Liberia: Pres. Boakai Controversial Appointments to Tenured Positions Raises Eyebrows On His Respect for Rule of Law

Vice President Joseph Boakai casts his vote.

Monrovia — In 2018, when the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) took over the Unity Party with a popular mandate having stayed in opposition for 12 years, they attempted to do something unusual and unpopular - scrap off tenured positions, except for the ones named by the Constitution. This ridiculous attempt was met with stiff reaction from the public and especially, the opposition bloc at the time who described the CDC's audacious move as extending their dictatorial tendencies.

What Weah Called For

In the Bill presented to the legislature at the time dubbed, "An Act Prohibiting the Tenure of Public Officials Within the Executive Branch of Government", the then President indicated in the preamble that the status of tenured personnel of the Liberian Government would impede and obstruct the development agenda of the President.

Although the bill did not outline how tenure position might obstruct the development agenda of the President, it tended to give the president full powers over the Executive Branch of Government.

It consists of four sections, the first reads: "Except as otherwise provided in the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, all statutory provisions of laws providing for tenure of office, terms of office, tenure, or anything that provides security of tenure, of all public officials appointed by the President under the Executive Branch of Government are hereby repealed.

Section two: "The President shall have and exercise all the powers necessary and convenient for the effective administration of the Executive Branch and all the institutions under its control, and to this end, all appointed officials thereof shall hold office at the will and pleasure of the President."

Section Three added: "That the law supersedes all other statutory provisions regarding tenure office under the Executive Branch of Government; while Section Four calls for the law o take effect immediately upon publication into hand bills".

The then Nimba County Lawmaker, Larry Yanquoi reasoned with the President and argued that such bill will avert the situation where the President would appoint people to tenured positions even the end of the presidential tenure is approaching. He claimed tenure positions were mostly abused during the era of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Rep. Younquoi: "Let those ones that are provided for by the Constitution like the General Auditing Commission, National Elections Commission and perhaps the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission remain. The ones that are not provided for, let them go. The outgoing administration misused it. My Party misused it last minutes to time. And it's working in our face. That's' how the LS$16 billion and some of the problems we are talking about today came about."

Tenured Positions Left Intact

While the lower House reasoned with the President and passed it, it failed to get concurrence from the Senate where it got stuck. Abraham Darius Dillon, who was yet to be elected to the Senate at the time critiqued the bill: "The decision to send a bill to cancel all tenure positions within the Executive Branch is dictatorial in its nature. The President is practicing and wants to legalize his dictatorial tendency. That bill is against the tenants of good governance. It is against the intent and spirit of the Constitution. He is dead wrong. And I am challenging all lawmakers including my Political Leader, Senator Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence, my National Chairman, Senator Steve Zargo and all members of the Legislature from Liberty Party, Unity Party and all well meaning lawmakers to not only frown on the act, but to refuse it and send it back."

Amos Brown, a follower of FPA online wrote at the time: "We are moving towards autocracy gradually and subtly. This is Orwell's Animal Farm in slow motion. Before we know it, it will be considered treasonous to criticize this i***t."

In late December 2023 after the election of President Boakai, the Senate Secretary, responding to an inquiry from Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, clarified that, apart from the Liberia Maritime Authority, the legislature did not succeed in removing tenure from institutions earmarked for such action.

The then Senate Pro-Tempore, Albert Chie, further informed the body that, although the Senate attempted to remove tenure from the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) and others, their actions did not align with the House of Representatives, which had acted differently. He stated that only a conference committee could have reconciled the differences, but that step was not taken.

Boakai Walking Path of Dictatorialism?

It came as a surprise to many on Tuesday morning when President Joseph Boakai named several new nominees to some already occupied tenured positions in what some have termed as a flagrant disregard to the Act establishing those institutions.

The President's decision affects several key institutions, including the Liberian Telecommunication Authority (LTA), the Governance Commission (GC), the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL), the National Lottery, and the National Identification Registry (NIR). Analysts have raised concerns over significant administrative shortcomings, questioning both the legality of appointing individuals to tenured positions without confirming vacancies and the financial implications of such appointments.

According to critics of the President's decision, tenured positions are established to ensure stability and independence for officeholders in carrying out their duties. "When someone is appointed to such a position, it implies a contractual obligation with the state to fulfill specific tasks within a defined timeframe. Termination of service under these circumstances typically requires cause, such as non-performance or misconduct, or mutual agreement," a critic told FrontPageAfrica.

Moreover, legal analysts point out that Article 25 of the Constitution upholds the sanctity of contracts and prohibits the Legislature from enacting laws or policies that contradict this principle. Thus, the decision by the President to appoint individuals to positions still held by tenured officials, without providing cause for dismissal, declaring vacancies, or seeking mutual consent, is seen as a breach of good governance principles and an overreach of executive power.

Should the President insist on the removal of these tenured office holders, it would come with a great financial burden to the government, especially as the economy continues to struggle. The costs could outweigh the benefits for the economy already facing challenges, some opined.

A critic: "To illustrate, take the example of the LTA, where four Commissioners are estimated to have approximately 30 months left in their terms, and one Commissioner about 36 months. This could cost the Government anywhere from USD 780,000 to USD 1,000,000 conservatively. Similar concerns extend to other tenured positions like NPHIL, resulting in potential costs running into millions if such decisions proceed. Analysts question what extraordinary benefits the President expects to achieve for the struggling economy through these actions."

Misunderstanding regarding the tenure status?

Meanwhile, all five of the incumbent Commissioners in a letter addressed to Pres. Boakai on February 20 reminded the president, saying: "We write to draw your attention to a matter of considerable concern regarding our roles within the LTA. As you are aware, we currently serve under tenure within the organization, each of us having two-plus years remaining in our terms. However, it has recently come to our attention that new appointments have been made to the same position we occupy, not withstanding our existing tenures."

"While we appreciate that such decisions are often made with careful deliberation and in the national interest, we believe there may have been a misunderstanding regarding the status of our tenures. As members of the board of commissioners of the LTA, we feel compelled to remind your excellency of our tenured status. Part Three, Section 9(3) of the Telecommunication Act of 2007, which established the LTA, explicitly prohibits the executive from replacing board members during their unexpired terms. The term of office for the commissioners shall be four years. The appointment of any commissioner may be renewed by the president for another term of four years. No member of the Commission shall serve for more than two terms."

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