Liberia’s Agriculture Minister: Transformation Is A Bumpy Road’ – An Interview

MINISTER COOPER: Transformation is a bumpy road, it’s not a straight shot, so there may be missteps, side steps as you get there, let’s give each other a chance. Let’s see where we are.

The first 90-days has been a rollercoaster ride for Jeanie Milly Cooper. Her appointment by President George Manneh Weah as Minister of Agriculture was greeted by a warm embrace with many trumpeting her arrival as a major coup for the President, looking to the turn beef up a sector left for dead. Over the past few weeks however, the road so far has been rocky for the minister. Allegations that she cancelled a crucial contract for equipment to favor friends and associates, followed an email exchange between she and officials of the African Development Bank. This week, the minister sat down for an exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica to address the many controversies dogging her so far and holds no punches as she takes on her critics while looking to shore up support and reassure Liberians that she will deliver in the fullness of time.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA:  Let’s start with the money from the World Bank, the US$10.5 million for food security for the COVID-19, could you explain what it is all about and how soon it would be implemented?

MINISTER JEANIE MILLY COOPER: Thank you very much. When the COVID-19 started, we realized very soon that even though it was a health problem that it would also have the potential to be a food security problem, particularly if we were mopping down, staying home and quarantining certain areas – produce had to move, people had to eat and so we developed an emergency food security response plan that has four components.

The first component would be to purchase a pre-positioned food stock; particularly our stable crops – rice, cassava, palm oil. We thought there is a whole lot of food out there because actually what we produce here is only a fraction of what we consume.

We thought it would be best to store what’s out there.  It’s because two months ago we were not sure whether the ports would stay open; we’re highly-import dependent particularly in the urban areas so we weren’t sure whether rice would continue to come. What we did know was even if we didn’t have a lot of rice, we had three quarter of a million tons of cassava in the ground – and that’s our second stable food. So, we said how can we get as much of it ahead of the rains; prepositioned it so we can process it into Gari (Farina) and put that and whatever staple crops we could gather in warehouses around the country that in the event that we have shortages of rice or anything, we have something that the government could then distribute. And so that was the first component – purchasing and prepositioning food.

The second component was: let’s see if we can encourage our farmers, empower our farmers to go out there and just plant; encourage our people in urban areas, rural areas to plant their gardens, plant some food so that we can increase the base stock of food that we had.

The third component of the response was to boost our processing capacity, because just getting rice from the field, if you don’t process it, it’s not consumer – ready. With cassava it has a limited shelf life but when you process it into Gari and you store it properly it can have a much longer shelf life. So, we are looking at our processing capacity but also, we’re looking at how we could support our cash crop sectors.

We were concerned two months ago about Firestone stopping purchasing. Our rubber sector is the largest private employer in the country; if we start to have layoffs in the rubber sector, farmers start to close their farms we would have yet another problem over and above the COVID-19.

Similarly, in the cocoa sector. We wanted to see how we could support that. So, we looked at how we could support their processing capacity in those two areas as well – the cash crops.

The last area is, how do we bring it together? Do we coordinate it? How do we manage the information flow? Do we make sure that the systems we are putting in place are sustainable systems? Speak to the technologies of the 21st century? How can we get a warehouse and seed system that can serve as the basis for example, for farmers to be able to get loans from banks because their products have been certified? And so, we looked at how do we keep the knowledge of all that we’re doing together so the fourth component was that and we presented it to donors on the 26th of March.

The World Bank was the first one through the post as they say; but the donors across the board were very excited about the plan and we started negotiations right away to see how we could access – those donors who had projects had projects ongoing how we could access those funds.

The World Bank looked at it and said we have what is called the CERC (Contingency Emergency Response Component). It’s the same thing in the health sector. They activated this component so they can use it to quickly channel funds towards the emergency response. And so, the World Bank said we can put US$10.5 million into this.

By then we were about purchasing, and pre-positioning and they said can we take US$5 million of this US$10.5 million and put it toward the food with WFP? And so, we had US$5milion going toward the general food distribution that WFP is planning to implement. And an additional US$5.525 million that’s going to be split between the four components. So, we’re going to be buying Rice, we’re going to be buying Gari or Farina. We’re going to be buying cassava flour, we’re going to be buying palm oil and we’re going to be storing it in warehouses, so we have to rehabilitate very quickly. I’m not talking about the construction, just cleaning it up, tidy up the warehouse, setting up a warehouse receipt system and still be able to manage those stocks. We’re also going to be buying some rice seeds and cassava stocks and vegetable seeds and getting it out there for the components I told you about, expand cultivation and we are looking at how we can support some processors in different sectors.

And of course, the coordination, the World Bank is taking on with that.

All of this is very laborious negotiation. At the same time, we were talking to the World Bank, we were talking to IFAD – International Fund for Agriculture Development – we’re talking to the African Development Bank on some other projects here. We’re talking to the EU, to the USAID, to the Swedish, different governments, different donors, different partners because some of the international NGOs said, “How can we help?”

They gave us capabilities profile. How could they be involved? Not necessarily asking us to pay for it and they will bring certain funds.

The UN is helping us to set up modern audio-visual capacity for the video conferencing and things like that, mapping with scanners and now map what we’re doing.

Like I said the World Bank was the first to pass through the post with US$10.5 million, we also have IFAD coming up with US$3.8 million which they’ve indicated can be increased if need be.

For IFAD, it wasn’t about activating an emergency component, they just fast track some of their activities they had ongoing.

Similarly, for the African Development Bank, we’ve submitted to them a proposal of how this could work with the funds that they have.

So, we’re there negotiating amongst and between donors, amongst and between components and at the same time lining up your partners, the Liberian farmers, producers and processors to make sure that they’re ready to receive these funds.

It’s been an incredible amount of work over the last four to six weeks to get things lined up and we are just getting to this thing.

Week before last, we signed the US$5 million component to go to World Food Program to speed up the food distribution and we have different aspects of the US$10.5 million; the World Bank is coming in with this program that we launch yesterday (Tuesday) – grants to agribusiness SMEs and informal sector agribusiness with relaxed rules for how you can access funds.

We would have 40 or more agribusiness matching grants of US$10,000 a piece and about 50 of US$1,000 a piece for informal sector – for smaller agriculture enterprises who don’t have the track record of financial robustness to be able to access funds. We have a lot of expectations for these programs.

Watch Full Interview with Liberia’s Agriculture Minister Jeannie Milly Cooper

FRONTPAGEAFRICA:  When you were coming to the job, at your confirmation hearing, you were very strategic about what you wanted to do. One of the things you trumpeted was the fact that you did not want to be political. It’s been more than 90 days now since you got the job, are you content with the political correctness of the job?

MINISTER COOPER: It’s a political environment and I realized that that’s why I trumpeted it to the world and that’s my position and that has not changed. I don’t want to be involved in politics, unfortunately, I have to be involved in politics particularly in a hot-working sector like the agriculture sector generating a lot of interest from the donor community and also from the government. It’s a balance – is health more important than food, is food more important than health? Those two together are the two most important sectors right now, probably at all times. Particularly in this COVID period, the food sector is generating a lot of interest. So, of course, politics will come into play.

I have stepped on a few hornet’s nests that I didn’t realize that were doing to be there. One way to avoid the politics of it was to stay focused on what we’re trying to do and let some of those other things die down and just stay focused.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: One of those hornet nests you called is the cancellation of the controversial farm equipment bid. There has been a lot back-and-forth discussion as to what really happened. Some people say you came and just cancelled everything and gave it to family and friends, so what really happened?

MINISTER COPPER: You’re actually right and that was the biggest hornet’s nests and I went in there with all good intentions.

I saw an equipment bid coming up even before my confirmation. When I was speaking and getting briefings from my MOA team and I said you can tell me what all that you’re putting in this bid, I saw this bid on the Executive Mansion website.

They named the things and I said that there are other things that we need. Can we get some of these other things in this bid? And I ask them about a couple of pieces of equipment that we talked about, because I asked them for the list, and they weren’t too sure what that equipment were for either. And they said we will get back to you, we’ll talk to the technical people and get back to you.

Well, I’m a technical person and I wanted to know. Several weeks went by and then they opened the bids and I said, well, I asked you all you include some other equipment, we don’t have much time.  That project was coming to an end the end of June. The rainy season for me was my most urgent thing, so I wanted to get equipment in here for the rainy season.

When I saw the outcome (of the bid) I said but we do not even have the companies that have equipment here on the ground and everything that the bid is focused on has to be imported and it takes weeks, if not months. If not till after several months. I know because I’ve been buying agriculture equipment and I know how long it takes to get here.

I said could you all not make some accommodation – there’s a couple of companies that have tractors. For example, there’s one on Tubman Boulevard, you’ll see they’re not included on the bid. They’re not my family, they’re not my friends. I know them because I’ve been buying agriculture equipment so I said, why don’t you go and see what they have and if there is some of them that we can purchase locally because of the need for speed.

Similarly, power tillers – these are things that that the farmers always need here. I said there is one power tiller supplier that everybody has bought their power tiller from on the Capitol By-Pass, why don’t you go there and see what they have in stock and maybe we can purchase those while you’re going ahead with your bid. And so, talk to the African Development Bank and let’s see what we can do.

Week after week would go by and we hear nothing and of course I’m busy with other things and then I’ll meet the team for one reason or other and I said what are you doing about this equipment.

In the main time, we went to CARI on a visit and there they were taking us around and they showed us this piece of equipment in the crates left over from a project from 2016. Quite an expensive piece of equipment, over US$100,000 for that piece.

And I said what is this? And they said this is rice seed processor. And I said it’s still in the crates and they said it was bought by such and such project in 2016. I said but it’s still in the crates. They said, yes, we don’t have anybody that can use it. I said but the project is about to buy two more. We cannot use the one that we have, and the project is going to buy two more, I said I’m not going to sign off on this. They have to do better.

That’s a logical decision. Coming from the private sector you make decisions like that all the time. It doesn’t make sense for me to buy this set of tires when I know it wouldn’t last, I will rather go for tires that would last my car, etc. etc. Choices between brands.

There was silence from the team, they were taking time and all of a sudden, they started putting things in the newspapers that I’m trying to favor my friends. I was like, which friend? Everybody bidding on that thing I know them.  That’s some of the benefits of getting somebody in the field who knows the agriculture sector here. I know all of them. I’ve interacted with all of them. I know their capacities and I know their abilities.

I’m not even talking about those people. The people I was taking about were not included on the bid. And just accusation, I said okay something must be going on here and at the same time the Bank wrote and said we understand that you cancel… We had put out a press release when I visited CARI and I was like we’re going to make sure we rationalize how government spends its money.  Squarely that’s one of those honest nests on rationalizing on something that’s already been decided.

So, the Bank said, well we have a procurement process and should go through and that’s how it works. The equipment doesn’t make sense. Will we use process over substance? Is that what our needs are? To have bunch of equipment like that ones ADA had here parked for years? Or do we try to do the right thing while we can? We still time to make some purchase. There was a lot of back and forth but a lot things were being misrepresented in the press by different journalists.

Things started to take an ugly turn and we had to organize some high-level meetings with the African Development Bank, and we explained because they were hearing the stories, too, and said we don’t really understand. The funny thing is, the director for the project is a technical person. They wrote me a letter which has been shared. They asked me if you say it’s not correct why are you saying that?

We had given our responses weeks before, but the project team has chosen not to share it. I said, okay. You want to know why? Then I wrote item by item telling them why.

So, I said, this one, this one, they do the same function, this is not the best for our kind of soil, you’re about to buy 15 of them we don’t need them. This tractor here is heavy for a small holder farmer, it’s good if you have a farm like… CARI has a larger farm, some of our cooperatives have large farms but you’ll not get the kind of use that you can get out of a smaller tractor that is more agile and more versatile.

And I went down through the list. I gave them 40 items, I said if you going to use this money to buy agriculture machinery to transform this sector, this is the kind of list we should be looking at, not that list. And he said, Minister, you’re hundred percent right, you’re correct. So, we had some discussions. Processes sometimes are really key in some institutions and even the government and I come in with my logic-trumping process and that’s not popular stance and so it was uncomfortable for some people.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: So, where is the project now? Is it going to be revamp?

MINISTER COOPER: The African Development Bank has agreed that we take the money that was going toward this equipment bid, they have put all of that money toward the emergency response – toward those four components I talked to you about and so we submitted to them how it could be spent and there was a lot of back and forth. People think you just ask the donors for money like you’re going to the market and say I want to buy this; and they give you this.

It’s a negotiation component by component until we get something, they are comfortable with and we are comfortable with. There’s that US$3.1 million that instead of purchasing equipment has been put toward purchasing seeds and even purchasing seeds from the region where we don’t have enough seeds here. It’s going towards particularly something that they are very interested in – expanding our digital agriculture capacity.

Most of that money is going toward setting up those systems and that’s something they feel we can build on. Further to that, there is additional money that they are bringing on board, US$16.3 million, which they have said for the equipment part that we couldn’t do in that last component let’s see whatever your priorities as a government.

So, we have a very beautiful relationship. It took some negotiation and there were some misunderstandings, fueled by false stories; but we’ve overcome that weeks ago. What’s being put out, there in the press right now is unproductive. We’ve moved on and now instead of three million Euros, we are looking at US$20 million from the African Development Bank. It’s all going to go towards agriculture, it’s all going to go towards the kind of sustainable transformative plans that we have and they’re fully on board.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Let’s look at another controversy that is out there regarding the cancellation of contracts. Have you laid off anybody, have you cancelled any contract or staffers since you took on this job?

MINISTER COOPER: Actually, we had one contract that we had to terminate, but this other is an administrative procedure. You have a contractor and the contract is coming to an end, you give them 30-days’ notice that the contract is coming to an end. Legally, we are not required because it states in the contract that you have a contract from January 1 to December 31st, that’s it. So, January 1st the following year, you need to have a new contract. But it’s a courtesy. I did this every year with the UN. Everybody understands it, you get the 30 days ahead of time and then you spend that 30 days reviewing your performance and whatever and if it’s possible to renew, you renew.

Now, the government’s fiscal year ends June 30th. We don’t have the budget passed yet for 2020/2021 so you cannot commit the government to what it would be able to spend in 2021 budget until that budget is passed particularly in this economic environment when we don’t know if the budget may need to be contracted further. 

What we put in there was a notification that the contracts were coming to an end and they may be renewed. A simple administrative procedure was taken way out of hand.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA:  These are not permanent jobs; these are just contracts?

MINISTER COOPER: No, they are not permanent jobs. We have some quite unorthodox ways of handling personnel in the Ministry of Agriculture. These are things that should be reviewed.

I requested functional review from the CSA when I entered the Ministry. Let’s remember that I entered the Ministry two or three weeks before COVID and so before they had time to even react, we are now all working from home and certain things have dropped from the radar. I’m renewing that request.

Particularly, I want to take this opportunity to look at the functions in the ministry. Where do we have too much, where do we have too little? How can we rationalize what we have, how can we do better with that is available to us?

One of the things I noticed is that it’s very heavy, about 40 percent is on administration. About four or five percent is on logistics.

Technical services – the core meat of the ministry is quite low in comparison. In fact, it’s not very well staffed. Frankly, all of the posts were designed and have TORs from the ‘60s and ‘70s and not really for 21st century agriculture. So, for example, one of the things that we have stated as a priority is agri-business.

We have one person in there who is an agri-business specialist and for the kind of work we are talking about, we need to see up we can beef up and have an agri-business department for example. We need to look at the structure of the PMU or the Project Management Unit and see how we can make it fit for purpose.

It was designed to be an advisory and monitoring tool to the minister, instead it’s heavy on the same thing – administration, procurement, recruitment, M&E. The TORs demand that handbook and guidelines for the PMU provide for a technical advisory capacity in that PMU and that was to be the main that part to be able to answer the questions so that when I ask the project staff what is this equipment supposed to do that should have been already passed through a technical capacity. Technical capacity was not activated, has never been activated and very little of it was in the ministry.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA:  Was this part of the list that was put out on social media? Were those people on the list for hiring or contracts?

MINISTER COOPER: The PMU, the advisory component, some of those people… it was not a final list, it was not a draft list, it was just somebody’s proposal to me that came and passed by my nose. There are people there that I don’t even know.

FRONTPAGEAFRICAONLINE: Where are we now with that list?

MINISTER COOPER: It was never put on to-be-cancelled. It was never considered. We’re trying to build something here that doesn’t have a precedent. The Term of Reference (TORs) in a manual that was done in 2010 provides for certain things. For example, the agri-business growth specialist is not a post that was in there because the focus in the ministry has never been in agri-business.

We’re in the 21st century now. In 2010, a lot of the tools that you’re using today were not tools that were used back then. We need specialist in information management systems that can tap into what’s available out there, cloud computing, storage of information. We have a database of farmers, 300,000, names or pieces of information and it’s hosted in Nigeria because somebody said our power situation here is not stable so we can’t host it here. What happened to the cloud? The cloud is something that we know so we need those kinds of expertise.

We’re talking about mechanization, irrigation specialist, we need advisors who can talk about what’s going on right now with smallholder farmers.

We need an advisory unit in the PMU, but we are still negotiating, we have not hired anyone, we have not fired anyone. You can speculate all you want. If it’s not there, it’s not there. Nobody else has been terminated, nobody else has been hired and given fabulous salaries and all of that. 

FRONTPAGEAFRCA: There about four or five agriculture ministers before you took over, a lot of expectations because we’ve seen decline in rubber, we’ve seen decline in iron ore and Agriculture is seen as the only alternative to Liberia’s economy, what are you brining to the table to make sure that Liberia is on par with the rest of the region in West Africa in terms of the development of the country?

MINISTER COOPER: The principal thing that I look at is first we have to stop farming like how Moses and Abraham farmed in the Bible. We have to bring our agriculture sector into the 21st century. It’s not an easy thing given our level of social-economic development.

It means mechanizing and expanding the use of more modern tools and that’s what we are trying to do with the farmers, a lot of capacity building, a lot of training, seriously we can do better.

Another aspect of it is that when you look at our agriculture sectors, we have so many sectors like that rubber sector, we do not have, we do not manufacture a single rubber item, not one. And when I sat with the rubber sector and talked to them – where are you now, what does it take to industrialize this sector and you’ll be very surprised, it just takes focus, the money is there, very little money. For US$25 million you’ll have an industrialized rubber industry here manufacturing up to 500 different types of items for US$25 million.

I’m sitting on a portfolio of over US$140 million, there’s more coming all the time. Steer those projects into making sure that we can industrialize the rubber sector.

Cassava sector, we have a few processors here there, the sector is not functioning as such. We are not manufacturing cassava products to the scale that is possible.

It’s a political environment and I realized that that’s why I trumpeted it to the world and that’s my position and that has not changed. I don’t want to be involved in politics, unfortunately, I have to be involved in politics particularly in a hot-working sector like the agriculture sector generating a lot of interest from the donor community and also from the government. It’s a balance – is health more important than food, is food more important than health? Those two together are the two most important sectors right now, probably at all times. Particularly in this COVID period, the food sector is generating a lot of interest. So, of course, politics will come into play.

– Jeannie Milly Cooper, Minister of Agriculture

Take cocoa, everybody tells you I’m planting cocoa, I’ve got cocoa farm, I’ve got so many cocoa trees, I’ve got this. We have purchased millions of dollars, with the portfolio of projects that I’m sitting on are dealing with cocoa. Not one aspect of those projects has in there processing cocoa. So, we’ll continue to grow and sell raw materials.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: You’re from the private sector and you know what do you, how to you bring that in terms of developing the cocoa sector? The contract with Firestone for example, does it allow Liberia to develop a sector in this country?

MINISTER COOPER: The contract with Firestone doesn’t stop Liberian own rubber. We have rubber owned by Liberians here. Sixty per cent of the rubber that is grown here is grown outside of concessions. We have three rubber processing plants. We have Nimba rubber, MARCO in Kakata and Kumba Rubber Factory in Bomi. All of them can process rubber and export rubber. They’re exporting the rubber component, like smoked sheets or technically specified rubber – that’s what they’re exporting.

And that’s when I sat with them and I said okay, you’ve gone one step, you’ve added value to it but that last value what does it take? And they said what we need is a compounding plant. I said how much is the compounding plant cost.  They said, well it’s about US$2 million and that compounding plant can compound rubber and produce the kind of rubber. You can come with a little small business and manufacture shoe soles or he can come with a small business or manufacture rubber tiles to put on the on the floor or gaskets.

I’m not even talking about tires because that’s a big thing. There are so many everyday products that we could be manufacturing here out of rubber.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: These are ambitious goals but the reality most of the government ministries and agencies, the budget is 80% salaries. How much would you have left to do these things?

MINISTER COOPER: Same thing, and again that’s why we need the external financing which is what this ministry survives on. Our budget is one of the lowest if not the lowest of all of the government ministries. It’s pretty low. The operational part of it is negligible. So, definitely, this would have to depend on projects but more than anything COVID just jumped in my way. More than anything I was targeting private sector investment because that’s sustainable. Projects come and go. Private sector investment, commercial investments; looking at building something, it’s the private sector that would do it.

We were starting to talk to investment banks that are here… we were looking at that kind of long-term investment portfolio into the agriculture sector to be able to develop it.

I say it’s not that ambitious because we’ve thought it was too ambitious that we didn’t’ do it but we have three companies that are poised to industrialize, very little and we can get them going. We have another smoked sheet plant that can produce smoked sheets that can also feed… We have the possibility of organizing our farmers into clusters, we have the possibility of setting up cocoa processing plants, cassava processing plants. We’ve taken the first step, but we thought it was too big.

One of the things that progress has done and technology has done is making many of these things accessible. You can 3-D print rubber goods. You can manufacture rubber goods with a 3-D printer. They’re doing it all over the world. In other countries, they’re teaching the kindergarten children how to use the 3-D printer. China can print 3-D and build a hospital in 48 hours, that’s what the technologies can do.

We’re still thinking that we have to go and get this huge investment, 50 containers, two ships and then it would take us so long and five years to set it up. Technology has advanced beyond that. And we have to see how we can grab that technology and make it work for us.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: We’re in the middle of COVID-19, what’s your vision, post-COVID for the sector?

MINISTER COOPER: Just exactly that, get back on track. If we get out of COVID-19 relatively soon, we’ll be in the middle of our rainy season and then the rainy season is traditionally the time when you plant. That’s the time you order whatever you need so that when the dry season comes, and the harvests are coming so that you’ll be able to do that.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA:  A few years ago, there was a Liberian farmer who was producing pepper and he packaged them into capsules for export. After a year the business collapsed. How do you see it as Minister, encouraging more Liberian farmers to do similar things, do you have the resources to do it?

MINISTER COOPER: You know that Liberian farmer is a personal friend of mine and we were starting our rice company at the same time that he was starting the pepper company and prior to me becoming minister, you know that I had continued with the red rice and I had put it on global market and high-earned restaurants and celebrity chefs in the U.S., the UK, in Europe.

When I was called by the President to be offered this job, I was in the process of negotiating export of my product with a major entity for their 140 cafeterias around the world for the red rice. The packaging, the quality processing, etc. I’ve done it so I know it’s possible. We have rice out there, we have processors sending bottled palm oil, bottled with labels and it’s consumer ready. We have processors sending out ginger powder. And other process groups like J Palm is producing goods that are export ready and that’s where the future is.

The pepper processor, I don’t know what happened, even though he’s my friend. I don’t know what happened that caused them to fail but I know that that they can succeed because we’ve been doing it over the last two, three years a number of Liberians have been exporting high quality consumer-packaged goods. COVID has interrupted that of course, but it would start up again because we are very resilient people. We had our super gari, cassava flour, plantain flour going out in containers. Not in vast quantity, nobody was becoming a millionaire yet, but persistence was going to pay.

In the private sector, government role is a facilitative role. We did this with very little government support. Imagine, I’m here in the ministry and I’m helping to channel that support towards making this happen, what a difference that makes for our Liberian producers.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: If you were to rewind the last three, four months before your confirmation, do you have any regrets about taking this job?

MINISTER COOPER: I do. It’s taking a heavy toll on my peace of mind. I had been tired from one high-profile career and you’re starting to wind down. Before being offered this job, I was thinking how to downsize my activities, so I’ll have more time for relaxation. You reach a certain age you want to do these things, so I said, now I’m going into something where because of my character I’m going to be working overtime, I know it. What’s worse is that COVID working hours are just all over the place. I’m in meeting sometimes until 10 O’clock at night and get up in the morning, 7 O’clock you start again, you have emails to read, you have programs to put in place, you have negotiations, discussions to have and it’s not just the ministry, I hold multiple board positions. I’m working with CARI Board, I’m working with the National Food Assistance Agency to get them situated, they’ve just been activated a few weeks ago. How can we get these moving even as I’m trying to push the programs, even with lockdown and truncated hours and not being able to work from my office and not being able to have staff that can manage my schedule? 

I regret the loss of personal time, I regret things like the unsavory kinds of things that have been said and done regardless of whatever you might say it does it a toll and do get very discouraging and get yourself asking, “Am I being foolish here wanting to change things? Change is hard and it’s uncomfortable for many people who have gotten used to the status quo. But then you think about your focus, where you plan to go and then you say I’ll just close my eye to that and move on.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Your appointment was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm, what message do you have for many of those people who greeted your appointment? Could they have been let down by some of the things in the media?

MINISTER COOPER: Transformation is a bumpy road, it’s not a straight shot, so there may be missteps, side steps as you get there, let’s give each other a chance. Let’s see where we are.