Minister’s Suspension Triggers Integrity Quagmire For Liberia’s Ruling Party

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Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

Monrovia – Mulbah Morlu, the chair of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) wasted no time in hailing the indefinite suspension of Jemima Wolokollie as Deputy Minister/Small Business at the Ministry of Commerce.

In a statement Mr. Morlu described the suspension as a timely testament to President George Manneh Weah’s “laudable commitment to ensuring a disciplined, coherent & responsible democratic leadership, unseen before in the nation’s governance experience.”

The ruling party chair went on to say that Wolokolie’s actions was preposterously unbecoming of a public servant and encouraged her to take self-corrective measures to realign herself to meet the President’s high standards for public service.

Origin of a Saga

Wolokollie ignited a social media firestorm last week when she called a news conference in which she accused the minister, Professor Wilson Tarpeh of conniving with shady foreign businesses in the country at the detriment of Liberian-owned businesses.

Wolokollie  stated that Minister Tarpeh was antagonizing her because of her stance against his shady dealings that contravene the government’s pro-poor agenda. “I’m asking my boss for him to open the market for Liberians to be able to do rice, for Liberians to be able to do petroleum, for Liberians to be able to bring in onions, and he has refused,” she alleged. “It is very disturbing; why is Professor Trapeh giving me problem?”

Wolokollie added that Minister Tarpeh was blocking all her efforts to prioritize the interest of Liberianization – a policy that provides exclusive trade and commerce privileges for Liberian entrepreneurs – and does not want her to succeed in her functions.

While many embraced the minister’s stance others questioned her decision to go public instead of addressing the matter with her boss behind closed doors.

This may have triggered the president’s decision Saturday to give Wolokollie a breather.

The President emphasized in a statement at the weekend, the need for all deputies to accord the highest respect and courtesy to their leaders; and refrain from taking internal disputes and/or disagreements to the public space for redress.  President Weah further encouraged all subordinates to practice utmost professionalism in conducting their duties and the need to follow the proper channel in addressing disputes with their leaders.

Divided Court of Public Opinion

While the ruling party and some of the President’s supporters have been hailing his move, critics say, the President should instead be haling one of the few high-profile women in his administration for trumpeting his pledge not to marginalized Liberian-owned businesses. “As we open our doors to all foreign direct investments, we will not permit Liberian-owned businesses to be marginalized. We cannot remain spectators in our own economy,” the President trumpeted in his inaugural address in January as he promised to prioritize the interests of Liberian-owned businesses and offer programs to help them become more competitive. “We will offer services that international investors seek as partners.”

The President’s pledge drew immediate praise from the Liberian Business Association which said in a statement that it was excited by pronouncement.

LIBA proclaimed: “As the apex body established by an Act of the Liberian Legislature in 1993, to work with Government and act as a catalyst for the development of widespread Liberian-owned business sector, as well as to work with international institutions and governments in helping to identify serious and credible Liberian entrepreneurs who may need to benefit from certain programs to develop their capacity, LIBA stands ready to intensify constructive engagement with the Government to ensure this is actualized.”

Supporters of the suspended minister say she is being wrongfully ridiculed for raising a red flag on one of the presidents’ major inaugural pledge.

President did not mince words shortly after the results of the 2017 presidential elections were announced when he declared that transforming the Lives of all Liberians would be the single mission that focuses on my presidency. “Over the next few days, we will assemble the government that is committed to fighting the ideas that inspired our campaign and dedicating our time to empowering the Liberian people,” he said to a rousing applause from the audience at the conference hall table.”

Although the appointments so far have been widely criticized, Wolokollie has been viewed as one of the few bright spots.

Some insiders say prior to her suspension, Deputy Minister Wolokollie enjoyed the confidence of the President but may have annoy him by going public, particularly to the media with whom the President has had a rugged start since assuming office.

A Similarity with Jewel?

Wolokollie’s suspension also comes in the wake of recent tension between the President and his vice Jewel Howard Taylor bordering some similarities.

Jewel was forced to go public with an apology to the President over what she described as her constant travels without informing him, a move she says contributed to some misunderstanding between her and her boss.

While proclaiming that the situation has been resolved, the vice president proclaimed that she is the face of women on the continent, especially since Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf left power and would, therefore, have to make representations on their behalf.

Some political observers say both women crossed the line for a president who has a thin-skinned to public ridicule of himself and his administration, especially in the media.

‘Liberians Will be the Judge’

Wolokollie’s decision to go public however may have been the hand the rocked a once-promising relationship with the president with her future now reportedly at his mercy.

Her immediate boss, Professor Tarpeh has been mum over the allegations raised claiming that it would be giving relevance to unsubstantiated claims from one of his principal deputies.

But many of Wolokollie’s supporters are hoping that the saga doesn’t end with her suspension that the President, despite his anger over her decision to go public will probe the concerns raise, at least to appease his critics and those holding he and his government’s feet to the fire on graft and his pledge to curb it.

For Wolokollie who declined to speak on this issue when contacted Sunday, appears to be standing her ground as she posted on her personal Facebook page: “I am proud of my integrity, and what I stand for. The people of Liberia will be the judge, but the most powerful judge is God whom I believe we all claimed to know.”

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