Monrovia – A directive from President George Manneh Weah, ordering officials of government occupying tenured positions, to submit to the Office of the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs their letters of appointment and Certificate of commissioning on or before last Friday, February 9, 2018, has put several officials in powerful positions on edge.
The heads of the Central Bank of Liberia(CBL), the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation(NASSCORP) and the Liberia Maritime Authority(LMA) are among a few areas where appointed or re-nominated officials by Mr. Weah’s predecessor, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appear to be staring down the possibility that the new President may have his own ideas about the direction he wants to take those entities during his first term, or probably beyond.
Former President Sirleaf came under fire toward the end of her term when she made a series of last-minute moves to appoint or re-appoint officials to key and lucrative positions, drawing ire from critics that she was leaving very little room for her successor to maneuver.
Ironically, in one of her final acts as President, Sirleaf issued Executive Order No. 91 – basically establishing the Joint Presidential Transition Team of 2017 with a stipulation that “Non-tenured” presidential appointees shall be presumed to have resigned as of the date of inauguration.
The fine prints of the order was clear: “Notwithstanding, such officials shall continue to function until their successors have been nominated, confirmed, appointed and commissioned.”
Many at the time failed to read the fine prints of the Sirleaf Executive Order where the key word “commissioned” went largely unnoticed, suggesting that even though some officials were nominated by Sirleaf and confirmed by the appropriate Senate Committee, the fact that they were not commissioned by the former President, put them at the mercy of her successor, now expected to enforce a technicality in a bid to have his way.
The Weah directive comes amid an entangling controversy which has presented a rather complicated dilemma for the President’s Coalition for Democratic Change, which finds itself struggling to appease disgruntled members of the former President Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party(NPP) and former Speaker Alex Tyler’s Liberia People Democratic Party (LPDP), unhappy that they are not being properly represented in the appointments announced so far. Only two members of the NPP – Charles Bright and Yvette Freeman have been allotted slot while Moses Kollie, a long-time Tyler aide is the only one appointed from the LPDP.
Mr. Tyler, according to sources have been pushing his long-time friend, Mr. Richard Devine to head the National Port Authority. That effort, according to sources have hit a wall.
Devine, a former Junior Senator from Bomi County, served as Deputy Managing Director for Fiscal Affairs, Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC), previously as Comptroller at the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) and later as Comptroller, National Elections Commission (1997).
Article 54 of the Liberian constitution gives the President the powers to appoint at his will and pleasure. This includes “all cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials, both military and civilian.”
Nevertheless, officials in certain positions including the CBL, LMA and NASSCORP are supposed to be protected on technicality owing to the issue of tenure. Where it gets sticky is the issue of commissioning.
As it stands now, NASSCORP boss Dewitt Von Balmoos appears to be one of a few holdovers from the Sirleaf era who actually participated in a commissioning ceremony by her prior to her departure from office, putting others like the CBL Executive Governor Dr. J. Milton Weeks and LMA boss Dr. James Kollie in jeopardy.
CBL: Weeks’ Dynasty Conundrum
Weeks was inducted in May 2016 following Dr. Mills Jones’s completion of two terms as Executive Governor of the Bank.
According to Section 10 of the Act creating the CBL, “The management of the Central Bank of Liberia shall be conducted by an Executive Governor who shall be Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Central Bank, and a Deputy Governor who shall serve as the principal assistant to the Executive Governor.
The Executive Governor and the Deputy Governor shall be appointed by the President for a term of five(5) years each from among individuals of standing or experience in financial and economic matters, subject to confirmation by the Liberian Senate, on such terms and conditions as may be specified by the Board of Governors. The Executive Governor and the Deputy Governor shall be eligible for reappointment once.”
CBL sources tell FrontPageAfrica that lawyers for Dr. Weeks are currently exploring options within the law to protect his survival. One option, as could be the case for all those whose positions are under threat could be settlement package which put the Weah administration a few millions in the hole.
Political and economic observers say Weeks and others could be protected in a number of ways. The Weah-led government could turn to the House of Representatives where his party has a sizeable representation, to undo the Acts of creation but that will likely only affect whoever comes after Weeks as the law cannot be retroactive.
Another option could be for still-young administration to call on Dr. Weeks to resign and offer him a lucrative financial package and benefit for the remaining years of his tenure. But experts say that could be costly for a government just coming and already crying that it inherited a broken economy.
Mr. Weah said in his annual message recently: “The state of the economy that my administration has inherited, leaves a lot to be desired. Our economy is broken, our government is broke, our currency is in free-fall, inflation is rising, unemployment is at an unprecedented high, and our foreign reserves are at an all-time low.”
LMA: Stability vs. Fragility
At the LMA, Dr. Kollie was appointed by the former President in September 2016, replacing Mr. Binyah C. Kesselly who served as Commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs from 2008 and oversaw its transition to the Liberia Maritime Authority in 2010.
Mr. Kesselly, in March 2016 asked the President to not renew his tenure in order to enable him pursue other personal career objectives. His request was granted and Atty. Charles A. Gono was appointed through a resolution by the Board of Directors to serve as Officer-in-Charge until the appointment of a new Commissioner/CEO.
Also appointed or reappointed along with Dr. Kollie at the time were: Mr. Charles A. Gono, Jr. - Deputy Commissioner for Vessel Registration and Safety, Monrovia office (reappointed) 2. Ms. Yvonne Clinton - Deputy Commissioner for Vessel Registration – New York (reappointed); Cllr. Margaret Ansumana - Deputy Commissioner for Maritime Operations (reappointed); Mr. Emmanuel N. Reeves - Deputy Commissioner for Financial Affairs (reappointed); Atty. Isaac Jackson - Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Mr. Harry Conway -Alternate Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Section 7 of the Act creating the LMA regarding Tenure of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners states: “The Commissioner of the Maritime Authority and the Deputy Commissioners of the Maritime Authority shall have tenures of Five(5) years in order to ensure and preserve consistency in the leadership, maintain continuity of purpose, increase the capacity in the industry, and preserve the national and internal relevance and very competitive nature of the maritime program.
The tenure of the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioners shall be renewable for only one additional four-year period upon recommendation of the Board to the President of approval. No further renewal shall be permitted or allowed beyond nine years.”
The Act regarding Appointment of the Commissioner follows: “The Board of Directors shall recommend for the President’s approval a Commissioner who shall be the Chief Executive Officer and who shall have general managing direction of the Authority, superintendence of ships registered under the laws of the Republic of Liberia, and responsibility for the enforcement and administration of the provisions of the Liberia Maritime Law and Regulations or any other maritime related laws.”
Unlike other positions in government, continuity and stability is key for the maritime authority, giving Mr. Weah a delicate but complicated dilemma on how to proceed here. Sources close to Dr. Kollie have hinted to FrontPageAfrica that he has no interest in fighting any decision the President who he considers a friend, will proceed.
NASSCORP "Cause" is Key
At NASSCORP, Mr. Dewitt Von Ballmoos took charge in March 2013, of the corporation responsible for providing future financial security for those under the schemes -employees of both public and private sectors of Liberia in the event of occupational injury, old age, invalidity or death. VonBallmoos was reappointed in March 2017.
Von Ballmoos succeeded Francis Carbah under whom he had served as a principal deputy.
Carbah was forced to step down after acknowledging that he provided, "a bank guarantee in favor of a contractor of a Unity Party building project in Buchanan which created a situation of conflict of interest."
Said Carbah in 2012: "On September 10, 2012, I tendered my resignation, pursuant to an error of judgment on my part, as Director-General of the National Social Security & Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP).
For this, I assume full responsibility for my mistake, and the appointing authority, the President of Liberia on September 18, 2012 accepted my decision to resign." Carbah said his actions created a situation of conflict of interest.
Under the revised Act creating NASSCORP, the Director General and the Deputy Director General shall serve for a period of Five(5) years and may be reappointed by the President for not more than two additional terms an shall be removable by the President for cause. Under the previous Act, the DG and his deputies served at the will and pleasure of the president. The Act was revised toward the end of 2017.
Cause here could be interpreted by the new president in a variety of ways and enforced at his will and pleasure, legal experts say.
Von Ballmoos, who was a member of the transitional team for the new government is said to be on the hot seat with many in the corridors of the Weah circle reportedly eyeing the lucrative post.
Another area also on the radar but whose head’s time is almost up is the Liberia Revenue Authority.
Elfreda Stewart Tamba was appointed in March 2014 as head of the government agency responsible for collecting national revenues. Under the Act creating the LRA, the commissioner general and deputies shall hold office for a term of four(4) years, which may be renewed as follows: “Commissioner General for one additional term of three years, deputies for additional term of four years.”
The Act clearly states that “Under no condition shall the Commissioner General or Deputies serve for more than two terms. All appointments shall be made in accordance with Article five(5) of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.”
The Commissioner General could be removed contingent on the resolution of two-thirds of the Board membership, who can advise the President to suspend or remove the Commissioner General and/or Deputies from office for consistent inability to perform.
Bread & Butter Vs. the Poverty Line
With the allocation of jobs, particularly the significant one, nearly depleted, Mr. Weah is racing against time and under a lot of pressure from within to incorporate members of his coalition into government while at the same time, establishing a government of national unity incorporating not just members of his own party but those of the opposition and others who helped get him elected.
In a nation where the government is the biggest employer and very little is being done to increase interest in the private sector, a World Bank report recently stated that 54 percent of the population of Liberia is living below the poverty line, meaning many are still living on less than US$2.00 a day.
The survey concluded that the figure amounts to 2.1 million Liberians who were unable to meet their basic food and non-food needs between January and August 2014.
This is why, some insiders say, the new president is turning to the technicality of the tenured vs. non-tenure issue in a bid to find more avenues to incorporate and appease some feeling left out. Tyler, for example, according to some sources, is being mentioned as a possibility to replace Kollie at Maritime, a post also said to be flirted around the Attorney Saifuah Mai Gray.
The implications of such a move will likely pose some credibility issues for the new administration and the allegations of corruption that comes with Tyler, even as Mr. Weah and his CDC look to convince international stakeholders still observing the trend and direction, the government which ran on the mantra of change for hope, may be moving.