Monrovia – Augustine Ngafuan has never hidden his ambitions. Some say his unhidden desire for the highest office in the land is a slap in the face and in the views of many equivalents to biting the hands that has fed him over the past ten years.
The Former Minister of Foreign Affairs who publicly stated in a 2013 FrontPageAfrica interview that he has no desires of sitting on the fence for the 2017 Presidential elections, is finally making his intentions known this week that he intends to be a candidate for the Liberian presidency.
Ironically, Ngafuan’s decision has put him at odds with members of the ruling party which he bolted out of last week.
His candidacy some say; is a slap in the face and a disrespect to Vice President Joseph Boakai with whom he shares vote-rich Lofa County - and the incumbent who gave him the platform through some lucrative posts.
But in this exclusive interview, the former foreign minister, now Presidential candidate offers some insight into why he is taking the leap of faith against insurmountable odds and abandoning the party and candidate for whom he blew the winning trumpet in two successive elections.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Mr. Minister, the last time we spoke you said that you were not going to be a bystander in the political process come 2017. The process is around the corner. Where are you now?
AUGUSTINE NGAFUAN: Well, it was late 2013 when you interviewed me and I said definitely that I did not intend to be inactive in 2017; and in October last year, I exited government in compliance with provisions of the Code of Conduct which requires ministers, deputy ministers, managing directors and superintendents who intend to vie for elected offices to quit government two years before elections. I had problems with the long lee time but as a law abiding citizen, I decided to respect the law and I said clearly then that I had decided to open my political options.
Though I love the challenge of trying to help my country in the capacity of Foreign Minister, previous in that capacity, Finance Minister, 2017 is like a make or break moment for this country and so I could not allow myself not to play a role. Since then I have been engaged in deep conversations, deep consultations with various stakeholders across Liberia including my own county, Lofa. I just over a month ago, I was in there, talking with some stakeholders and I have been engaged in regional and national consultations. The net effect of these consultations is that I have now decided to run for the Presidency of the Republic of Liberia in 2017. And so as we do so, we will be marshalling all the forces, we will try to reach across political boundaries for the positive forces of this country to work together for the sake of progress. Liberia is very important, that we need to give our people choices they desire as they go to the polls and we felt that it would be good for the Liberian people to have the choice of a Ngafuan in the process for 2017.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Mr. Ngafuan, you have just stated that you had consultations in your hometown, Lofa which also happens to be the hometown of your “Uncle Joe Boakai”. Don’t you think it is kind of disrespectful going against the county’s elder statesman whom your former boss has endorsed; and won’t that split votes between the two of you?
NGAFUAN: Well, it’s not a matter of disrespect; It is a matter of choices. Let me give you a little history. Lofa has had a tradition of putting forth its best in national elections. In 1985, Lofa had two vice standard bearers in the persons of Dr. Harry Moniba and Harold Darma infact both both of them were Gbandis my own tribesmen; Harry Moniba was the candidate for the NDPL(National Democratic Party of Liberia and the late Harry Darma was the standard bearer for the late Kpolleh. And, then in 1997 Lofa had a Presidential candidate in the person of the late Fayiah Gbollie and then Harry Moniba, the former Vice President. We had two Presidential candidates from Lofa in 1997. In the 2005 elections, we also had two Presidential candidates, Dr. Robert Kpoto and John Morlu Sr. In that election, I was supporting the candidacy of Madam Sirleaf, in that election, Lofa produced technically two vice standard bearers: Vice President now Joseph Nyumah Boakai and Honorable Rudolph Johnson who was the vice standard bearer to CDC’s George Weah. In the 2011 elections, Lofa produced three Presidential candidates: Cecelia Debe, one Dr. Stephen Guzeh and Gladys Beyan. So of you look at the Lofa tradition, the tradition has been putting forth its best as Liberia goes and decides. I am not in the process in opposition to Vice President Boakai. Many persons in the county believe that it is good as we get into the 2017 electoral process, which is full of challenges and intrigues, it is good for the county to flag its best – that’s what I mean it is not an opposition to the vice President and I don’t think he will be in opposition to me.”
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: If you look at the timing of the departure, the script looks very similar. Both of you are from Lofa, both of you have been as they say in the same pot the last ten going twelve years as part of the ruling Unity Party government. How do you think voters will separate you from him?
NGAFUAN: Well, we are separate individuals. I have a different trajectory, he has a different trajectory. My records are there; his records are there but let us not create an impression that this election is going to pit me against him. This is an election that individuals will be competing and this is not just technically a political county meet. I’m more than just a county product. There are people – even in my consultation, the reason which I decided to run, it was not only because of consultations in Lofa. I had consultations with people in Nimba, Grand Bassa and other places and some people that are strongly supporting me are from those counties, there are Liberians in the Diaspora. Their views are as important for this national race as views from Lofa. This is a national contest and so we feel that we have something to offer. We have the credibility, we have the integrity, and we have the love for country. It has been consistent.
Whether it was in my capacity as a student leader at BWI or student leader at the University of Liberia, whether it was in my professional responsibility as a bank examiner at the Central Bank or head of international banking at the Central Bank, whether it was in my capacity as budget director with the republic of Liberia whether it was in my capacity as minister of finance and whether it was in my capacity as Foreign Minister, we have a track record that people can look at and give the people the opportunity to decide. We think that the question, who should be the next President of the Republic of Liberia is a multiple choice question that needs good options. And we have decided to offer ourselves as one of the options to this country. In the electoral process, the voters will decide. It will This will not be a contest between me and the vice President. It will be a contest between people who are offering themselves to the people and in that contest we will be telling the people what we can do. It will be a clarion call to Liberians both locally and internationally to rally together, to make the country to move forward.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Did you consult your former boss before making this decision?
NGAFUAN: Let me tell you this. The former boss has been very aware of my political life and my political future. Long before – the are certain things I will not diverge to you now but nothing about where I’m going should be a surprise to my former boss -Years ago.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: But will she support your candidacy?
NGAFUAN: Support to my candidacy, non-support to my candidacy is hers’ to decide but I’m saying this that I’m in the process, the votes will be those of the Liberian people, my former boss is one of those, I will definitely want her support but it is her decision to decide and nobody is going to squeeze her this way or that way. Just as she knows that I am a free political agent. I make my decisions, I think she is a free political agent, she will make her decision.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: There’s been a lot of talk about betrayal. A lot Unity Party supporters say the President give you the platform and made you who you are and has thrown her weight behind her vice President Joseph Boakai but it appears you want to crash that party by challenging him. Why?
NGAFUAN: Let’s be clear…Let’s be clear. My relationship with madam Sirleaf has not been a lopsided relationship where someone has been leeching on the other. It has been a relationship of mutual respect, and technically mutual benefit - When Madam Sirleaf and a lot of leaders and other actors could not come back to this country because President Taylor had charged them with treason. In 1998, I don’t’ hate Taylor; in fact one or two of his family are friends of mine. The burden of advocating for this country rested on our young shoulders. And I, people remember this, in 1998, within the presence of Taylor, raised some very, very teething issues with the President: One, with the quote-on-quote crafting of Vision 2024 and I asked Taylor some very pointed questions as to where we stood on the question of reconciliation, asking about where was Prince Johnson, Alhaji Kromah, Roosevelt Johnson, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and others. After that, for three weeks I had to go underground in this town. It was a risky thing to do. After that Madam Sirleaf asked me to assist her as a member of the board of her NGO in 1999.
I rendered my service. In fact, the first time I ever went to Nigeria was to represent Madam Sirleaf at a meeting in Nigeria, 2000. In the year 2005, I organize, look at the political space, she didn’t give it to me, I thought it was the best thing at the time. She didn’t give it to me. I organized at the time the largest auxiliary to assemble for the UP - I, as not a member of the UP. I was a Central Bank. She asked me to assist her campaign to serve as spokesman for the campaign team and I was one of the strategist working in that process and I did that not because I wanted a job – go and ask- that this man was not one of those who submitted CVs in 2005. And so when she asked me to render my service in the capacity of Budget Director, I decided to work for my country and with her guidance and support. So whether I was budget director, whether I was minister of finance, whether I was minister of foreign affairs, I was contributing to my country and I can say proudly, through my work, madam Sirleaf got a lot of good name. There are a lot of people who supported her because of what we did. I was not a net liability to her.
In fact while I was in government, successfully from one radio station to another when the opportunity was given to the common people to vote for the minister of the year, I consistently won. So, yes to say that she had impacted my life, I will be dishonest, she has. To say I haven’t impacted on her life or her presidency that would not be honest. We have mutual respect. Madam Sirleaf knows I’m a political person and she was clear that any one of us that had intentions for 2017 or what have you must leave and she and I discuss my politics as early as 2012. The thing I can tell you is that my political move does not surprise madam Sirleaf and it is not an act of being ungrateful. But let me give you this piece of information. You remember in the 2011 elections, not once, not twice, that Madam Sirleaf was clear that she and her Vice President started together and they will end together and they will turn over to the younger generation of leaders. You remember that and I think one of your journalists Nat Bayjay might have interviewed the vice President and he said well, 2017 he will retire and so if any young person, young leader grew ambition for the future, it was not coming out of the sky because it was a promise to the younger generation. Now, so to say because of betrayal of anything? There was a commitment made. We’re not saying that people cannot renege on commitment but if people start to use the word betrayal then we would go to all the commitments that were made and see what happened to those commitments. Some of you guys in the press you heard some statements before and you all should be asking some questions: You made this statement yesterday why? So I haven’t betrayed anybody, I’ve been consistent. So we are moving to the future in order to offer the Liberian people some real choices. It will up to the Liberian people to decide.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Politics is very expensive: Do you have the money to prepare an organize political campaign?
NGAFUAN: Well, in politics you need the money, you need the message, you need the machinery. One would not get in the political process without knowing that these things are necessary. So we understand the political battles and the necessary wherewithal’s to make us to win and we will amass them
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What is the Ngafuan formula for winning and what do you have in store to prepare the economy, reconcile the country and fixing the messy justice system?
NGAFUAN: Well, I wouldn’t divulge my formula here to you but I just need to tell you that I have a history of winning elections. I won election before for myself and I’ve helped people to win elections. So if there’s one person that knows about winning elections it is me. But I wouldn’t divulge to you a formula but if you talk to me about my program, my vision for the economy and what have you, let me tell you this. The economy will be key to the achievement of all of our other lofty objectives. We need to transform the economy; we need to focus on agriculture, taking it from the rudimentary stage to a stage of commercialization, not just for livelihood but even for jobs. Value addition in that process. We need to also invest heavily in infrastructure.
The government has started but they need to be developed. Where they are not with the hydroelectric point is important but electricity access across the country in the kinds of voltage that would be needed to fuel the economy will be emphasized, road connectivity, the Chinese say the beginning of development, development begins with the roads. We have to emphasize that throughout so that this situation where you have some parts of our country getting cut off as a result of the raining season would be in the past. That’s why at Ministry of Finance, I led the government effort for US$5 billion in debt to be waived. One of the countries that I approached was Kuwait for the Gbarnga-Menokoma Highway. The first money to do feasibility study, I went along with the late former deputy minister of Public Works Christian Herbert to make sure that these corridors are completed. The other thing is that we need to invest heavily in education. I am here today; we have what we call the grass to grace story.
My parents could not afford my tuition through school. It was because of hard work. The Liberian educational system needs to be emphasized to bring it to the level of quality. So one of the things I did as minister was to effect the biggest increase in teachers’ pay such that when I was leaving the Ministry of Finance the teachers gowned me in this country. I am going to emphasize teachers highly in a Ngafuan administration. The reason is that to transform this country we need to transform the classrooms. If teachers are good, if teachers are credible, if teachers don’t’ take bribe, that attitude is embarked upon, bribe taking will be less likely in the society. How much do we pay the police, the security people the army people - If we emphasize them and their welfare. When I was minister we were pumping enough money into those sectors. Changing the plight of the man in the street is the make the man in the street to be credible and because of that the society transforms. Now, one other thing I am going to emphasize is to push the anti-corruption fight to deeper depth. Everyday people talk this issue. We have to be practical on some steps. Some steps have begun. The formation of the establishment of the regime of the LACC, the GAC and what have you. But we need to ensure that those entities are funded robustly so that they can recruit more manpower, they can push professionalism and also too they can pay their staffers very well to reduce their vulnerability. The other thing will be insisting on audits. Under the Ngafuan administration, let me give you this.
The question is we are almost reaching twelve years, when last has the legislature been audited, when last has the judiciary been audited, when last. Even the GAC, it was only recently we heard about it. Under me, we are going to ensure that the first claims of our budget will go to putting money in the budget to audit the legislature annually, audit the ministry of state under which the presidency sits, annually; audit the judiciary annually; audit the integrity institutions annually so that everyone who comes with equity will come to equity with clean hands. The other thing because I started that and I think it has made some impact in the anti-corruption fight. We pushed heavily the internal audit function, professionally. Now we have an internal audit agency.
Prevention of corruption is key. We are going to ensure that my plan was a three-fold plan and if I have the opportunity of leading this country, I will effect my plan. What do I mean? Look, people just look at the size of the budget but they don’t look at the efficiency and the effectiveness of the spending. One of the ways is to ensure that we get bigger bang for our buck by stressing procurement because through procurement there are leakages and one strategy I think that can work is to professionalize procurement function, such that procurement director can no longer be appointed by ministers or heads of entities. They shouldn’t serve at the will and pleasure of the minister just as it is happening for the internal audit row and they are rotated so they cannot get what they call in accounting terms native.
They cannot go native and you tighten some of the screws. Because what leaks out in procurement. If we protect those we will have some money to put in health, education and social services. So you tighten procurement, make it more difficult for there to be loopholes. Another thing is the comptroller’s function, the finance director’s function, professionalizes it. You advertise Liberians with the necessary credential are recruited. They are not recruited for a ministry, they are recruited for a cause and they are rotated every three months. If we professionalize these functions we’ve already done internal audits. And we add procurement to it; we add finance director and comptroller function. We would have put and effective dent in corruption. The other thing, prosecution. We need to fund the Ministry of Justice capacity to prosecute. How much money do they have? How many lawyers do they have? We have to put more money into prosecution. The judiciary itself, we’re talking about fast-track court. I don’t know how far they’ve gone with it. But we need one fast-track court but fast-track courts so that the distance between accusations and going through the judiciary process can be short because sometimes these accusations can be hot air. So those practical measures – and one thing we need to do, very few persons are talking about our pension system so that we reduce the risks for government service.
My reading of some of the corruption thing in government is that a lot of people think that when they leave government they are done; you know they are finished. Part of the ways to reduce that fear and that risk, is to ensure that you have a pension system for the legislature, legislators leave, they get I think not more than 700 dollars monthly, you don’t have it for the judiciary especially those that are serving in cabinet. If someone serves for a period of time, honourably, what happens for the person? Those are some of the things we do. It reduces the risks. Now, these individuals are negotiating for the country – you know very few people are strong-willed. We need to reduce their risks moving forward so those kinds of things whereby we create a criteria; after you achieve over time those criteria, you qualify, it reduces the post-government risk because my evaluation is that many persons because of the post-government risks, they tend to get in things that are unsavoury. So those practical steps can help and under me, we will dig in the fight. There are other things we will do but this is just a snapshot of the strategy.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: The Unity Party seems to be on a downhill. You have just resigned, the Speaker of the house recently stepped down and so have others. How do you think these wave of departures will affect the party in the 2017 Presidential race?
NGAFUAN: Well, you know the decision to leave the UP was not a decision I just took on a wimp. It was not an easy decision for me. It’s just like you in a relationship and divorces are difficult; breakups are difficult but sometimes for the sake of both parties you can decide to just mutually separate. Look, I felt excluded. Since 2011 if I tell you that I haven’t sat in any UP meeting it will be difficult for you to believe. Yes, people will say you were not an executive member but it is hard for anyone out there to believe that I was not a stalwart of the UP. I bring more than just my presence. I am an analyst, I’m a strategist. I bring passion. You have a situation here – I bring you one example, the code of conduct. Today, many individuals are demonizing me unfortunately and strangely too, ironically too for respecting the code. This law was signed by the standard bearer of the UP, it was signed by the Pro Temp, the law that says that ministers, superintendents should resign two years in advance. Today, it’s almost like ministers, deputy ministers and managing directors and superintendents are being encouraged by the UP to run and to technically and some of them are being encouraged to go and challenge the law.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Is that why you left?
NGAFUAN: Listen! This man refused to challenge the law in court, you know why? Because it is not a good thing for a UP person to go to court to challenge a law signed by the standard bearer, signed by your then Speaker What it does it is asking you to put on record, because the court could say, the act is unconstitutional and then you put on record that your President or the Speaker decided to proceed unconstitutionally. So for me, if others felt that they could proceed that way, it’s not good. But if you had a party that talks, people would have connected the dots, people would have understood the implications. Now it is only now the implications of that. See what is going to unfold. Now, see some of the conversations that are happening, you know. Standard Bearer takes a position, the party chairman takes a position and all these things are in public. When I talk about exclusion, it’s not just me. There are a lot of people, the elders of the party, where is the John Bestman? Where is the Dr. Clarke? Where are the brainchildren of this project? How are they being consulted in these things? And so I would complain and complain and complain and nothing happens. So if I was a minister in government and was treated less than a floor member and when I leave, hear some of the things some of them are saying, I was an excess baggage, I was inconsequential.
I’m in the party, I’m consequential? I’m in the party, I’m not an excess baggage, my bag is full. Immediate when I leave, then I become. See what they did. I resigned, I sent the letter, they didn’t acknowledge my letter, none of them even called me and they only said well, it is his right. But look at this, there are a lot of people leaving the UP that are not writing letters, nobody knows about that. I was even using an example of a fellow called Vincent Smith. Vincent founded and led the largest UP auxiliary in the 2011 elections called AMSO. Some of you can remember, they went into the nuke and cranny of this country. Vincent is not part of the UP. Has anyone decided to ask why? There are a lot of common people that have left. So what I think and I was pushing for internal soul searching and I’ve reached a point where, I didn’t think that my clarion call was being heeded. So I decided to honourably exit. I wish the UP well. Just as I wish all political parties well. These political processes are not processes where enemies are pitted against each other, we are all brothers called Liberians.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Have you read the Global Witness report?
NGAFUAN: Well I haven’t gone to the gory details but I have followed the press.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What do you think about the revelations, is it going to damage your former party?
NGAFUAN: I don’t want to…. I didn’t come there to be a commentator for or against the UP. You can ask, they have some spokespersons that are very good, you can ask them but it is not just for the UP, you know, it doesn’t bode well for the country and its image generally and so I would think that actions have begun which I commend and actions need to continue on this and other issues and however, I will ask all the parties involved, whatever that can be done to create the perception of justice, fairness and what have you, let us ensure that. You know the parties are talking, I would think that reason should prevail over emotions because justice need to be done but as we also try to show that justice is done, we should make sure that this process is fair, it is equitable and it is transparent, it is perceived as fair also
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Your former chairman says he is not going to cooperate, the Speaker of the house who is also your former party member is saying that the task force needs to be revamp to reflect a broader aspect of the society. What is our view on this?
NGAFUAN: Well, I’m not a lawyer, my former chairman is a lawyer. He may be more versed with the law than I am. The Speaker he is also a lawyer I think he graduated from the University of Liberia law school and some of us I trying to follow them in terms of what laws they are preaching but let me say this. Justice needs to be serve no matter who is involved. Also I take it that the process needs to be fair, transparent and perceived to be fair and transparent. Now whatever that can be done to ensure that justice is done should be done. Whatever that can be done to ensure that the process is fair, transparent and perceived to be fair and transparent should also be done. That’s my take on this.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Any final thoughts you want to share with the Liberian people on your decision now that you are officially a candidate?
NGAFUAN: Well, the next question that has come up is which political institution? In a matter of days, that will be made very clear to you. But what I want to say because one of your colleagues were asking whether I intend on being an independent candidate? No! I will not be an independent candidate. I have always said that political actors need collaborations, need to align and realign. I told you that, that phrase came from an interview with you, 2013 and I still stand by it. We are conversing across political divide. At the end of the day, we will converge.
The best interest will be served and so I have been an advocate for that because even when I was in the UP, I was a bridge builder, I crossed aisle. Now I have more freedom to cross aisle, including reaching out to some of the UP partisans. Some will join me and some will remain there for strategic reasons but when the trumpet is blown for the forces to converge, they will come from various political institutions. The interest of the country will be more paramount then the interest of a party, then the interest of a person, that is what I’m going to push because throughout my life, I have taken some risks. As a young leader at BWI we stood for our rights, some of our colleagues were killed, went to jail. We stood up for our rights in the 90s, we spoke against our President in the 90s not because we hate him but because at the time we felt he was proceeding dangerously. We stood up. Having the opportunity to serve my government at the level of the Bureau of the Budget, the same consistency and integrity I left high school with, I left university with, I went to graduate school with, I went to Central Bank with, I carried at the Ministry of Finance and I carried at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In closing, I’m happy to say that I’m proud of my little contribution to my country. At least US$5 million dollar in debt has been waived, based on some of the efforts that we initiated.
I’m proud that when I led the economy every year the budget grew. I’m proud that every year we made civil servants happy; I’m proud that teachers were happy; I’m proud that we were pumping enough money in health, in education, in roads. We intend to bring back those days. I am not just a politician. I am an expert in certain things. So to have a President who knows how to do things, who knows how to assemble people not just with qualification, what we need, are people with heart for the country – first and foremost and the integrity and the credibility and competence to deliver, that is what will be key and these people will not come from one political party.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: In the process of this consultation, if it emerges that some other candidate wants you to be their number two, would you accept?
NGAFUAN: I am shooting for number one; we intend to put forth our candidacy to the Liberian people to decide. I, it’s not just me. I have a political class and in the context of consultations the best interest of the country to be served. This man wants the best interest of Liberians to be served, this man is not recklessly ambitious. The only reason why I decided to get involved in this is because of love for my country. I have may options for my life, many options for my life but we decided to offer the Liberian people many choices. In the context of conversation, we will hope, and we are going to be pushing to lead a process but this is not a selfish thing. We are going to collaborate, we’re going to consult and then in the wake of consultation and collaboration, if the best interest of the country will be served in other means, we will ensure that it is served but I know that Liberia is going to make progress under a Ngafuan presidency. The reason I tell you so is that where I went, whatever I led, by the grace of God we succeeded in our little way. So I will not be a risky candidate to say, you don’t know him. You will know this person based on his consistency and values.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: How far did the reports of your flirtation with CDC go? Are you still talking with them?
NGAFUAN: Well, let me say this. There have been reports of flirtation with a lot of institutions; CDC is not an enemy of mine. In fact, many of the folks in the CDC are good brothers of mine. And we have been talking to everybody. And so I am in talks with CDC, I’m in talks with other institutions. Let’s be clear. Liberia has to get its citizens together and I will not be one of those who will come and condemn CDC in the day and start to talk to CDC in the night. Many of the individuals here do that and that’s being dishonest that’s being dishonest, CDC is a factor, take it or leave it. They have something to offer, others have something to offer. In the equation of consultations; they best of Liberia needs to happen. Do I think that there aren’t good people in the UP because I left the UP? No! Do I think there are no good people in the Liberty Party? No, there are good people. The good people in this country need to start to forget about political labours and come together and ensure that the best of Liberia happens and for me I am committed to that. This is not a reckless ambition.