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Friday, July 19, 2024

Liberia: Boakai Hanging on Tree that Ousted Weah

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By Festus Poquie

President Joseph Boakai is pursuing governance errors made by his predecessor that contributed to poor donor confidence, international disapproval and the eventual collapse of the Coalition for Democratic Change government.

Just like Weah, the Boakai administration is destroying what the European Union calls one of the bedrock reforms of Liberia’s post-conflict era, by pushing for the removal of tenure from all positions in the executive branch of government.

It has been agreed as a government policy that all those in tenured positions will be relieved, Bushuben Keita, the President’s Legal Advisor told reporters Friday in the Capital Monrovia.

“The President will exercise authority to appoint people to positions whether a person has tenure or not, except for those position that are protected by the constitution of Liberia.”

Reviewing Liberia’s governance system, EU sponsored research found that removal of tenure position undermines accountability and integrity of public institutions.

Published in June 2022, the report stated: Having tenure is understood to be international best practice, especially for integrity institutions, because it provides these individuals with some insulation to make judgements based on the rule of law and not under political pressures.

One of the most effective ways to undermine independent oversight mechanisms – including integrity institutions – is to eliminate the tenure of officials leading these institutions, and then place loyalists in top positions

Below is a case study on tenured positions contained in the document, The Veneers of governance: lessons from Liberia’s growing vulnerability issue of tenure also remain

Undermining accountability: the case of eliminating tenure for Liberia’s integrity institutions personnel Perhaps the most worrying current trend is the current government’s efforts to undermine accountability institutions.

166 Just after assuming office in 2018, George Weah tried, and ultimately failed, to eliminate one of the bedrock reforms of Liberia’s post-conflict era, by pushing for a bill to remove tenure from all positions in the executive branch of government.

 This would have eliminated tenure of leaders of Liberia’s most politically sensitive integrity institutions such as the PPCC, LACC, LEITI, LRA, Financial Integrity Unit (FIU) and IAA.

The only entities recommended to keep tenure were the Central Bank of Liberia, the National Elections Commission and the GAC.167 The ease and speed with which the bill passed the Liberian House before being rejected in the Senate reveals the government’s priorities. It also shows the perceived roadblocks that such institutions present for full control over Liberia’s political economy.

On 30 October 2018, George Weah submitted one of his first bills to the legislature, entitled ‘An Act Prohibiting the Tenure of Public Officials within the Executive Branch of Government’.

Having tenure means that individuals appointed by the President cannot be fired during their fixed term appointment, although they can be removed from their positions by the boards that directly oversee their duties.

Having tenure is understood to be international best practice, especially for integrity institutions, because it provides these individuals with some insulation to make judgements based on the rule of law and not under political pressures.

One of the most effective ways to undermine independent oversight mechanisms – including integrity institutions – is to eliminate the tenure of officials leading these institutions, and then place loyalists in top positions.

Just after assuming office, George Weah tried to eliminate one of the bedrock reforms of Liberia’s post-conflict era Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s government had passed multiple reforms that limited the powers of the President and established tenure for certain positions, especially those at integrity institutions.

These reforms removed political pressure on individuals tasked with oversight of Liberia’s finances, procurement, and natural resources.

Weah’s act was essentially a repeal of past reforms and this motive was not hidden. Weah and the bill’s many supporters said that such tenured individuals were obstructing action on the President’s agenda.

The new bill would ensure that ‘the President shall have and exercise all the powers necessary and convenient for the effective administration of the Executive Branch and all the institutions under its control, and to this end, all appointed officials thereof shall hold office at the will and pleasure of the President.

’168 Despite much hushed debate in the Liberian House, the bill passed. When it came to be debated in the Senate, the Senate leader pressed for its approval despite intense scrutiny from civil society. One individual said ‘that bill is against the tenants of good governance. It is against the intent and spirit of the constitution.’

Another stated that ‘cancelation of the tenures of these institutions could return the country to its dark days and destroy the gains made thus far.’ After contentious debate, the Senate ultimately rejected the bill in May 2019.

Weah has been eager to remove tenured officeholders, sometimes unlawfully. The PPCC, Central Bank of Liberia, National Elections Commission and other institutions have seen questionable leadership changes, but the most egregious case concerns LEITI.

Shortly after Weah assumed office, he fired the head of the LEITI Secretariat, Konah Karmo, despite his legal tenure, and replaced him with a loyalist, Gabriel Nyenkan.174 The transition was far from smooth.

Nyenkan, ‘along with group of his supporters and armed police officers marched on the compound to effect his takeover of the entity.’ This is not the only instance of tenured office holders being harassed and attacked. Nyenkan had no prior experience in extractive industries, transparency or oversight, and was not selected through a competitive recruitment process per the LEITI guidelines.

Instead, he was previously a political ally of Weah’s and a House member from Montserrado County, who lost his seat in the same election that appointed Weah as President.

On the other hand, Karmo was chosen by LEITI’s Multi-Stakeholders Steering Group, following a competitive recruitment process, as is typical for tenure appointments at integrity institutions.

He had extensive relevant prior experience having worked in LEITI for years, rising through the technical ranks from a Project Accountant to Deputy Head of the Secretariat before his appointment as the Head of Secretariat.

Weah’s act was essentially a repeal of past reforms and this motive was not hidden There have been other instances of Weah illegally appointing individuals to political positions, even according to his own Minister of Justice.

Weah has also appointed former combatants to his inner circle security detail, raising more concerns over violence creeping back into politics and the appointment of unvetted individuals.

This is seemingly within his legal rights, but is contrary to the established past practice of ensuring that only certain vetted individuals can join Liberia’s security services. This has been a foundational principle of the US-led restructuring of the Armed Forces of Liberia, as well as efforts to reform the Liberia National Police.

The 22 Veneers of governance: lessons from Liberia’s growing vulnerability issue of tenure also remains. In October 2020, Weah again forwarded a bill to the House to strip tenure from a number of entities.

These included the Bureau of Maritime, which generates significant income for the government and was previously a primary institution used to obtain political finance. Conclusion Politics in Liberia are transactional and often material. While this is well known to Liberians, it is less obvious to outsiders.

From a distance, the political economy looks similar to many other ‘fragile’ states: Liberia is a low-income developing state with weak governance institutions, widespread corruption and a small tax base, and relies heavily on international assistance and a few extractive industries.

Pull back the curtain and a different view is revealed, where all the proceeding elements are accurate, but also beside the point.

The Liberian saying, ‘nothing for nothing’ – used to describe mundane everyday interactions and high politics181 – reveals the nature of the country’s transactional political system.

Elite deals are sealed by exchanges based on material rewards, making corruption both a matter of personal gain and a component of political business as usual.

In this context, governance institutions and nominal legal processes are infiltrated by informal patronage networks and repurposed to suit the goals of the political elite. Similarly, democratic institutions and practices, such as elections and mechanisms for oversight and accountability, are also manipulated.

Formal systems of government function as intended when they benefit (or at least does not harm) the interests of the ruling elite, yet when they do not, they can be manipulated, circumvented or ignored altogether

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