30 January 2014

Liberia: In Public Works Ministry Transfer Saga - Who Is Wrong?

Photo: Liberia Government
President Sirleaf and members of her cabinet (file photo):

Monrovia — A painstaking investigation conducted by the Heritage has established that the ongoing transfer of several employees and high ranking staff of the Ministry of Public Works by the current Minister, Dr. Antoinette Weeks, is not being done in consultation with some of her principal deputies as well as the Civil Servants Agency (CSA).

Dr. Weeks was appointed as Public Works Minister in July of last year. Her appointment followed the unprecedented resignation of Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods. Woods was credited by many Liberians, including his former boss, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for his commitment and hard work while serving as the Minister of Public Works.

According to best practice, in order to transfer key senior staff from one department to another, the Minister Proper must consult her key deputies and authorities of the CSA before carrying out the transfer.

The investigation by the Heritage was triggered by mixed reactions from the public regarding the transfer saga at the nation's works ministry, with some members of the public backing the ongoing transfer being embarked upon by Minister Weeks, while others have termed her action as not only "unilateral", but imprudent.

Those who are supporting Minister Weeks' action have averred that her predecessor, Woods took similar action when he took over the mantle of authority at the Work's Ministry and so there is nothing wrong with her stance.

It could be recalled that on Wednesday, January 29, 2014, some supporters of the current Minister justified what has been described as her "unilateral" transfer action of five senior staff of the Ministry of Public Works.

Speaking during two separate radio talk shows on Fabric Radio and Truth FM, some of her supporters remarked: "The woman is right, because her predecessor did similar thing. He brought his comptroller and Procurement Director."

But cogent document in the possession of this paper reveals that, unlike Dr. Weeks, Woods' transfer action was backed by recommendation contained in the General Auditing Commission (GAC) audit report FY 06/07, urging President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to consider reforms at the ministry.

As a demonstration of the President's commitment of a vibrant and reformed Public Works Ministry, the document further reveals that the Liberian leader wrote Minister Woods.

The letter, dated September 20, 2009 with reference EJS/MOS/RL859/09 reads: "Dear Minister Woods; The General Auditing Commission concluded and submitted audit report on the Ministry of Public Works for the year 2006/2007. Attached is summary of the issues and recommendations from the report as compiled by the Ministry of State."

"As you know, in order to meet the required benchmark under the HIPIC Program a second year audit of the Ministry is to be undertaken. We hope that you will find the summary useful in taking the many corrective actions suggested so that the second year's report can show marked improvement.

You may also want to take a serious look at the qualification and performance of your financial management team, particularly in the Controller and Procurement function. Now is the time to make the hard decisions and changes that are necessary," the President's letter concludes.

The GAC report recommended internal control measures over financial accounting and reporting.

The GAC also highlighted the absence of financial regulations and lack of procedural manual and monitoring mechanisms. It went further to say that the Ministry operated without any financial regulations or procedure to govern its operations.

Recommendations for internal control measures, the GAC report recommended the need to reconcile and coordinate procedures and controls between the MPW and Finance Ministry.

During the period under review FY 06/07, the GAC also recommended for a well-functioning Internal Audit Section, adoption of accounting policy, strengthening of the record keeping system, update of assets registry.

The GAC report, at the same time, stressed the need for the Minister proper to abstain from operational duties of approving routine transactions, and that the Minister should focus more on strategic direction and operational functions.

According to inside sources, the recommendations were implemented by former Minister Woods in collaboration with Liberia Institute of Public Administration (LIPA) and CSA, which saw the overhauling of the financial division, communications department, internal audit, human resource and Monitoring and Evaluation divisions.

Against this backdrop, our investigation further established that the then Deputy Minister for Administration, Johnson N. Gwaikolo in a letter referenced JNG-DMA/MPW-RL/016/'09 and dated August 21, 2009 requested the former Director General of the CSA, Dr. C. William Allen, to transfer Mr. Abraham B. Samukai and B. Wion Kanteah from the Ministry of Labor to perform as Financial Comptroller and Director of Procurement respectively at the Ministry of Public Works.

Our investigation also divulges that the transfer request to Dr. Allen was done in consultation with the former Minister of Labor, Cllr. Tiawon Gogloe.

However, it is not clear as to whether Dr. Allen consented to the transfer request made by Hon. Johnson.

But another document in our possession makes known that Dr. Allen replied to a letter of waiver of Civil Service Test for Mr. Abraham Samukai, Controller and Mr. B. Wion Kanteah, Director of Procurement.

The Liberian first female Minister of Public Works condemned some of the works done by her predecessor during her confirmation hearings at the Legislature, something some observes termed as unfair and unwarranted.

President Johnson-Sirleaf is on record of telling Dr. Weeks in the face that she(Sirleaf) has not seen her "foot print" since she took over the Ministry.

It can be recalled that in December of last year, Dr. Weeks transferred 11 staff from the Minister office, terming them as "Kofi Woods' loyalists".

That transfer as far as public record is concerned, was the highest transfer since the inception of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf led administration in 2006 by a single Minister of government.

Dr. Weeks, without consultation, again came back on January 24, 2014 to transfer 5 senior staff, the Comptroller, Deputy Comptroller, Director of Procurement Logistician and Director of Human Resource, a decision that has drawn public attention on the Public Works Ministry.

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