Monrovia - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Friday during the commissioning program of newly appointed public officials implied that she bore some frustration over either the failure of her appointed officials or the ongoing international outcry pouring over the shutdown of one of Liberia’s leading newspapers FrontPageAfrica and the jailing of its Managing Editor Rodney Sieh.
President Sirleaf on Friday challenged the commissioned officials that the ceremony is a call for public officials to develop the rectitude that enables them to challenge wrong and to find the inspiration to do even more to fix what she calls the ‘willfully damaged reputation’ of Liberia at the moment.
“Yours is a public duty to stand tall when the wind blows and the arrows fall; to stand tall when success becomes the reason for failure; yours is a calling to national duty, to service above self, to help your country achieve a potential that is within reach,” she said.
She urged the newly commissioned officials of government to jealously guard the public trust, serve with abiding faith, and with rekindled love for country and diligence to duty.
President Sirleaf speaking in tongues and not specifically pinpointing a particular scenario said the new public officials are assuming public service and responsibility in a difficult political environment. The President angrily insinuated that she and her officials have become victims of blackmail for their silence on pressing national issues.
“One when those who wrongly accuse, defame and attack you become the victors; when you adhere to the principles of your upbringing and your faith, you become a victim of blackmail and extortion; when hustlers become heroes through poisonous pens,” she said urging her officials to stand firm and strong in what she refers to as their difficult moments.
“When you refuse to join the clamor of rumor mongering and lies, your silence is mistaken as weakness to be exploited.”
The President made these remarks when she commissioned 27 government officials during a ceremony in the Foreign Ministry’s C. Cecil Dennis, Jr. Auditorium on Friday, September 6.
Outcry from around the world
The Sirleaf-led administration has come under criticism for its complacency in the jailing of journalist Sieh and the closure of his newspaper offices. Journalists right groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ); is on record for calling on the President to step up to her commitments made to the international community in terms of freedom of the press and led the way for the freedom of the jailed journalist, who like Sirleaf draws widespread international admiration for his work in the media over the years.
In her OP-Ed published in Think Africa Press under the title ‘The Liberian Media: President Johnson Sirleaf’s New Public Enemy Number One’ Luciana Storelli-Castro a Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of Bradford, UK, said President Sirleaf’s new war is targeted at the media instead of the corruption she pledged to weed out several years ago.
“In 2006, President Johnson Sirleaf proclaimed in her inaugural address that corruption was “public enemy number one”. It would seem, however, that in reality the Liberian media now wears the mantel of “public enemy number one” for her government,” wrote Storelli-Castro.
She described Sieh has been hailed a martyr by Liberian journalists who view his legal battle with the former minister of Agriculture Dr. Chris Toe and subsequent imprisonment as testament to the conviction that neither bullying nor intimidation will deter the media from doing its job.
Take action on Corruption
Former Auditor General of the General Auditing Commission (GAC), John Morlu in his piece correcting the inconsistencies in effort by government officials to blackmail the GAC by discrediting its audit reports on which the FrontPageAfrica team based their story for which Sieh is imprisoned said President Sirleaf needs to muster the courage to fight corruption sincerely, rather than being frustrated.
“Instead of being frustrated, just take action by firing and prosecuting. Don't allow people like Chris Toe to walk away free and then go on to sue on the grounds that he has not been prosecuted by the President for corruption, when it is clear as light of day he is "walking guilty." This is my own only advice to President Sirleaf,” wrote Morlu.
The Committee to Protect Journalists in its letter to President Johnson Sirleaf on September 2, 2013, said it believes that the punishment meted out against FrontPageAfrica is disproportionate and that the case is tainted with political undertones appealing to her sense of fairness in asking her to consider granting Sieh a pardon under article 59 of the constitution in the US$1.5 million in libel damages to former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe.
“Sieh’s conviction is questionable given that one juror admitted receiving a bribe for a guilty verdict and the Supreme Court justice who upheld the lower court’s conviction is related to the plaintiff’s lawyer, according to FrontPageAfrica,” stated CPJ.
“Sieh was unable to file an appeal because he could not afford to pay the bond required, legal counsel Samuel Kofi Woods told CPJ. In civil cases, he said, the appeal bond can amount to as much as the sum of damages awarded by the court. The paper was sued over a story on the findings of a government investigation that accused Toe of corruption.”
Cataloguing libel cases
The CPJ said after years of civil war and dictatorship, Liberia under the leadership of President Sirleaf, is aspiring to a just, open, and democratic society and her administration is among the 55 governments in the world committed to making themselves more accountable through the Open Government Partnership; but fears that the jailing journalists in civil libel cases, and imposing or threatening to impose civil libel damages so exorbitant as to lead to the closure of news organizations, undermine press freedom and creates a climate of self-censorship.
Most recently, FrontPageAfrica was shut down and Sieh jailed indefinitely
Another civil lawsuit in which Matilda Parker, the Managing Director of the National Port Authority, is seeking US$1 million damages over a story about the findings of an inquiry by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission according to CPJ.
The international media advocacy group states that FrontPageAfrica is not alone in these libel cases in which the President and influential members of the first family have all filed libel suits against journalists.
“In 2010, the New Democrat newspaper was ordered to pay US$900,000 in a libel suit in which the plaintiff, Consolidated Group Incorporated, sought US$1.3 million in damages."
The paper was sued for a story citing the findings of a government General Auditing Commission report; the suit was eventually settled. Also in 2010, your office sued the New Broom for US$5 million over a story on corruption, a case that resulted in closure of the newspaper.” states CPJ.
The CPJ reminded the President: “In 2012, your son and adviser Robert Sirleaf, Chairman of the Voard of Directors of the National Oil Company, sued The Independent and The Analyst for US$11 million, according to news reports, although he later withdrew the complaint.
“We also call on your leadership in amending Liberia’s civil libel laws in line with the international standards outlined in the 2000 Joint Declaration by the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which states that “public figures are required to accept a greater degree of criticism than private citizens”, states the CPJ.
“The declaration establishes that civil damages “should not be as large as to exert a chilling effect on freedom of expression and should be designed to restore the reputation harmed, not to compensate the plaintiff or to punish the defendant.”
To date, no newspaper has won a libel case since Sirleaf’s election in 2005, according to the Press Union of Liberia. The Liberian leader used the occasion to reconfirm government’s commitment to all the freedoms that are now enjoyed within the reach of her powers.
She renewed her government’s sacred pledge to continue to meet the needs of the people and to remain focused on development despite the distractions.
“We will continue to do what is right and to place our faith in truth, which we know will always prevail,” she stated.
These latest rants by the President comes as no surprise to many who have listened to her over the past few years vent out her frustration on the media or members of the opposition when it criticizes her administration for not doing enough to fight corruption or international criticism due to the stories covered by the media on the failures of the government to deliver on campaign promises.
“Everyone knows that this is how the president reacts whenever issues like these come up in the international scene that casts a shadow over the much glossy image of her administration in the west,” said Mohamed Kamara a resident of Monrovia.
“The President has to take these criticisms and see it as a way to improve on her legacy; but getting angry with people and speaking like this at public gathering will not help her."
"We saw this with other regimes and it was this same President who spoke against these things. So is President Sirleaf telling us that she would condone such attitude by other leaders before her? The President knows better than this.”
Ministers caution one another
Responding on behalf of the newly commissioned Ministers, Dr. Antoinette Weeks, Minister of Public Works, urged her colleagues to view the opportunity to serve as a glass half full, and utilize the opportunity given them to bring about reform, transformation and nation building.
Weeks admonished he colleagues to exemplify the confidence reposed in them by their employer President Sirleaf to execute the duties and responsibilities of their respective offices with the highest degree of credibility, professionalism and transparency adding that “inaction is not an option”.
Mary Broh goes to GSA
Meanwhile, the President has nominated individuals to positions in government including the former Mayor of the City of Monrovia Mary Broh and replaced the Chairman of the national Investment Commission Natty O. B. Davis.
The following persons have been named, subject to confirmation by the Honorable Liberian Senate, where applicable:
National Investment Commission
Mr. Michael Wotorson – Chairman
Ms. Ciata Bishop – Executive Director
National Elections Commission
Mr. C. A. Lamin Lighe – Executive Director
General Services Agency
Ms. Mary Broh – Director General
Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission
Ms. Abla Gadegbeku Williams – Executive Director
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Local Appointments in Margibi County, Mboo Statutory District
Mr. Henric Marcus Speare – District Superintendent
Mr. Besus P. Davis – Assistant District Superintendent for Development
Mr. Francis Okai, Jr. – District Commissioner
Ministry of Public Works
Mr. Zack G. W. Sharpe, III – Deputy Minister for Administration
(Replacing Mr. Stephen Yekeson who will be taking on another portfolio)
Ministry of Justice
Mr. Anthony Sonkarly – Asst. Minister for Administration
Grand Gedeh County Community College Board of Trustees
Mr. Bai M. Gbala
Mr. Philip Dwuyee
Mr. Rex O. Moses
The National Commission on Higher Education
The Ministry of Education (Ex-Officio)
Mr. Benson Barh, Acting President, GGCC
Mr. Otis Jolo
Senator Isaac Nyenabo
Hon. Alex C. Grant
In a related development Liberia has a new envoy to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in person of Ambassador Rudolf von Ballmoos.
Those Commissioned include Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for International Economic Cooperation and Integration, Mr. Elias Shoniyin, Mr. Morris Dukuly, Minister of Internal Affairs; Dr. Antoinette Weeks, Minister of Public Works; Mr. Lenn Eugene Nagbe, Minister of Youth and Sports; Mr. S. Tornolah Varpilah, Minister of Transport; and Mr. George Werner, Director-General, Civil Service Agency.
Ambassadors commissioned were: Mr. Rudolf P. von Ballmoos, Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Dr. C. William Allen, Ambassador to France; and Mr. Edwin F. Sele, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco.
Others are: Mrs. Davietta Lansana, Commissioner, National Elections Commission; Mr. Charles Collins and Mr. Timothy Thomas, Commissioners, Public Procurement and Concessions Commission.
Deputy Ministers commissioned are Mrs. Una Thompson, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Administration; Mr. Elias Shonoyin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for International Economic Cooperation and Integration; Mrs. Yusador Gaye, Inspector General of the Foreign Service; Mr. Amos Tweh, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs for Urban Affairs; Cllr. Betty Lamin-Blamo, Deputy Minister of Justice/Solicitor General, Republic of Liberia; and Mr. Edwin Tetteh, Deputy Minister of Education for Administration.
Others are: Mr. Khalipha Bility, Deputy Minister of Education for Planning, Research and Development; Mr. Seklau Wiles, Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Administration; Dr. Charles Nyankoon McClain, Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Planning and Development; Mr. Stephen Dorbor, Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy for Planning and Human Resource Development; and Mr. Ebenezer Kolliegbo, Deputy Minister of Posts and Telecommunications for Administration according to an executive mansion release.
Others are: Mr. J. Levi Demmah, Deputy Minister of Transport for Administration; Mr. Jeremiah Garwo Sokan, Deputy Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs for Sectoral and Regional Planning; Mr. Daryl Ambrose Nmah, Director-General, Liberia Broadcasting System; and Cllr. Lemuel Reeves, Deputy Commissioner for Naturalization, Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.