HIS EXCELLENCY DR. GEORGE MANNEH WEAH
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA
NATIONAL JUDICIAL CONFERENCE
THE MINISTERIAL COMPLEX
JUNE 10, 2021
The Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia;
The Dean and Members of the Cabinet;
The Doyen and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Other Officials of Government, here present;
Our International Partners;
Members of the Fourth Estate;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is an honor to address this esteemed gathering of Justices, judges and lawyers, although I have to be very careful in what I say here today, so as to avoid being held in contempt.
I have been informed that this gathering includes lawyers and magistrates from all of the 15 political sub-divisions of Liberia. We welcome all of you to Montserrado County.
Let me also extend a special welcome to the President of the ECOWAS Court, His Honor Hannibal Egbe Uwaifo, and to the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, His Honor Nicholas C. Browne Marke. We appreciate your coming to share your experiences with us during this important Conference.
This 4th National Judicial Conference follows upon the National Judicial Conferences of 1973, 1976 and 2010. These Conferences are important to assess the state of the nation’s judiciary, and to examine how the justice system and the rule of law are impacting our national polity. It is my understanding that you have dealt with a range of such legal issues over the last three days.
Your Honor, Mr. Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, let me register my regret for being absent from the official Opening Ceremonies of this Conference, due to my engagement on a County tour in Lofa County. However, I am glad to be able to join you here today for this particular segment of the Conference that concerns the interaction of the judiciary and the business and investment climate.
As the branch of Government constitutionally empowered to interpret the Constitution and the body of statutes enacted by the National Legislature, the Judiciary sits at the center of our society. The law is what the Judiciary says it is, through its court system that goes all the way to our venerable Supreme Court, which ultimately has the final say.
When we read the Constitution and read different statutes, we read plain language written by national stakeholders, policymakers or legislators. When we read the opinion and judgements of judges and Justices, we read the law. So the law is not what is written in our Constitution nor what is written in different pieces of legislation; the law is what the learned judges and justices assembled here today say it is at any given point in time.
Through our justice system, citizens, corporations and other institutions are searching for the knowledge and understanding of what the law is, as they file lawsuits and seek appeals for final judgement at the level of the Supreme Court. How opposing lawyers argue the law, how particular judges interpret the law, the time it takes to get that interpretation and the systems and resources that facilitate adjudication, can influence perceptions of fairness or a sense of justice in our country.
And so to say that Liberia is a just society, we do not turn to the Executive Branch of Government, neither do we turn to the Legislative Branch of Government. Only one branch of Government holds the key to people’S and institutions’ perception and sense of justice in Liberia. That branch is the Judiciary branch of Government.
Your Honor Mr. Chief Justice, Associate Justices and learned counselors and lawyers, the powers you hold in our democracy and over our people are awesome. I am very impressed that you have chosen to assess the impact of this power on our national polity and economy through this Judiciary Conference.
It is also commendable that, on this Fourth day of the conference, you have also chosen to specifically assess how this power may be impacting businesses, corporations and investors.
The business and investment climate in Liberia has been a subject of great importance in recent years. Our drive to provide jobs for our people and to grow our economy by increasing the flow of both domestic and private investments are all dependent on the structure of our business climate. That very structure depends on the body of laws and policies which we have in place to regulate the free flow of investments and commerce, the process and time it takes to resolve legal disputes arising from the application of these laws, and the sense or perception of justice that arises from this adjudication process.
This very structure of our business and investment climate has been our concern since taking office. In October 2018, the Government established a Business Climate Working Group to look into ways of improving the business climate in Liberia. The series of workshops and meetings across the Government and with Development Partners and other stakeholders have identified key challenges affecting the business climate and opportunities for improving it.
These challenges are largely summarized by the World Bank’s Doing Business Indicators, which include indicators such as: starting a business, getting electricity, getting credit, paying taxes, enforcing contracts, registering property, protecting minority investors, trading across border, and resolving insolvency.
In this regard, I am informed that Liberia ranks 175 out of 190 countries, that our neighbor Sierra Leone ranks 163 out of 190 and that Cote d’Ivoire, our other neighbor, ranks 118 out of 190 countries. This indicates that we as a Government and country have some serious work to do. Today at this Conference, you the Judiciary will be looking at your contribution to changing these numbers through the application of the law, in key areas such as enforcing contracts, resolving insolvency, getting credit.
The Executive stands in partnership with you as we seek to overhaul business processes and simplify them. Accordingly, I will shortly appoint a high-level Cabinet sub-committee on the investment and business climate. This Committee will be chaired by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, and will include the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Liberia Revenue Authority, the National Investment Commission, the Liberia Business Registry, the Liberia Electricity Corporation and other agencies as may be necessary.
This cabinet sub-committee will be tasked to present a roadmap after this Judiciary Conference that will track the recommended actions and changes needed for improvement. The Committee will be required to present a report in six months to show credible progress on the business climate in a range of areas.
Mr. Chief Justice, you will agree with me that if we make it difficult for businesses to register, to get electricity, or to pay their taxes, we affect the economy. If businesses cannot get timely legal redress from the courts, or if contracts cannot be effectively or fairly enforced, we affect the investment climate. If commercial banks cannot enforce judgement on collateral when people default on their loans, these banks may not be able to lend money into our economy.
I therefore urge you to let us work together as a Government to re-brand Liberia through impressive reforms and actions affecting the business climate. I have no doubt that this Conference will contribute meaningfully toward this end.
If the law is the problem, then let us reform the law. If processes and systems are the problem, let us change those processes. If the lack of funding is a problem, let us find ways to provide more resources. If certain people are the problem because, for selfish motives, they stand in the way of fair and transparent processes, then let us kick those people out of our systems to improve our investment and business climate.
These are the actions we will expect to see following this important Conference. Let me use this opportunity to say a big thank you to our international partners who continue to stand with us to transform our country. I ask them for a stronger partnership as we aim to transform our business and investment climate.
Let me leave you with the words of the legendary Nelson Mandela, the Madiba.
“When people are determined they can overcome anything.”
We stand here today to declare the collective determination of my Government to improve and re-brand our business climate. No bar will be too high to climb.
I thank you.