Thursday, July 18, 2013

Action or Inaction: President Sirleaf Pronouncements

The last three weeks have been hectic from the administrative point of view for the Unity Party-led government of the Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In her nationwide radio talk show, she outlined the successes of her government and admitted some of the lapses of the government; including the fight against corruption, which has not gone well in her two terms of office, though she declared it “public enemy number one.”

For one week, radio talk show hosts launched a popularity and performance rating for the president after her hour-long radio talk show, which was hosted by the government-owned radio station, ELBC, and carried on other stations. Her opponents say she has not done anything for the nation and its people after seven years in office. Some vehemently condemned her and pointed to her lack of willpower to deal with her friends in the government who were suspected of corrupt activities. Not only did they condemn her, they refused to acknowledge the little things she has done such as the roads rehabilitation, the inclusion of non-partisans in key government positions, the recruitment of young people in the administration, and the freedom with which the government and issues related to it are discussed without fear.

Those who appeared on radio talk shows to defend the government found it difficult to make any sense at all to almost all who called in. Not because they were not making sense, but because their callers or listeners had passed judgment on them before they even came to talk to them. To the extent that citizens themselves failed to act, her government was blamed for their inactions. Listening to some of the radio talk shows, I was confused about what many Liberians, myself included, wanted from the Sirleaf-led government.

I know that at one time, I traveled to Buchanan and it took me six hours to get there. Now in less than an hour and half, I can reach the Buchanan City. Travel to Gbarnga is becoming a little easier because of the road rehabilitation, even though it is being done in parts. I am not a hospital freak so I cannot say anything about the health sector, but I am sure services at the health sector have somewhat improved. So now you see why I was confused listening to the radio talk shows.

I am not legally minded, so the issue of corruption and its attending consequences I may not be able to comment on sufficiently. Some of the things I heard on most of those radio talk shows were outrageous: “She brought her friends and relatives to give them jobs for them to take our money and go back to the United States of America”; “She and her children are pillaging our resources and there will be nothing left after her twelve years in office.” Still others alluded to concessions contracts that were signed without considering the interests of the Liberian people. Then my mind started racing back to the days when such radio show hosts or callers would be picked up by plainclothes security and driven away, only to reappear with complaints of being beaten. At this point in time, no one has been arrested for what they said or wrote about the government or the President in particular.

A few years ago, the General Auditing Commission submitted several audit reports to the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Until today, the only thing we heard about those audits is that the government does not have sufficient proof or evidence to prosecute those who are accused of misapplying public funds in the administration of their duties. Though some of them resigned, others were dismissed and later found their way into other lucrative position in other entities. Better still, others were pardoned by the lead state agency responsible for bringing such people to book. I stand to be corrected: I think all audit reports are accusations on the one hand and an opinion of the auditor on how the system has malfunctioned on the other. Unless they are requested by the court as part of its proceedings to be submitted into evidence, audit reports are strictly for institutional updates.

I also know that audits are intended to check institutional systems and how well they are functioning. I remember the years of audits at the Monrovia District Young Adult Fellowship, which I served as Coordinator for ten years, there were always opinions, recommendations, and the way forward to make the financial officers' work easier for the following year. Based on this understanding, I am convinced that audit reports are not judgments on which the President or the government can send people to jail.

The second week started with the rumors that she was bringing her friend Mary Broh to the City Hall. Another round of radio talk shows gripped the airwaves ,and for once the callers were divided down the middle. Those who wanted her to the City Hall provided all the justifications for her to come in, while her opponents also provided their reasons for her to stay off City Hall. One newspaper referred to her as “Mary Broh: The Indispensable!” Frankly speaking, I don't know where I stand on the Broh issue. Whether or not she is at City Hall, I will do my part in keeping the city and my surroundings clean. If we all did just that, we would not have need for her.

In the third week and in what I suspect is the President's response to the poor rating she got on corruption, she fired two of her officials, suspended others, and made new appointments, which included the name of Mary Broh for the City Hall. I saw the sacking and suspension as a way of buying the public off the reappointment of Mary Broh to the City Hall. So while we were again arguing on radio about the timeliness of the decision on the sacked and suspended officials, Mary Broh was being endorsed by some of the folks on Capitol Hill. My source on Capitol Hill told me that there would be a standoff on the decision to bring Mary back. Division on Capitol, a long haul.

Seeing It Differently, I strongly think that it is not the President's inaction, but the processes leading to these pronouncements. For example, dismissing and suspending the officials does not in any way bring to closure the issues at stake, including corruption. Our over zealous activists are calling for prosecution without knowing what the legal process is in these matters. I learned that the Auditor General, Robert Kelby, is already challenging his dismissal. I am sure that at the end of the day, he will have to go. I am only worried about the disappointment of those calling for prosecution.

Moreover, I don't have a recollection of how many suspended officials made it back to their offices. However, because there is an investigation as requested by the President during these pronouncements, I am hopeful that most of the people suspended will craw their way back into government. As a matter of fact, Victor B. Smith of the Public Works Ministry, who was one of the suspended government officials is back at work. Again, because our activists don't follow these issues as they are, when any of these people like in the case of Hon. Smith, return to office, most of them will consider it as the President's inaction.

The bottom line: the dismissal and suspension are considered the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's action, but if she and her government fail to find sufficient evidence to prosecute, that will be the President's inaction as far as the activists are concerned.

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