26 August 2014

Liberia: 'Iron Lady' Redux? Massive Gov't Dismissals Loom Over Ebola

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

In what some Executive Mansion insiders are describing as retro "Iron Lady", Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf announced the dismissal of all senior and junior level members of her administration currently out of the Liberia in the wake of the deadly Ebola outbreak.

Late Monday evening, Sirleaf's office issued a directive regarding restrictions on travel of government officials, including their return within a week for those who were out of the country.

"The Liberian leader has directed that all officials occupying ministerial level positions or equivalent (senior and junior), Managing Directors, Deputy/Assistant Directors or equivalent, Commissioners, etc., who violated the orders are hereby relieved of their positions," the Executive Mansion statement said.

Some Granted Excuses

The directive added that all public servants, not occupying ministerial level positions, but are holding important public offices will be removed from the payroll until their return.

"It should be noted, however, that special authorization was granted to a few with doctor evidence of urgent and specialized medical treatment; while the same applies to very few who were directed by President Sirleaf to undertake specific critical assignments. The below are covered under this category: Cllr. Seward Cooper, Madam Yusador Gray; Mr. Richelieu A. Williams; Cllr. James Verdier; Madam Cyvette Gibson; Dr. Amos Sawyer; Mrs. Rosetta Jackollie.

The President has also directed that all government officials who are recognized by the National Elections Commission (NEC) as provincial candidates during the upcoming senatorial elections be relieved of their positions immediately upon the release of NEC's final candidate listing. The directive noted that the President commended and appreciates all government officials and senior level public servants who observed the orders and returned to join the fight against deadly Ebola virus disease.

NIC Chair Resign

The decision comes in the wake of the recent resignation of Mr. Michael Wotorson, Chairman of the National Investment Commission. Executive Mansion sources say the President is quietly expressing her disappointment to some aides about the timing of Wotorson's resignation. Wotorson contacted for clarity by FrontPageAfrica, confirmed his exit citing "personal and family reasons".

In a note to his colleagues in the Cabinet obtained by FrontPageAfrica, Wotorson wrote: "It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you of my decision to step down as Chairman of the National Investment Commission. This was a difficult decision for me, but it was the right one for me and for my family. Thank you for your support of the NIC during my tenure. I wish you all the very best and I hope you will continue your collaboration with the wonderful professionals at the NIC."

Wotorson has reportedly offered to stay on for a couple of months to help with the transition, but sources say, he may not get that chance as the President is contemplating naming one of her trusted aide and rising star, Mr. Gyude Moore as acting in the position. Moore is currently the ‎Deputy Chief of Staff and Head of the Program Delivery Unit at Executive Office of the President.

Ironically, Wotorson was a member of the recent Liberian delegation led by Vice President Joseph Boakai to the White House Africa Summit hosted by President Barrack Obama. Several other members of that delegation, including Gender and Development Minister Julia Duncan Cassel and Foreign Affairs Minister Augustine Ngafuan have since returned home.

Wotorson's resignation has drawn criticisms from many in the Cabinet who are slamming him for abandoning the country in a time of crisis when he should be weathering the storm as the government's chief investment manager. More importantly, some government insiders say, it was unfair for Wotorson to resign while on a government assignment and in the wake of a major health crisis.

FrontPageAfrica has also learned that Ms. Wheatonia Dixon Barnes, Deputy Minister of Justice for Administration, currently in the U.S. is also one of those to be affected as is the head of the country's Supreme Audit Institution, the General Auditing Commission of Liberia, Yusador Gaye, who is said to be out of the country. GAC boss Gaye in a memorandum posted on the institution's bulletin board stated that she has taken 21 days leave and will remain in the United States until August 31.

The Ebola incubation period is 21 days.

Mr. Archie Williams, head of the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA) who has been away for several weeks has now been granted excuse.Some aides have said that Mr. Williams has been undergoing a serious medical procedure in the U.S.

Sirleaf, last week instructed all government officials currently out of the country, whether in government or private visit, to return home within a week or be considered as abandoning their jobs. The President urged all government officials of the Executive Branch to take due note of this directive. The President did not say what would happen. The president said the only exemptions are those with serious health excuse.

Interestingly, an Executive Mansion source told FrontPageAfrica recently that since the President issued the mandate, her office has been bombarded with a flurry of calls from officials seeking exemptions. "All of a sudden everybody was writing the President is asking for sick leave. How would that many people be sick at the same time," the source said.

The source also noted that the President will be following up on her mandate and is expected to keep tabs of all ministries and agencies for those still out and who have returned home.

FPA has now learned that it was during those follow-ups that it became clear that many of those currently in the U.S. Had no intentions of returning partly due to pressure from families and friends, unsure how the Ebola outbreak will turn. The President's decision came in the aftermath of some encouraging words from Sudanese born billionaire Mo Ibrahim, who hailed the President for staying home in the wake of the Ebola crisis.

Ibrahim's foundation focuses on the critical importance of leadership and governance in Africa, was speaking at the sidelines of President Barack Obama's White House Summit recently when he declared that African leaders, making specific reference to President Sirleaf should find another way of connecting with other foreign governments rather than boarding the next available flight whenever they are sent an invitation to attend a summit or meeting.

Dr. Amos Sawyer/PHOTO

FrontPageAfrica has learned that some officials, including the chair of the National Oil Company of Liberia, Dr. Randolph McClain had requests to travel rejected by the President. NOCAL recently submitted a letter to FrontPageAfrica offering clarity on an August 13, 2014 report captioned: 'Who Falls in Trouble President Sirleaf's Mandate? - TRAVEL BAN DRAGNET.' NOCAL took exception to the mention of Cllr. Seward Cooper, Chair of NOCAL Board in particular.

According to NOCAL, the chairman of the board of NOCAL left the country in early August as part of the Vice President's delegation to attend the just ended US-Africa summit held in Washington, DC. Further, Cllr. Cooper is a key participant in the Road Shows of the 2014 Bid Round scheduled for August 19 in London, the United Kingdom and August 21 in Houston, Texas, the United States of America.

Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan, Gender Minister Julia Duncan Cassell and a number of other officials who were also part of the delegation to the White House summit, returned home last week. The summit took place from August 4-6 2014.

FrontPageAfrica has learned that although NOCAL made the announcement of the bid, TGS NOPEC which provides global geo-scientific data products and services to the oil and gas industry to assist with licensing rounds and the preparation of regional data programs, is facilitating the bid rounds in London and does not require the presence of the CEO or board chair. He has however been granted an excuse by the President. An Executive Mansion source had previously said the Cooper's trip was not approved by the President.

In the wake of a major Ebola outbreak, the government is under serious strains and in need of all of its essential officials on board to help the president steer her government out of the catastrophe which has so far killed more 1, 227 persons in the Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Aides to some of those officials still out say, they may be experiencing problems getting flights back into Monrovia, because there aren't enough flights flying into Liberia at the moment. Kenya Airways made its last pickup out of Monrovia Monday. Only Royal Air Maroc is left. Delta's last flight is August 30 and SN Brussels announced cancellation over the weekend due to pressure from Dakar, Senegal which has banned flights over the deadly Ebola outbreak.

One Executive Mansion source pointed out Monday that Wotorson's resignation and potential exits by Barnes and Gaye is spurring speculations that a wave of officials are poised to leave Sirleaf in the cold just when she needs them most.

An exodus of officials during this crucial chapter of the Sirleaf presidency would no doubt dampen an already fragile environment and give her critics and international political observers more food for thought and ammunitions in what is rapidly turning into a recurring state of uncertainty.

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