIL radio, you are listening to a live press conference here from Monrovia, with Mr. Chuma, the new Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for UNMIL.


Question and Answers


Q: Alex Zoegar ( Blue Bell News Agency)
You said that since you came you have met with stakeholders including the Government and other partners; you have talked with them in terms of security. What did they tell you? Are they convinced that we can make it on our own after UNMIL pulls out?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

As I mentioned, since I came here, I have been having dialogue with main stakeholders in Liberia including the Government Ministers but also members of civil society and others. That process is not complete; it is still going on in talking to key people.

I think there is a general air of optimism that, for Liberia, the worse is over. That the country has made progress over the last ten years and that progress requires that it be consolidated in going forward. As I mentioned earlier, there is recognition that there is work to be done to consolidate and deepen the peace and also the democratic practices that have introduced into the country. So there is an element of optimism going forward.

There is appreciation of the work that the United Nations has been doing in supporting and bringing peace and stability to Liberia and the expectations also continued collaboration with the United Nations going forward.

Q: Arthur Pia ( Parrot Newspaper)

You talked about addressing poverty and unemployment. What is your own idea and experience when it comes to these issues and addressing them now in Liberia?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

I think I mentioned what I identify as several challenges that Liberia is facing. One of them is unemployment; particularly among young people and poverty associated with lack of income and jobs. The Government has recently launched is its own vision 2030 plan, as you are aware, it also launched its agenda for transformation. And in the agenda for transformation, there are provisions for investment and infrastructure but also investment for job opportunities.

I think the idea is to grow the economy and in the process and in a manner that results in growth in jobs as well; particularly well-paying jobs so that people can address poverty effectively on their own. It is a strategy that the United Nations and other partners support in that respect.

Q: O’Neil Bestman (Truth FM)

Welcome to Liberia. My question has to do with the situation at the Liberia, Ivory Coast border. Recently, Defense Minister pronounced that peace and stability have returned and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) was pulling out of that region. UNMIL has been one of the partners involved in that situation at the border. I want to know from UNMIL own stand point, what is the level of security there now?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

As I said earlier, I have just recently arrived and am trying to study the situation. So bear with me on this one. My understanding is that relative peace has been restored at the border between Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. And you do have joint monitoring and patrols on the border to ensure that peace is secured and deepen.

This is also been established with other borders as well; between Guinea and Liberia, Sierra Leone and Liberia. My understanding is that AFL is withdrawn but also available to return and respond should the situation warrant it. But what is important is that peace continues to be consolidated between the two borders and the communities across the borders going forward.

A lot of these things cannot happen by themselves, they need to be worked continuously. The authorities in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire are being supported by the United Nations on both sides of the border to continue efforts to maintain peace.

Q: O’Neil Bestman (Truth FM)

My next question has to do with the transition process. UNMIL has started the transition process. Very shortly they will be leaving in Foya, Lofa County where they will be handling over some facilities to the Liberia Government. Since the start of this process, what are some of the key challenges that have been identified so far?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

The transition process and what we refer to as the reconfiguration process is an ongoing process. It is based on the analysis of the situation and the assessment of progress that has been made over time and the need to adjust the mission accordingly based on decision of the [UN] Security Council.

If you recall in 2003, the military of the mission was 15,000 since then it is systematically been reconfigured depending on the situation. I want to assure you that the transition is managed in such a manner that peace and security are maintained and provided for and the necessary support provided with entities within the Government of Liberia so that the peace is secured.

Q: What could by your major priority in term of security in the security sector?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

I think the major priority of the mission is defined by the Security Council; specifically resolution 2066. The major priority is to work with Liberian institution to strengthen Liberia institutions that provide security and stability to the country to make sure that are increasingly able to assume the responsibilities; because security is not provided by the Mission alone. It is a responsibility of the Government of Liberia and everybody. The strategy is essentially to work with the Liberia National Police (LNP) and also with AFL, Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) to ensure that they are capacitated and they are able to assume their national responsibilities for Liberia.

Q: Alex Zoegar (Blue Bird News Agency)

In 2003 UNMIL strengthen was 15,000 plus and there have been gradual withdrawal and we are concerned. Since you came, have you been updated with respect to the strength to UNMIL now?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

As I mentioned earlier, at the start of the mission, the force strengthen was estimated at 15,000. This is a very careful assessment that is done by the experts and specialists to determine the force strength that is required. It has to be reviewed on a regular basis and decisions are based on the progress that has been made. And overtime it is been found necessary to adjust the configuration of the mission. It does not applied to military alone; it also applies to the other work we do through civil affairs. It is an ongoing process.

As we speak, I think the force is close to 8,000 going forward. But as I said this is over a period of time. This configuration is not new. It is something that happens in every mission globally and it is based on expert assessment of the situation on the grounds and the requirements that are required by the mission at that point in time.

Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)

Can I just add that the people of Liberia can take confidence in the fact that we are now approaching nearly ten years of unbroken peace in Liberia. That is something that Liberian people can take the credit for. We have seen a significant reduction in the number of UNMIL troops over the last years without that peace having been broken. It time for Liberia to take the credit for that peace. We are continuing our cooperation with the authorities so that peace is maintained as the process moves forward and so Liberia can take charge of its own destiny and future.

Q: Pedesco Toimeh (New Voice Newspaper)

My question is at the end of last year 2012, several institutions; both national and international came out with report on the Government; terming the Government as being corrupt and not leading the Liberia people in the right way. What is UNMIL on this or how will UNMIL grade the Government of Liberia for 2012?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

I think we do have a vibrant press in Liberia; that is one of the things I observed when I came and I congratulate all of you. I think it is excellent to the extent that the press is necessary for development, but also to ensure that those in leadership positions are reminded of their obligation to the population.

Sometimes the coverage is quite dramatic, but otherwise it is quite thoughtful and constructive. UNMIL works with the Government to build institutions and not just UNMIL but also the United Nations Country Team in Liberia. We have provided technical support to the Liberian Anti-corruption Commission but also to the Government Audit Commission. These are all designed to enhance transparency and accountability in Government Institutions. It is an ongoing process.

As far as we are concerned, we will continue to work with the Government and to draw attention to areas concern, but also to build the capacity of its institutions to manage public affairs in that respect.

Q: Fabian Quiah (Power FM/Power TV)

My question is to the Spokesperson, which has to do with an alleged crime some part of last week in Sinkor area. It was alleged that an UNMIL Personnel was involved with some other act of murdering a lady down 12th Street. Can you comment on that because there were reports in the media that said the UNMIL personnel was a Kenyan and then later it said from Uganda. Can you comment on that?

A: Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)

Thank you for your question, because there has been a lot of rumours and speculation which does not help the situation.

Firstly, allow me to say that UNMIL would like to express our deep sympathy and condolences to the family of the deceased victim. UNMIL can confirm that the deceased woman worked as a domestic staff for an International staff member of UNMIL. There is currently a full and thorough investigation ongoing by the LNP and it is essential that the authorities are allowed to follow through with that investigation.

The LNP have arrested and is now investigating a Liberian national with no connection to UNMIL. It is imperative that people refrain from speculation while the LNP conducts that investigation into the incident. And UNMIL stands ready to assist the LNP with that investigation. But we must allow that investigation to continue and for the proper authorities to judge the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident.

Q: Bill Diggs (Insight Newspaper)

My question has to do with the capacity of the Liberian Government. Do you think the Government has done enough preparation to fill in the huge gaps after UNMIL eventually depart from the scene?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

Well, in the reconfiguration the eventual departure of UNMIL is something that is planned for jointly between the mission and the Liberian Government. And the Liberian Government in this sense will include the Liberian institutions responsible for security. As I mentioned earlier, the withdrawal is not dramatic, it is very carefully calibrated. And part of the responsibility of UNMIL is to make sure that enough capacity is developed within the Liberian institutions to assume their rightful responsibility and we believe they have got the political will and capacity to assume responsibility. It is a managed process negotiated and agreed upon between UNMIL and the Government of Liberia.

Q: Veronica Clay (Public Agenda Newspaper)

Mr. Chuma, my question to you is, in terms of the rule of law in Liberia, what will be your priorities?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

The priorities are defined through the Security Council Resolution 2066 and I trust most of you are familiar with it. It is also defined by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia. Then the other priorities relate to consolidating the national reconciliation process to promote and deepen democratic practices, particularly support the constitution making processes and also to support the decentralized governance in that respect. So these are areas we will be working on. But we are also working with institutions that are responsible for rule of law and security in Liberia to ensure that they are strengthened and going forward. So we have multi-faceted priorities going forward.

Q: Mae Azango (Front Page Africa)

My question goes to Mr. Chuma, as UNMIL is drawing down, how many men you plan to have on ground and how many are leaving?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

I think the proper terminology is reconfiguration of the mission rather than drawing down. The reconfiguration is based on the next assessment of progress that has been made and what is required now. So the determination of the numbers is made by that. There is no fixed number of men and women. As I said earlier, in 2003 the military force was up to 15,000. But now it is about 8,000. And as we go forward making progress through certain pre-defined milestone, this number will probably go down. But you will also see an increase in the number of formed police unit and increase in the number of Liberians through the National Police Academy also the AFL and BIN; all those are related to each other.

Let me be also very clear that the United Nations is beyond just the mission. You also have the country team that has been here much longer than the mission, and that works with Liberia on development issues. And that country team is very closely aligned with the work of the mission and will continue to work with Liberia; even beyond the life of the current mission.

So it is important that we do not convey the impression that there will be an abandonment of Liberia. It is just a matter of adjustment based on the determination of the current situation, but in close collaboration and discussion with the Liberian Government.

Q: Jackson Foyofaya (Kings FM/Clar TV)

My question has to do with the issue of the plan for UNMIL 2013 plan. We understand in our security today, especially the AFL, some AFL personnel leaving the barracks with respect with support from the government is lacking. What is UNMIL putting into place for 2013 to curtail all these problems and the support UNMIL is going to be engaged into?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

As I mentioned earlier, our plan for 2013 is determined by the Security Council 2066 and that resolution calls upon UNMIL to work with the Government of Liberia to strengthen the various institutions that provide security and stability in Liberia. These institutions include, Police force, the AFL and BIN. It also includes central institution within government such as the Ministries of Justice, Internal Affairs. So this is a multi-faceted engagement and this is really what we will be working on in the year 2013.

Q: Roland S. R. Joe, Jr. (Liberty Radio)

You have been going on other mission and for this reason you are here because of your experience. Since you came to Liberia, what are some of the strange things you have seen when it comes to security that you have not seen in other missions?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

For the record this is my first mission. I was based in Kenya as the Resident Coordinator focusing largely on development issues. Let me say that there is nothing I find strange here. Every county has its own challenges. What is important is to carry out analysis of what the challenges are and work with the Government to respond to the challenges. All countries are different. We do not have a one size fits all. The mission is based on assessment and analysis undertaken by world class experts and the determination of how the mission could be configured and how we are going to work and respond to national institutions to accomplish the objectives of the mission established by the Security Council.

Q: Moses Garzou (Liberia Broadcasting System)

I have two questions. With your few months you spend in Liberia, what is the unaccomplished mechanism in terms of governance that you see in Liberia.

My second question is, in terms of recovery, Liberia has put in place a vision, “Vision 2030” what is the United Nations own perspective, is it going to help Liberia?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

Let me clarify that I have only been here for four weeks.
What I mentioned is that I think if you look at the life of the mission over the last ten years since the last agreement was signed in Accra, I think there has been commendable progress that has been made in Liberia and that has to be acknowledged but I also mentioned that there are still very serious challenges, challenges of consolidating stability and peace in the country remain, challenges of growing the economy in a manner that will alleviate poverty, challenges of also growing the economy in the manner that will generate jobs particularly for young people.

These are ongoing challenges and the government, of course supported by the international community including the United Nations has developed Vision 2030, it has also developed an Agenda for Transformation which basically addresses all these issues.

Now will this be realized or not? It is not the responsibility of the government alone. The citizens have to play their part. You the media have to play your part and also the private sector and the international community. So everybody has to come together and work so that these objectives are realized. They cannot be realized by themselves. There has to be element of work and investment and optimism going forward.

So I remain optimistic. This is not to say that things are perfect but there is a clear path. I think there have been important milestones. That fact that there has been a second election which was successful and regarded as free and fair, that you see significant numbers of Liberian refugees voluntarily returning to Liberia, that the economy has grown. If you look at the budget three years ago it was a mere $300 million now the budget has doubled to $600 million all these are indicators of confidence in the future. But it cannot happen by itself. People need to work towards this so they can accomplish their goals.

Q: Inaudible question

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

Vision 2030 is attainable, but as I mentioned, it’s not going to happen by itself. There have to be investments through the Agenda for Transformation by the government by the private sector coming forward, by private citizens looking for opportunities and investing in the future.

Q: Fabian Quiah (Power FM/Power TV)
I think UNMIL’s presence entails security and what all Liberians yearn for is peace. Now my question has to do with the situation in Lofa County. If I am not mistaken, I think, the AFL along with UNMIL personnel have begun pulling out of Foya district and I think Lofa County becomes vulnerable in this sense. What becomes of other counties in and around Liberia as it relates to UNMIL’s security?

A: Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)

I am not sure if I understood your question correctly but let me explain what is happening in Foya district. UNMIL peacekeepers have now left Foya district and handed over full security responsibilities to the local authorities.

This is good news for Liberia and all Liberian people. It demonstrates that peace has arrived in Liberia and that Liberian’s can be in charge of their own security. We still maintain peacekeepers in every county of Liberia including in Lofa County. We have peacekeepers in Vonjama and they are conducting daily foot and road patrols to provide the reassurance that local communities need.

But the fact is that peace has arrived in Liberia and the government security forces are now in the lead for security. We have seen nearly ten years of unbroken peace in Liberia. It’s time for Liberia to take the credit for peace but also it’s the responsibility of local communities across Liberia. Every Liberian is a security officer and you have a responsibility to maintain calm and peace and resolve your problems in a peaceful manner so that we can build on the ten years of peace. Development will come if that peace is maintained. So the government has a responsibility. They’re taking those responsibilities seriously, we’re encouraged by their willingness to take on that responsibility, but every Liberian man and woman must take on that responsibility as we move forward.

Q: Veronica Clay (Public Agenda Newspaper)
Mr. Chuma you talk about strengthening the institutions. What are you going to do to strengthen these institutions? Can you tell us please?

A: Mr. Aeneas C. Chuma (DSRSG-R&G)

UNMIL and the United Nations country team essentially work through national institutions including ministries. So we provide capacity building for the institutions themselves including providing training for the institutions themselves. Now this is really a long-term investment that has been going on for a while. So this is how we build institutions so that the Liberian institutions that we work with can assume the responsibilities.

Q: William Hammond (Daily Observer)
My concern has to do with the incident that occurred on 12th Street. Mr. Allen you correctly clarified that this lady was working for an UNMIL official. Can you please identify the official because there has been some confusion about his identity and secondly, upon the occurrence of the incident you said that there was no involvement of an UNMIL official? What investigation did you conduct to come out with this report? And then how will it be when it comes out like this incident was done by an UNMIL official?