Liberia: Internal Affairs Minister Accused of Nepotism
Monrovia – Mr. Varney Sirleaf is one of few ministers who worked in the regime of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and still maintains the same portfolio despite the change of regime. But there are now allegations of nepotism hovering his stewardship at the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
At the MIA, Mr. Sirleaf, sources allege, shields some of his relatives and friends in important positions as a means of solidifying his influence.
A source within the Ministry tells FrontPageAfrica that the Deputy Minister for Administration, Momolu Sirleaf Johnson is the Minister’s brother; Lousene Siyon, Assistant Minister for Technical Services, and Lusene Bility, the Assistant Minister for Legal Affairs are his two cousins.
The source also adds that Mr. A. L. Fofana, Assistant Minister for Communal Farming, is the Minister’s Brother- in- Law – a relative of Minster Sirleaf’s wife, who happens to be Representative Mariamu Fofana of Lofa County.
The Sirleaf ‘Nepotism’ Link
Minister Sirleaf first surfaced as Assistant Minister of States for Logistical Services in the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Varney is a relative of Madam Sirleaf’s late husband.
Concerns of nepotism quickly overshadowed Madam Sirleaf’s 12-year reign as her critics slammed her for appointing and shielding several of her relatives in key positions.
Mr. Sirleaf, being one of many relatives of the former president, in 2018 made comments against nepotism when he spoke to the BBC World Services. His assertions drew ire as many termed it as a “hypocritical”.
In that interview, Sirleaf was asked about his foremost advice to current President George Weah against repeating mistakes of Madam Sirleaf by employing family members and being complacent in the fight against corruption.
Replied Minister Varney Sirleaf: “Be [a] little vigilant; those setbacks that Mrs. Sirleaf faced learn them, putting family members in government, being lenient when it comes to prosecuting people.”
But his critics argued that he was not worthy of giving such counsel since he had benefited out of “nepotism”.
It is more than a year since the Internal Affairs Minister gave what others described as a candid opinion, but it seems allegations of nepotism is still dogging him.
Sources within the Ministry, who asked not to be named, alleged that Mr. Sirleaf has significantly influenced the appointments of aforementioned senior officials as a means of abating any possible critical views against him.
“In total, there are five relatives including Minister Sirleaf that are in appointed positions at the Ministry which is not suitable for a professional setting,” the source said.
“With relatives or friends of the Minister in key positions, I think validating integrity and transparency will be hard to determine because his tentacles are spread in all departments.”
Sirleaf Rebuffs Allegations
However, Minister Sirleaf has denied influencing the appointments of any of the four deputy ministers and eight assistant ministers in order to micromanage the ministry.
“If I had an assistant minister in that department headed by a deputy minister, how do I micromanage that department because that deputy minister is the head and the assistant minister reports to that deputy,” he said in response to an FPA inquiry during an interview in Monrovia.
He then denied that Mr. Momolu Sirleaf Jonhson is his brother, stressing “Momolu comes from Margibi [County] and I’m from Bomi [County] so we have absolutely no relation.”
Sirleaf adds that both his paternal and maternal surnames are Sirleafs, which means his family identity would show on anyone he appoints.
Responding to further inquiry about Lousene Siyon, Assistant Minister for Technical Services, he said Mr. Siyon worked in the past regime with the Liberia Decentralization Support Project (LDSP) but left the project for personal reasons and has resurfaced at the Ministry in the CDC-led government.
Mr. Fofana, who is the Assistant Minister for Communal Farming is alleged to be the Minister’s Brother- in- Law, but he, however, contends that Fofana was the Chairman of the ruling party for a district in Lofa County in 2015, and was appointed based on his qualifications and membership with the CDC.
“We all practice the same religion, so except people looking at it from that
angle but I don’t have control over that,” Minister Sirleaf said of the relationship he shared with the five ministers.
Sirleaf, who has worked at the MIA for six years before becoming the minister-proper, is said to have massive influence at the Ministry and some say his tentacles spread across all departments making it difficult to oppose his policy actions even if they are flawed.
He entered the Ministry in 2012 as Deputy Minister, worked under two successive Ministers – Morris Dukuly and then Henrique Tokpah – before occupying the top seat.
But with this nepotism scandal hovering his leadership, he insists that his effectiveness is unhampered.
“To be nepotistic you got to have a very close relative of yours in the Ministry working [but] I have not brought in any of my brothers or recommend to the President,” he argues.