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REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY DR. GEORGE MANNEH WEAH PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA AT THE LAUNCH OF THE THE NATIONAL FUND DRIVE FOR THE REHABILITATION AND EMPOWERMENT OF AT-RISK YOUTH THE ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF MINISTERIAL COMPLEX OLDEST CONGO TOWN MON
REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY DR. GEORGE MANNEH WEAH PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA AT THE LAUNCH OF THE THE NATIONAL FUND DRIVE FOR THE REHABILITATION AND EMPOWERMENT OF AT-RISK YOUTH THE ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF MINISTERIAL COMPLEX OLDEST CONGO TOWN MONROVIA, LIBERIA JUNE 30, 2022 Her Excellency Chief Dr. Jewel Howard Taylor, Vice President of the Republic of Liberia; The Speaker, President pro-Tempore, and Honorable Members of the 54th Legislature; The Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia; The Dean and Members of the Cabinet; The Executive Director of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency; The Executive Director of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation & Resettlement Commission; Other Officials of Government here present; The Doyen and Members of the Diplomatic Corps; The United Nations Resident Coordinator; and the United Nations Agencies in Liberia; Our International Partners, especially the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund; Heads of other International Organizations and Non-Governmental Agencies; Members of the Business Community; Members of the Fourth Estate; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen: I would like to thank all of you for joining me here today as I launch this National Fund Drive for the Rehabilitation and Empowerment of the At-Risk Youth of Liberia, under the theme: “RECLAIMING OUR YOUTH FOR A BETTER LIBERIA” The youth of Liberia are a constant concern of mine, as I remain unrelentingly committed to their general well-being and welfare, and to providing them the necessary facilities for their educational advancement, so that they are better equipped to take advantage of the economic opportunities available in our society for them to become productive citizens. Over the years since my incumbency, this commitment to our young people has been manifested in many improvements in our educational infrastructure, policies, and programs at all levels, including elementary, secondary, college, and university, as well as vocational. And we will continue to invest in our youth, in spite of scarce resources and competing demands, because they are Liberia’s future. Our youth are the largest and most important demographic stratum of our population, and we have an important duty to prepare them to achieve their aspirations and become as qualified as possible, so that they can effectively compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world. However, for far too long, Liberia has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of certain members of our youth population who live on the streets and in our urban ghettos. Most of them were affected by the long years of our civil conflict, during which they were conscripted as child soldiers by various warring factions and introduced to drugs and other harmful substances. Again, some of them were orphaned by the death or disappearance of their parents during the civil wars, and the destruction of their traditional family structures. They are the human collateral damage that is one of the unintended consequences of a war that was anything but civil. Some estimates place their number as more than 130,000, spread throughout Liberia. Since the end of the conflict almost two decades ago, certain historical and structural lapses within our governance processes have placed these youths at societal risk, and they have turned to drugs and other ill habits for their mere survival and sustenance. With no education and no training, they are not only unemployed, but unemployable. As such, these unfortunate At-Risk youths represent a clear and present danger not only to themselves, but also to the entire socio-economic fabric of our Nation. Continued neglect of their plight can rapidly develop into a significant threat to civil society and to national security. This threat of imminent danger will continue to grow in size and scope if these potentially valuable human assets are not reclaimed and redeemed and transformed into law-abiding citizens whose education and skills-sets will enable them to have a reasonable chance of re-integrating into the larger society as productive, self-sufficient, and self-sustaining citizens. DISTINGUISHED LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I promised during my campaign for the presidency that youth development would be one of my priorities, and that young people will be prepared so that they can have a place in our society as productive citizens. Over the years, I have give strong instructions to the Ministry of Youth and Sports to ensure the well-being of our young people, most especially the vulnerable youth population commonly known as "Zogos". In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the valuable collaboration and sponsorship of the "Socio Economic Empowerment of Disadvantaged Youth (SEED) project by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nation Development Program (UNDP) and other partners, which transformed the lives of more than 500 At-Risk-Youth. I am excited today, therefore, to kick-start a series of national transformative measures under my administration to orientate, rehabilitate, and build the capacities of our At-Risk-Youth, through skills-based vocational training, as well as economically empowering them through jobs and business opportunities. After piloting and assessing the success of the SEED project, my Government has endorsed a plan by the Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee and the One UN System for an At-Risk-Youth Empowerment Program that will further rehabilitate and empower the At-Risk-Youth population of our country. Amongst other things, the program will fully rehabilitate all physical structures of the Bensonville Youth Agriculture Training Center. It will also support the construction of new modern structures to meet the program's objectives of hosting our At-Risk-Youth to rehabilitate them through detoxification and psycho-social counseling. Their will also be further emphasis on family re-integration, TVET skills acquisition, and economic empowerment through the provision of business start-up. While my Administration is focused on the objectives of this program, it is also important that additional measures are put into place to stop the channels through which our youth are being exposed to drugs and narcotic substance abuses. I am therefore calling on all agencies of Government, including the Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency, and the Liberia National Police through the Ministry of Justice, to ensure that the applicable laws are fully enforced to discourage the sale of drugs within our communities and within the country at large. Additionally, I am calling on the National Legislature, especially the Senate, to make whatever modification there needs to be made to amend our existing drug laws to make drug trafficking a non-bailable offense. I also want to call on the Judiciary to also strengthen the judiciary system to ensure stringent interpretation of our laws to assure deterrence. By doing so, those who are responsible for creating avenues for putting the lives of our At-Risk-Youth into danger, will be held accountable for their actions to the fullest extent of the law. DISTINGUISHED LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: This program will require a significant financial investment. The initial set of interventions is costed at approximately US$13.9 Million United States Dollars. That is why the Development Partners, including the United Nation System, the World Bank, African Development Bank, IMF, the Diplomatic Corps and businesses are graciously collaborating with the Government to raise the financial capital needed for the successful implementation of this program. While working with our Partners to raise this amount, I believe that the unfortunate circumstances affecting our youth is a national problem that warrants the input and contribution from every segment of our country. I further believe that, working together as a People with One Purpose and a Common Direction and Destiny to give hope to our youth, we can achieve anything. That is why I am calling on all Liberians at home and abroad, the business community, the civil society and the friends of Liberia to join the Government in this endeavor to raise this amount to give our At-Risk-Youth new hope of a dignified livelihood. In the spirit of national unity towards raising this amount, it is my honor to launch this National Fund Drive for the Rehabilitation and Empowerment of our At-Risk-Youth (Zogoes) under the theme: Reclaiming our Youth for a Better Liberia. To kick-start the fund drive, my Government will contribute an initial amount of One Million United States Dollars this year, with an additional Two Million United States Dollars to be appropriated within the subsequent budget for this program. Let us begin this fund drive with the expectation that all subsequent speakers and Liberians and friends of Liberia from all walks of life will contribute to its success. I thank you!