2 November 2012

Liberia: Bracing for President Sirleaf's Cabinet Shakeup

Photo: Liberia Government
Members of the Liberian cabinet at a retreat.


It can not be gainsaid that presidential appointees, including cabinet ministers, managing directors and their principal duties and assistants, are on ice right now following declarations Monday by the Executive Mansion that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will "very soon" take a number of presidential actions ranging from transfers and reshuffles to dismissals." A presidential spokesperson said the actions are meant to enhance effectiveness, efficiency and productivity. Without a clear (or pre-agreed upon) definition of these words, appointed officials of Government are surely bracing themselves, not sure what their fate would be. The public is also not sure who will go, who will leave or who will be recycled.

The forward shake up comes amid huge public outcry about hardship and the slow pace of development. Recently, an independent media watchdog group, the Liberia Media Center, released Government's scorecard on its 150-Day Deliverables which it found to be appalling. Besides the theoretical scrutiny of the Government's performance, there is the individual citizen's physical experience with the state of things—hunger, disease, unemployment, insecurity, bad roads and streets, unsafe drinking water, amongst. Amid impressive macroeconomic statistics—6.5 percent growth rate, billions of United States Dollars in negotiated concessions, over six hundred million national budget, etc—a lot of citizens, perhaps including noncitizens, are struggling to get answers on the impact of the statistics. Most Liberians are still eking out a living.

President Sirleaf's promised cabinet shakeup, expressly intended to enhance efficiency and productivity is, in part, a euphemism for, if not an admittance of, painfully slow progress in addressing the deep-rooted aspirations of the people she is elected to serve. And the President has responsibility, politically and morally, to improve the living standard of the bulk of the people not only because she is the President of this post-conflict Republic, but also because she's on record for criticizing past failed leaders and for advocating better governmental service for Liberians. When the President organized her cabinet, whether it was in 2006 or 2012, she must have done so deliberately to uphold public trust related to the job and defend her pre-presidential advocacy record. Individual Liberians by their appointment in Government share the President's overall responsibility to the State, since the President cannot serve the nation as the President and at the same time carry out the duties and functions of a Minister, Managing Director, head of Commissions, etc.

Perhaps thinking that subjecting every presidential appointee to signing a "Performance Contract" would do the trick—stimulate every public official to go extra mile on the job to give the people of Liberia better service—it seems the new effort only helps the President spot the best and worst performers in government and to draw up a new cabinet; something she is now announcing to do "very soon". As it stands, without knowing the exact definitions of "efficiency, effectiveness and productivity" which the President's shakeup action strive to achieve, the gist of the meanings will come from what she finally does: those who will remain in government, server and switch around.

Aonsthe nati, particularly appointed officials of government, wallows in the seas of uncertainty and trepidation in anticipation of the shakeup, there are questions springing out amongst pundits and commentators who closely followed Government's operations. Amongst the concerns is how the President will reconstruct the cabinet in view of surging nepotism criticism on the one hand and her Party, the Unity Party's acrimony bordering its marginalization from having a say in who comes into Government on the other. While there is no doubt about the President's constitutional responsibility to appoint, dismiss, suspend, and transfer public officials, the two aforementioned concerns raise credibility question for the President who not only badmouthed her predecessors on bad governance, including nepotism but also a product of political institution she openly vowed to respect and mainstream in her presidential actions.

Should we expect the newcomers that are to join Government to come from the Sirleaf stock and those close to that line of birth? Are more "repatriated bureaucrats" expected? And will the Unity Party, consistent with its Bylaws and Constitution, be given the deference to have a say settling on names that would come to Government? Or will they be brushed aside in the name of some "clear constitutional prerogatives"? The nation braces to see what the President does finally.

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