HOW THE BOMBSHELL DROPPED: Inside Sirleaf’s ‘Administrative Leave’ Decision




– Rodney D. Sieh

UNTOUCHABLES SHOCKED: For one day, invincibility was erased from the room on a day when even the so-called “untouchables” were caught in the tracks as Sirleaf unleashed what would easily pass as perhaps the biggest bombshell of her presidency, depending of course on how it all plays out when the final list of returnees and rejects are announced.

Source: Front Page Africa

Monrovia –

Just before midday Wednesday President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and a close aide were finalizing details of what was about to catch many in her Cabinet off guard – and in their tracks. The aide, who preferred anonymity for this report, was still unsure that this time, the President will go ahead with a dismissal or a demand for one of her officials on the rocks to step aside.

It has been a trademark for Sirleaf over the past five years, reports and speculations of reshuffle are often in the air for weeks before it finally becomes a reality and sometimes it never does at all, especially when those reports are leaked in the news media. This time around, though, the president held her final decision to her chest, determined this time not to let any leak spoil her plans. If she was going to take bold decision to rid her government of its remaining rotten apples, it had to be on her terms, and in her own time.

In fact, said another source, the President had actually planned to drop the bomb one hour before her scheduled departure for the United States of America via Accra, Ghana where she is expected to undergo her annual medical checkup and attend a few functions.

Just before mid-afternoon Wednesday, the President was seen introducing members of her Cabinet to members of the Guinean government who were in Liberia for a one-day working visit. With the exception of perhaps one or two officials, sources say, many of those around the President had knowledge of what was about to go down.

At 4pm. Wednesday, they all assembled at the Foreign Ministry for an emergency meeting amid murmuring in the air and whispers among a few that something big was about to fall.

In only a matter of minutes Sirleaf would inform all about her decision to dismiss all in her Cabinet in a bid to give her a “clean slate” ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Message in ‘Administrative Leave’ Language

That the announcement came just a day before Sirleaf was set to take off for her annual health check in the United States was a clear indication that the President was looking to ensure that her decision ruffled a few feathers while ensuring that hanger-ons and supporters likely to be affected will not come by to prevail on her to have them keep their jobs or at least stay in the Cabinet.

In the weeks leading to Wednesday, FrontPageAfrica reported that at least three key officials viewed by many as the remaining deadwoods were on the way out: Lands, Mines and Energy Minister Dr. Eugene Shannon, National Investment Commission Chair Richard Tolbert and Minister of State for Legal and Economic Affairs Morris Saytumah were about to be shown the door. As that decision became imminent, the Presidential Committee set up to probe the Carbon Credit released its report drawing a string of controversy and accusations that Sirleaf was playing favorites and protecting a few of her closest lieutenants.

In the weeks after the report’s release, talk radio and local newspapers have been bombarded with mixed views over the government’s response. That Sirleaf announced all except one, her physician and Minister of State Edward McClain would be shown the door came as a shock to many. However, some have been quick to note that former President Charles Taylor took similar actions during his reign only to bring ministers send on Administrative leave back into his fold.

Acting Ministers to be named shortly

In Sirleaf’s case, new appointments are expected to begin shortly or as early as Monday when the acting ministers are expected to be named. In fact, perhaps in a move likely to discourage begging from those likely to face permanent exit, Sirleaf’s aides say, replacements or reassignments are expected to be completed within the shortest possible time. Executive Mansion Press Secretary Cyrus Wleh Badio, in a VOA Daybreak Africa interview Thursday, said that some of the ministers would be invited to return to their positions following the review. “It’s likely some of them may be asked to return based on their performance. In fact, what will be taking place is an evaluation of the performance of the cabinet ministers, and once the president completes the evaluation, some may be recalled,” he said.

FrontPageAfrica has learned that Stanton Johnson’s name has come up as a potential replacement for Shannon at Lands, Mines and Energy and FrontPageAfrica reported recently that Charles Minor, former Liberian Ambassador to the United States is being mentioned as a possible replacement to Tolbert at the NIC. Togah Mcintosh Gayweah, whose tenure as Liberia’s rep at the World Bank is said to be nearing an end is said to be on a shortlist to become the permanent Ambassador to the United States of America. William Bull, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Administration has been filling the void left after the recall of Nathaniel Barnes.

Expectations are likely that Sirleaf’s next choices will be as closely guarded as Wednesday’s bombshell. However, in recent weeks, FrontPageAfrica received multiple reports that Justice Minister Christiana Tah could be headed to the Supreme Court bench to replace the potential void of Gladys Johnson who is said to be on the way out.

Deciphering Sirleaf’s choices and decision Wednesday has been hard for many but the understanding the dynamics and language into how it all went down is even more interesting. Earlier reports had suggested that the entire Cabinet had been dismissed. This was later followed by a series of clarifications stating that the ministers were being sent on “Administrative Leave”. The latter is key because lawmakers in both Senate and House are currently on vacation. The term “Dismissal” or “asked to resign” would mean those likely to be asked to return in a different role would have to go through a confirmation hearing. But the label “Administrative Leave” makes it all the more likely that the decision is more a dismissal than an actual leave.

Press Secretary Badio hinted in a VOA Daybreak Africa interview Thursday said that Sirleaf had not been too happy with the performance of some of her Cabinet ministers adding substance to the Administrative vs. “Asked to resign” preference used in Wednesday’s decision. Said Badio: “What we can say for sure is that the president has asked her entire cabinet, except for one, to take administrative leave, and that takes immediate effect, and the reason for this is that the administration is entering a very critical stretch, and this decision, in the president’s view, will afford her the opportunity to start with a fresh slate of officials going forward”.

The Administrative leave action, according to Sirleaf will give some ministers the chance to explore other options. At least two, Shannon and Saytumah are said to be eying legislative seats in Cape Mount and Bomi respectively.

No politics play, Badio says

In the long term, critics say the move by Sirleaf was solely political, intended to show voters that she is sincere about make the changes necessary to improve her domestic outlook. On Thursday, Badio denied President Sirleaf dismissed the cabinet for purely political reasons to improve her chances for reelection in 2011. “What the president wants to do is to ensure that moving forward, this administration remains most effective. As you know sometimes when elections are coming people tend to be more focused on elections. The president’s focus is on the development of this country and how effectively she can move ahead with her development objectives,” Badio said.

The administrative leave is just another in a series of steps taken by Sirleaf since coming to office. Last year, the Cabinet Ministers underwent an unprecedented Performance Review by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, aimed at measuring the output of the various Ministers. During each one-on-one meeting, the Cabinet Minister discusses with the President the successes, failures, and challenges he/she faces in running their respective ministries. The performance review also includes Deputy and Assistant Ministers, who are themselves evaluated by the respective Ministers.

But on Wednesday this week, Sirleaf unleashed her gavel by sending the entire Cabinet on Administrative Leave. The entire emergency meeting last just 18 minutes, there was no opening prayers just a lot of stoned faces after the announcement was made.

“You could see sign of shock, uncertainty and shock,” said a Cabinet minister speaking on condition of anonymity. “People’s faces had the look of April Fool. It was a somber mood.” Perhaps the minister who took the news the hardest, according to sources was Akerele, who was said to be almost to the point of agitation.” For one day, invincibility was erased from the room on a day when even the so-called “untouchables” were caught in the tracks as Sirleaf unleashed what would easily pass as perhaps the biggest bombshell of her presidency, depending of course on how it all plays out when the final list of returnees and rejects are announced.

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