Liberia: How Marginalization, Vetting Suggestions Breach Contributed to Jnb's Appointment Wahala

Senator Prince Johnson on the campaign trail

Monrovia — Senator Prince Johnson, the former warlord and self-proclaimed godfather of vote-rich Nimba County believes he and his county, are entitled to at least five to seven ministerial posts; Lusinee Kamara's Muslim-dominated, All Liberia Coalition Party (ALCOP) which also endorsed the Boakai presidency in the second round is also advocating for a sizeable number of ministerial and lower-level positions in the JNB administration.

Rings a bell?

Not since the Charles Gyude Bryant's National Transitional Government era has Liberia seen so many factions eyeing so many jobs in a country of five million inhabitants.

Everybody Eyeing Government Jobs

What makes this time around so different is the fact that the president's own ruling Unity Party, led by party chair, Luther Tarpeh, is also making noise and clamoring over the lack of appointments to some of its foot soldiers who also say, they made immense contributions to the election of President Boakai.

Last week, Tarpeh and some supporters of the party assembled near the President's home, to inquire why Tarpeh and other partisans have not been appointed so far.

Ironically, the rally came shortly after the President named Sekou Dukuly as head of the National Port Authority, a job Tarpeh himself was eyeing along with nearly a dozen others.

According to Tarpeh, the lack of appointment for he and others is a betrayal of the revolution that brought President Boakai to power. "Calling on the ordinary people who brought about this revolution for your upliftment and no human born of a woman will hijack this revolution." Rev. Tarpeh emphasized. "People made that strive with their own lives, they made it for their families, most of you in this not for yourselves, it's for your children's children you are in this for - and it is too early for people who did not witness what happened." Rev. Tarpeh wondered: "Where were they when we were in the pupu water?

Tarpeh, who lost his house in a fire during the presidential campaign averred: "Some of you lost everything. I am here; I lost my house, and I nearly lost my family for this same JNB presidency. Now that he's President, we will want him to succeed. It is too early. I know how you feel but it is also your right to go there and tell him how you people are feeling."

The consequences of political endorsements without written agreements are often tricky and could lead to what is unfolding right now within the Unity Party, now posing a serious dilemma for President Boakai.

While campaigning for votes, Mr. Boakai expressed a commitment to form an inclusive government once elected as President. The Unity Party leader acknowledged that it is impossible to find all the best minds and talents within a single party to build and develop Liberia.

Said Mr. Boakai: "One thing I know very well is that all the talents and ideas we need to rebuild our country cannot be found within a single party, tribe, county, region, or religion. That's why I am committed to forming a government of inclusion. We will establish a government that truly reflects the political, ethnic, regional, religious, and gender diversity of our country. We will create a government where a Liberian's true worth is not determined by loyalty to a party but by loyalty to the country, as well as their ability and willingness to contribute to our nation's progress."

Uneven Distribution of Jobs

Heading into the first month in office, President Boakai is finding out that the rhetoric from the campaign trail is now being put to test. More importantly, the ongoing saga is undermining the President's own quest for a 100-day deliverable.

Now, key figures like Senator Prince Johnson are issuing threats and making demands, using his pulpit Sunday to express his discontent, saying that he expects President Boakai to know better rather than "marginalizing partisans of the Movement of Democratic and Reconstruction."

Said Senator Johnson: "Nimba County deserves five to seven ministerial positions in the Boakai's administration, but it's saddened that only one cabinet position has been awarded to us (Nimbians)," he said.

Senator Johnson says President Boakai's administration is clouded and characterized by "strange people" whom he said did not labor to make Boakai president. "You can't discredit the role played by Nimba; we should be prioritized. We need four to five ministers. If Bomi County can get three, Bassa can get four, we need five or seven," Sen. Johnson said.

Last week, former Finance Minister Amara Konneh, now a Senator for Gparbolu County reminded President Boakai about his campaign promises against the backdrop of what he has announced so far.

Minister Konneh, in a Facebook post noted that the President has so far appointed 15 Ministers to head Ministries including two ministers of state without portfolio. To date, Lofa has 5 (29.4%), Bong has 4 (23.5%), Bassa, Bomi, and Nimba have 2 each (35.3%) while Cape Mount and Sinoe have one each (11.7%). Lofa - MoCI, MoE, MoYS, MIA, MoSWP Bong- MPW, MoA, MoSWP, MoGCSP Bomi- MFDP, MoT Bassa- MoH, MICAT Nimba- MoJ, MoD Sinoe- MoS Cape Mount- MFA 15 of 18 cabinet ministers (83.3% of cabinet positions) appointed from 7 of 15 counties (46.6% of counties).

With three cabinet ministerial appointments remaining (Mines and Energy, Labor and Post and Telecommunications), Konneh says eight counties - (Gbarpolu, Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Kru, Rivercess, Grand Gedeh, Maryland, and Rivergee) are without Ministerial posts. He won Gbarpolu and Margibi in both rounds of the elections, and Montserrado in the runoff.

According to Konneh, the President promised a Minister from each county - and that has not happened. "Clearly, this promise will not be fulfilled. Of the 15 Cabinet ministers appointed so far, there is only one Muslim, Mamaka Bility. ~ The Southeast which has six counties (Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, Maryland, Grand Kru, Rivergee, and Rivercess) has received only one Ministerial appointment. ~ Five counties (Lofa, Bong, Bassa, Nimba, and Bomi) account for 88.2% of all cabinet appointments so far. Those of us who supported President Boakai must remind him of his promises quietly and publicly when it becomes necessary to help him deliver the promises he made when he campaigned for President. Change means change!"

Suggestions Ignored

Ironically, right after his election President reportedly received endless suggestions about how to avoid the repeat of the past, where president's appointed unknown and controversial personalities into key and strategic government positions.

Former Auditor General John Morlu cautioned President Boakai against making appointments until a comprehensive structure and framework are established and appointees thoroughly vetted.

At the time, Mr. Morlu noted that the President-Elect Boakai represents the country's last and best opportunity to shape this new Liberia, because his decision-making is characterized by firmness, quiet resolve, thoughtful consideration, and reason.

Mr. Morlu pointed out that in departing from the practices of the past 176 years, appointments should not be made haphazardly, rather, there should be a concerted effort to professionalize the process, steering away from the creation of mere lists. "Regrettably, many individuals are fixated on securing lucrative positions without delving into understanding Joe Boakai's vision, values, corporate culture, and the legacy he aims to build. This highlights the urgency for a shift towards professionalism in our approach to employment," former Auditor General Morlu stated.

Said Mr. Morlu: "Pressure should not be unjustly imposed on Joe Boakai. A staggering 90% of the government lacks clear Terms of Reference (ToR). It is essential to cultivate a mission-driven culture with robust ToRs. A simple Google search reveals that ToRs are a top concern for Liberians. With over 2000 calls and texts expressing dissatisfaction with the absence of job descriptions, it is evident that people are yearning for clarity. Establishing a strong and competent Director General, along with capable individuals at the Civil Service Agency, is pivotal to fostering a transparent and efficient government," he asserted.

Mr. Morlu also alarmed about a past incident in the former administration of President Ellen Johnson when then Civil Service Agency Director, Dr. William Allen, adamantly opposed supporting the GAC's vital efforts to persuade President Sirleaf to implement background checks for political appointees and civil servants, particularly those entering through the UNDP Token program.

Mr. Morlu asserts that Allen's contentious refusal fueled his GAC-led proactive initiative, propelled by the urgency revealed when we uncovered President Sirleaf's dismissal of her appointed Comptroller General, Gregory Momo Johnson, for alleged corrupt practices--a dismissal strongly advocated by former Finance Minister, Dr. Antoinette Sayeh.

Unlearned Lessons from the Past

Shockingly, Mr. Morlu says, Dr. Allen then recommended Johnson as Deputy Auditor General, oblivious to Johnson's prior dismissal and the exposure of a fake MBA from a notorious diploma mill.

The saga, according to Mr. Morlu continued as audits revealed Mr. Johnson employed as a "consultant" at NASSCORP, only to find him later in a similar role with the County Development Fund.

In response to these alarming revelations, Morlu says the GAC led extensive research on individual appointees, culminating in the establishment of a robust Labor Qualification Department at the GAC. "This innovative department made qualification reviews an indispensable part of audits, effectively compensating for the CSA's reluctance to contribute to background checks. As seasoned fraud examiners, we underscored the critical role of preventing qualification fraud as a pivotal strategy in the ongoing battle against corruption. Unqualified individuals pose a heightened risk for engaging in fraudulent activities, and our measures aimed to mitigate this risk."

Mr. Morlu has advocate for stringent pre-appointment procedures, stipulating the following:

1. Mandatory, meticulous background checks: Encompassing experience, education, and credentials must be conducted. Individuals found falsifying their resumes should face a categorical ban from government employment. Although the process incurs a cost of $25 per person, the investment is indisputably justified.

2. Rigorous cross-checks with integrity institutions: In Liberia and around the world should be undertaken to ascertain whether individuals have been implicated in their respective reports for fraud and corruption. If any such implication surfaces, these matters must be resolved before considering their appointments. In cases where resolution is unattainable, the President must refrain from nominating such individuals.

3. Anti-fraud, anti-waste, and anti-abuse of office training: All appointed officials and civil servants should undergo a 3-day program, accompanied by signing an integrity pledge. We emphasize that thorough vetting and background checks are non-negotiable to prevent the recurrence of appointing individuals with dubious histories into pivotal government roles. Proactive prevention far outweighs the challenges of investigative endeavors post-appointment. Drawing on our best practices, where every employee undergoes comprehensive background and reference checks, we urge the Liberian government, led by GAC and CSA, to adopt these stringent measures. Such measures are not just safeguards for public resources but crucial steps toward ensuring the rightful placement of individuals, thereby mitigating the risk of gross negligence--a dire issue that has persisted for over 170 years. It is our firm belief that this era of mismanagement should conclude with the Weah government. Joe Boakai's administration should symbolize a fresh start--an era characterized by transparency, accountability, and an unwavering commitment to eradicating corruption from its roots. Please share!!!

Eyeing Character, Experience

For his part, former Finance Minister Konneh has been critical, declaring that President Joe Boakai ran a "rescue" campaign and Liberians voted for change. "We labored hard and successfully prevented an election heist to give the people the change they wanted. The measure of leadership competencies to "rescue" Liberia must be gold standards - nothing more, nothing less."

Shortly after the President's election, Senator Konneh said he in particular would be looking for the following:

1. Character - who they are; their honesty, conduct, and discretion must be above reproach and they must have unquestioned loyalty to the Republic of Liberia

2. Relationships - who they know and the associations, fraternities, and societies they hold membership in

3. Knowledge - what they know about the culture, politics, and structural needs of Liberia and the agencies/sectors they've been nominated to lead

4. Experience - what impactful contributions they have made professionally in the last six years

5. Past success - what they have continuously accomplished in their careers that changed the human condition in Liberia or elsewhere

6. Ability - what can they do now to make a difference (vision to "rescue" and how they will achieve it)

7. Background checks - criminal, credit records with financial institutions, and professional background checks in Liberia and the diaspora country of residence (requires social security for US Residents) for nominees residing outside Liberia.

8. Education - verifiable academic credentials, of which the burden of proof is on the nominee. Integrity and competence matter in building a credible state.

Partisans' Rebuke

Recently, an argument in the Unity Party chatroom also shed light on the issue of vetting with some UP partisans arguing making the case that there is no vetting team and if there is one then they are not effective.

Among the concerns, some wondered: "Why should people be trying to understand whether the Nominees for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an adequate degree or not? Why should Roland Giddings who has no qualifications of an engineer but whose only qualification is that worked as deputy minister at the Ministry of Public Works be appointed as minister which is a no engineering position.

Some argue that this is a violation of the law by the party and its alliance.

Some also wondered why a nominated Deputy Minister for Technical Devices should be withdrawn minutes after he was appointed. Better still, why should the Justice Minister be withdrawn after being recommended to be appointed? "If you do not see it, we are running into trouble and the basis for which our President was elected is being destroyed before our very eyes so soon," one partisan wrote in the party chatroom recently. The partisan added: "We worked on this campaign, and we have been stopped to even see the President that we elected by Mrs. Nemah and group. Look, let the truth be told that some people/groups within the UP feel entitled and others don't matter now once the election is won. Most of us are not looking for jobs especially those that run our companies. All, we are seeking is fairness in the system. I hope this can reach our President. Let him act now because people are trying to cage him. We don't him want to end up like the immediate Past President. This is what I have to say for now."

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