Liberia’s Agriculture Void: Who’s Likely to Replace Dismissed Minister?
Monrovia – A lot of conspiracy theories have been circulating in the aftermath of President George Manneh Weah’s decision to part ways with his Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Mogana Flomo with some suggestions from the fallen minister’s camp that he had been resisting pressure to hire partisans from the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
In search of answers, FrontPageAfrica has been digging the corridors of the presidency for answers.
While many of the president’s closed aides are remaining tightlipped, the theory regarding Dr. Flomo’s dismissal due to partisan politics pressure is being widely dismissed.
An Insider Explains Reason for Firing
“I think the President wanted a change at the ministry because he was simply unhappy with the performance, this has nothing to do with giving jobs to partisans of the ruling party,” said a source with close proximity to the presidency who preferred anonymity because he has not been authorized to speak on the matter. “The bottom line is, “it’s about performance. People will always want use jobs as means of justifying their dismissal but nothing like that happened.”
FrontPageAfrica has learned that the President was particularly unhappy with Dr. Flomo’s failure to follow up on a number of discussions the President had with key stakeholders regarding the revamp of the agriculture sector.
One particular instance mentioned to FPA was the President’s recent visit to Israel during which the Israeli Government promised to help boost the agricultural sector in Liberia.
The Jewish state which since the 1950s have been known for developing innovative means of agriculture through drip and micro-irrigation solutions, green cocoons, biological pest control, dairy farming and tailor-made farm solutions, that some say, the economically-challenged Liberia could reap some benefits of an innovation that is rapidly spreading worldwide and from a desert-challenged nation that has had results.
Despite the explanation from government circle, sources say Flomo’s dismissal was in the making ever since he fallout with Bong County lawmaker, Representative Melvin Cole – the man who reportedly lobbied to get him the post.
Flomo is not regarded as a partisan of CDC, a factor that lessened his influence in the cabinet and relationship with President Weah. And when he opted to reject the employment of scores of partisans recommended for employment by Rep Cole, a feud became imminent.
There were frequent jibes coming from supporters of Rep. Cole aimed at Dr. Flomo; some of the comments suggested that Flomo’s days were numbered at the Ministry because he was “disrespecting the people that made him”.
At the same time, according to Inside sources at the Ministry, Dr. Flomo became unpopular with the Executive because he often rejected requests to expend donor funds in a certain way that he saw as a variance to stated regulations.
Sources say when Dr. Flomo became recalcitrant about the “wrong procedure” in the use of donors’ funding, the Project Implementation Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture became working, compiling and filing reports without his attestation. And when he protested their actions, he further sank into a deeper row with members of the Executive.
Our source said one person who persistently opposed the now ousted Minister was Cllr Sayma Syrennius Cephus, who was Deputy Minister at the time.
Now Solicitor General-designate, Cllr. Cephus was often fond of rejecting Dr. Flomo’s suggestion which called for the PMU to first submit its report to him before onward submission.
Bong Loses Numerical Relevance
Citizens of Bong told FrontPageAfrica the decision of President Weah to relieve Flomo of his post undermines the numerical relevance of a county that played a significant part in Weah becoming president.
Bong is the third populated county in Liberia with over 200, 000 registered voters, according to the National Elections Commission (NEC). In the first round of the votes in 2017, CDC won Bong with 29,045 and accumulated 32,896 votes in the second round.
But the county’s low representation in the Executive – in Ministerial positions – is disappointing several youths of the county.
“This is a shame to our county,” said Titus Dolo, 32, after news of Dr. Flomo dismissal penetrated the county. “Bong County will be in the news for the wrong reason.”
Cyrus Zoryou, a resident of the Civil Compound community in Gbarnga, argued it was unnecessary for President Weah to part company with Flomo, especially at a time the Coalition of Democratic Change was preparing to find a consensus candidate for the 2020 senatorial election.
Zoryou said partisans of the CDC in Bong are in shock over Flomo’s sudden dismissal. “We really didn’t see this dismissal coming. For me, I am surprised,” he said.
Mohammed Kromah, a partisan of the CDC in Bong, said the dismissal of the lone cabinet minister from Bong County in President Weah’s government undermined a negative image for the county.
Kromah said Flomo’s dismissal indicates that President Weah cares less about the county’s political relevance. “This can’t be the South East. This latest action by the president should send a very strong message to citizens of the county,” he said.
Continuing, he added: “You can’t have the third most populated county with no representation in government.”
Some political observers in the county assert that the return of Walker amid the firing or Dr. Flomo could heighten the already existing rift between Walker and the Vice President at the advantage of President Weah.
Lamenting Lack of Funding
During his time as minister, Dr. Flomo, complained about the lack of adequate budget support as a key reason the sector has been struggling.
In the previous 2018/2019 fiscal year, set at US$488.8 million, with only US$8.3 million appropriated for agriculture. This amounts to 1.69% of the total national budget of Liberia, while 62.1%. goes to recurrent expenditures the bulk of which pays for huge salaries and allowances and logistics for top officials.
Critics have suggested that the budget make up at least 10% allocated to agriculture, in order to not just improve the livelihood of the ordinary people in line with the CDC government’s pro-poor agenda but also lay emphasis on the rice value-chain development deemed key to taking some of the burden on government in the wake of the rapid decline in extraction and exportation of minerals from Liberia.
President Weah in his Annual Message in January lamented that endless national and foreign resources pumped into agriculture have been enormous, yet returns on these investments are almost negligible. “This will have to change,” he said. “Just as I am doing with the roads, I will directly get involved in the programs and practical implementation of agriculture development. The sector accounts for more than seventy percent (70%) of household earnings. Therefore, our Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development can only be sustainably achieved through agriculture. We will craft new practical and realistic agriculture policies, incentivize the sector by providing access to credit, reducing tariffs on agriculture implements, and provide small machines, modern seeds and fertilizers.”
In the coming months, sources say, the President will be looking to prioritize the sector in the same manner he has been prioritizing roads since ascending to the presidency with many stakeholders agreeing that a vibrant agriculture sector could be the answer to Liberia’s economic revival amid the decline of rubber, iron ore and oil prices.
Who Fills the Void?
FrontPageAfrica now takes a look at some of the names said to be under consideration jumpstart the sector.
UPSIDE: The current head of the Liberia Maritime Authority previously served as Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), under former President Sirleaf’s government where he was responsible for managing the financial resources of the country, developing and administering financial rules and regulations, overseeing matters relating to government accounting and reporting, overseeing matters relating to tax and revenue policies and reform, and overseeing overall expenditure monitoring. Before becoming Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs in 2014, he served as Deputy Minister for Revenues in 2012 at the Ministry of Finance and previously as Acting Deputy Minister for Regional and Sectoral Planning at the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs in 2011.
In 2009, working with the team at the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, he ran the Secretariat of the Liberia Reconstruction & Development Committee, where he used results-based monitoring techniques to significantly improve implementation rates. During this period, he was instrumental in enhancing coordination between development partners and state actors.
Dr. Kollie holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and economics from Zion University College, an M.B.A. in corporate finance from the University of St. Thomas, and a Ph.D. in public policy and administration from Walden University.
DOWNSIDE: Kollie has been forced to defend himself against allegations linked to the Private Sector Development Initiative (PDSI) which spurred a ricochet criticism. During the former Sirleaf government, Mr. Kollie slammed the audit as a witch-hunt by former finance minister Boima Kamara who he accused at the time of prematurely leaking the report to the press. In a letter to the President, Kollie wrote: “Madam President, due to the unprofessional manner in which the audit was conducted coupled with the form and manner in which the draft report that had not benefited from my response was made public, I am of the conviction that the current actors have no credibility and independence in reviewing my responses and/or facts that might be presented to them because they seem to have vested interest in damaging my reputation”
Quite recently, he took the Solicitor General Designate Cyrennius Cephus to task for naming among a list of former Sirleaf government official who could not collectively account for some US$13 million from the European Union (EU). The Solicitor General-designate reliance was a GAC audit which he claimed was conducted for the period July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2017. But Kollie took offense, demanding answers from the SG designate. Cllr. Cephas, because the list reference to GAC Audit Reports for the period July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2017, I really do want to know the following: Is there actually any audit report by the GAC on $13 million provided by the European Union? Did that report, if it exists, ever mention my name? Does that report have any response from me in it? Is the mention of me or anyone purely on the basis of unsubstantiated media and press reports? Cllr. Cephas, I am constrained to ask these questions because to the best of my knowledge, no auditor has ever asked me any question about EU $13 million and so for your press statement to claim that there is a GAC report is totally surprising and baffling.”
ODDS: Kollie was one of the founding members of the CDC and was said to be instrumental in the party’s 2017 victory albeit from behind the scenes. President Weah has quietly expressed a desire to bring a fresh face to the maritime sector and this could be a way out for Kollie although the issue of tenure presents some complications. . . 5/1
UPSIDE: The former head of the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission is highly regarded and was named the 2018 Integrity Idol Liberia winner.
Many see him as being outright and principle minded. Mr. Jallah is Liberia’s former Deputy Minister for Sectoral and Regional Planning and previously served in the World Bank Advisory Group in early 2011 and contributed immensely to the development of the new global Social Protection and Labor Strategy. He has worked as an independent redevelopment consultant actively engaged in various sectors of Liberia’s economy, including in the last quarter of 2012 when former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appointed him as head of a panel which investigated a corruption scandal in the forestry sector. The findings of that investigation have led to sweeping reforms currently underway in the forestry sector. Mr. Jallah holds a Master of Engineering degree in Logistics and Supply Chain Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) International Logistics Program based in Zaragoza, Spain.
DOWNSIDE: Despite his credentials and proven record of performance, the failure of the Weah-led government to renew his tenure raised eyebrows about the government’s desire to include competent Liberians who can make a difference.
ODDS: Although Jallah has publicly said he left on a good note because his tenure was not renewed, the court of public opinion hold a different view. Dorbor’s appointment here could mark a sign of maturity and willingness to give an embrace to one of Liberia’s integrity giants . . . 5/1
UPSIDE: Massaquoi comes from the National Patriotic Party bloc of former President Charles Taylor. He contested on the party’s ticket in the 2005 presidential elections, placing sixth out of 22 candidates, receiving 4.1% of the vote. He has some background in the sector when he served previously in 2009 as President of the Liberian Produce Marketing Corporation. He also previously served as Minister of Agriculture and later Minister of Planning during the reign of former President Taylor. He is a member of the Lorma ethnic group, a tribe many critics of the Weah administration says has been neglected on the jobs front.
Massaquoi who also serves on the board of the Agriculture Investment Network (AIN) once described the sector as the only opportunity that would make farmers rich and stabilize the country’s economy while stressing the need to encourage smallholder farmers to remain effective in food production. He has been a strong proponent of creating an enabling environment for potential farmers, thereby putting in place agriculture policies that will guide farmers along the way, so that Liberia, as a country, will be self-sufficient in food production.
DOWNSIDE: Massaquoi, the current president of the Bong County Technical College(BTCC) has been critical against the government ‘s failure to adequately fund the school, declaring recently that aid money collected from students in the past semesters was directed toward the purchase of fuel for the generator, stationeries and other essential items to run the institution. “We don’t have money to run the institution. Things have become tough for us as a university since President Weah announced the free tuition,” he said recently. Some supporters of the ruling party have been critical of Massaquoi’s vocal stance against the lack of funding provided by the government, suggesting that he keeps it in the family.
ODDS: This could be the first high-profile job to anyone from the NPP, one of the collaborating parties in the ruling coalition – or maybe not.… 3/1
UPSIDE: The former dean of the Agriculture and Forestry College at the University of Liberia is highly regarded as one of the brightest minds in the agriculture sector. His short stint during the dog days of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-led government ended on a whimper. During his time at the Forestry College, Zinnah was widely credited with the curriculum reform at the college which he said was key to helping the college respond to the dynamic changes in the country’s agriculture sector.
During a Liberian Private Sector Forum last January, Dr. Zinnah averred that in spite of the country’s political and socio-economic differences, there is a consensus that agriculture is the foundation for the transformation of Liberia into a middle-income country. “Agriculture is the most effective means of reducing poverty and ensuring economic growth and development because the majority of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihoods,” he said.
Dr. Zinnah has more than 30 years of extensive professional experience in working with teams and individuals in varied institutional settings of national and international non-governmental organizations, ministries of agriculture, research institutes, private service providers, and universities and colleges in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and USA.
He has served on high-level teams of Government of Liberia as Deputy Minister for Planning and Development at the Ministry of Agriculture and provided leadership in the preparation and successfully negotiation of several donor-funded agricultural development projects that are being funded by the African Development, Bank World Bank/IDA, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Japanese Trust Fund, Global Environmental Fund and the United Nations Development Program.
He is also responsible for facilitating the establishment of the Program Management Unit (PMU) in the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) that supervises the management and implementation of all donor-funded agricultural development projects in the Ministry of Agriculture.
He holds a Ph.D. in Continuing and Vocational Education (Agricultural & Extension Education option); Minor in Rural Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA and an M.Sc. in Continuing and Vocational Education (Agricultural and Extension Education option), University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. He is a 1980 graduate from the General Agriculture, College of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Liberia and a 1976 graduate from Our Lady of Fatima High School. Harper, Cape Palmas, Maryland County, Liberia.
DOWNSIDE: Zinnah’s critics say he is more of a theoretical mind than practical, one reason why some say former President Sirleaf parted ways with him. Sirleaf took a gamble on Zinnah, who until his appointment was the head of the Agriculture Sector Rehabilitation Project in hopes of reviving a sector and Ministry many regarded as one of the lowest performers of her presidency. Her two previous ministers, came from the Diaspora and with high-profile credentials. Dr. J. Chris Toe, had risen from the rank of a professor to head the U.S.-based Strayer University and Dr. Florence Chenoweth, who had held the position, thirty years earlier and etched in history as the architect of the infamous 1979 rice riot.
ODDS: A return for Zinnah may still be too fresh but his brains and expertise could come in handy as the author of the only agriculture policy on record… 5/1
VAH ISAAC TUKPAH Jr.
UPSIDE: Widely regarded as one of the brightest brains in the ruling party, Tukpah is a Chairman Emeritus of the Congress for Democratic Change USA branch, also known as CDC-USA. He has been a member of the CDC since November 2009 and has served as Financial Secretary, Deputy Chairman for Operations and Deputy Chairman for Administration. Professionally, he is a Senior Project/Program Manager with extensive experience in Healthcare Information Technology and Finance. He has a strong background in program & project management, risk analysis and management, performance analysis, healthcare financial planning and analysis, and strategic planning. He is currently the CEO of a Liberian owned firm called Sustainable Development International, Incorporated (SDII). SDII focuses on bringing holistic development to Liberia through the use of renewable energy, water management, and agriculture with strong focus on the triple bottom line. He holds a B.Sc. in Economics from Cuttington University (formerly Cuttington University College), magnum cum laude, and an M.B.A. from the University of Maryland Smith School of Business. He also completed all academic requirements for a degree in Monetary & Industrial Economics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. He holds a current project management certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI).
DOWNSIDE: On paper, Tukpah is without a doubt on of the brightest minds in the ruling party and has all the boxes check in terms of the requirements of those appointed so far. He is from Rivercess but raised in Monrovia and also lived in Grassfield and Yekepa, in Nimba County. An unexplained beef with the current president is said to be the main reason why Tukpah has not landed a job. But he remains one of the party’s strongest defenders on social media.
ODDS: Many government and ruling party insiders say it would take a miracle for Tukpah to be considered here… 3/1
UPSIDE: One of the few survivors from the administration of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Broh, is known for getting the job done. She has not background in agriculture but does fit the description of what President Weah’s aide says he is looking for, someone who will aggressively push his agriculture agenda.
Broh, a long-time friend and aide to former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, first came to government in March 2006 as the Special Projects Coordinator for the President’s executive staff. In 2007, she was promoted to direct the Passport Bureau in a successful attempt to curtail and eliminate corruption and bribery within the division. In 2008, Broh became the Deputy Director of the National Port Authority(NPA). In February 2009, she was selected to serve as Acting Mayor of Monrovia in place of the previous mayor, Ophelia Hoff Saytuma, in the President’s effort to legitimize the Monrovia City Corporation’s (MCC) administrative and financial management. Although Broh was seated in February 2009 by appointment, rather than by the usual democratic election process, she was not officially confirmed by the Liberian Senate.
Broh has worked to clean up the capital city with measures that include citywide litter reduction campaigns aimed to increase public awareness of litter, sanitation, and overall public health. In October 2009, she implemented the revised City Ordinance No. 1, originally established by the MCC in 1975 to address public health, sanitation, and street vendors. The revision sought to address issues that have accumulated in the capital over the last two decades such as overflowing and unsanitary trash, makeshift structures and unregulated street vendors who sell foodstuffs to locals and tourists alike.
DOWNSIDE: Broh, once a torn in the flesh of the current ruling party when it was in the opposition, remains an enigma, a loner from the former government now heading the General Services Agency where she has been battle-tested, disrespected fighting a battle to maintain sanity as an outsider in a job, many partisans would love to have.
ODDS: Broh gets the job done but would she get it here? . . . 5/1