MONROVIA: Amidst the mad rush for jobs and the high expectations of Liberians for the ensuing dispensation of incoming administration to deliver on its promises in the soonest possible time, a renowned young Liberian educator has tendered a preemptive admonition to president-elect, Mr. Joseph N. Boakai to organize his corps of officials based on competence.
He said while there is high temptation to give jobs to apologists and campaigners who were in the trenches supporting, the new Liberian leader should assemble a crack of technocrats because there is a wide difference between competence to govern and competence in campaigning.
In podcast last weekend, tagged “Unity Party Bombshell”, Leo Lekpele Nupolu Johnson, a Liberian educator based in Canada, told his audience that Mr. Boakai should not follow the similar patterns of previous administrations who prioritize placing high premium for hiring on politicians who made claims that electoral victories and downplayed the need to give jobs to people who are qualified and competent to serve key capacities and that could bring radical changes to the country.
“And don’t get me wrong on this. There is nothing wrong with depending on the expertise of those who are versed in campaigning for votes for you to be selected; but there is a big difference between campaigning and governing,” he said.
“There are great campaigners you will find; some are good advocates, speakers, mobilizers but when you win an election, you do not necessarily bring them on board to govern because they do not have that skill set and competence you need to govern.”
He continued: “One of the things the campaigners bring to the table is the sense of entitlement. They feel entitled to almost anything in the government because they feel they made the President and therefore it becomes their right to claim anything they need.
“With that mindset, you get into danger by allowing them to have their way because at the end of the day, they do not have what the country needs to move forward or what it takes for you to deliver what you promised.”
Johnson, who is an Instructor at the Groote Business School, McMaster University in Canada said the best way for Mr. Boakai to succeed without the undue pressure being put on his leadership is for him to find a way of compensating all those who supported him during the campaign that led to his success by opening other opportunities where they can benefit.
He warned that for those to be hired in government especially for top management positions, priority should be given to Liberians who are trained, qualified and have the requisite experience to be in those positions irrespective of their political affiliations.
“You should not give such opportunities to your campaigners who will not understand governance, who lack the requisite qualifications, who lack the experience, who lack the exposure because if you do that you allow your government to be in campaign mode instead of governing,” Mr. Johnson further stated.
“When you get elected, you have to sit down to govern both people who hated you, who wanted you dead and those who campaigned for you to succeed. It is better to look in the direction of those who doubted you because they will still criticize you and that can make you a better leader; you will have in your mind to be careful with what you do because they will look at you and tell you the faults from your side.”
“But when you bring a bunch of campaigners to govern,” he noted, “you will be like the CDC who acted like they are in opposition when they are supposed to be governing. It is a big risk bringing people who supported you in government,”
Johnson said leadership has to do with the ability to mobilize resources and managing that what has been mobilized “because at the end of the day after all the promises made, you need money to undertake the projects you promised and you must have the right people that can manage the money and being able to do the assigned task.”
He said that aspect of being able to mobilize resources came to the limelight during the campaign period “because you could see clearly the Unity Party people had great campaigners, people who were pulling the crowd but getting the resources in was a challenge”. He said he hoped that Mr. Boakai could take a cue from it.
On how the incoming President could pick his cabinet and other positions of trust, the President of the Liberian Association of Canada warned Mr. Boakai not to go after most of the Ivy League graduates with good grades or some people who are assumed to be among the smartest in country but rather go for those who have the skill set, competence and experience to perform according to what he has set to achieve during his tenure.
“Stop running behind those who will impress you with big grades, or smartest in academics, but those whose skills can solve the problems of the country.
“You will ask yourself some questions, how do we have some of the best economists who are great but yet still when something comes up, we say we are waiting for the IMF to do it for our own country. People who have gone to school and got research education, put them in research based positions and people who are trained and experienced put them in managerial positions to manage government ministries and agencies for the good of the country.
“Now for our people that went to Harvard, UCLA, Berkeley, Chicago, MIT, stop telling us what you scored in school but what you can do. Do the job for the people. Set the right expectation, lead. Lead means to show, show what you can do and let the people see it”, he said.
As an example he advised that the next Minister of Health must not necessarily be a medical doctor but a good candidate with the managerial skills and the right attitude of managing big institutions successfully could be the next Minister of Health and you could get the job done because to run a Ministry of Health is not to conduct surgery.
“Stop looking for Doctor to make them Minister of Health, a non- medical doctor can run an effective Ministry of Health because to run a Ministry of Health is not to conduct surgery; to run it is to organize and operate all the functions of the Ministry for the other experts and professionals to effectively do their jobs”, he said
He said President elect could do himself a favor if he wishes to succeed by putting in place a competent vetting process in place where those desiring positions will first send a plan of how they wish to run a government ministry or agency for review and then the person could be scheduled for an interview to explain their plan of action how they will run the said institution that will produce results the country could benefit from.
“The person should send their plan far ahead for review and after reviewing, an interview will be scheduled and it is not going to be the usual review and interview of people attaching their CVs and made to ask the usual yes or no question. No. You have to send a concrete plan of action for review at least for two months and you are asked to come forward to explain how you will run the Ministry, say Ministry of Foreign Affairs and how it will add to our governance system for effective service delivery”, he said.
The tough talking Pubic Speaker /EDI Specialist said he is not a politician and did not support any camp during the just concluded general elections but he decided to provide this kind of education to the people especially in a country like Liberia that does not place priority on holding their leaders accountable for what they do as well as the lack of basic things about governance on the part of the young yet they want to take on big task in government.
“These things we are providing are there to teach our people to hold their government accountable as well as provide basic information and education to the young ones who may end up in government tomorrow so that they will be aware when the opportunities come”
He said Boakai needs to send a clear message that he came to lead and solve the myriad of problems facing the country and not to give jobs to people who are partisans but lack the competence to lead.
He took a swipe at those who are telling the citizens to “manage and control their expectations”, saying it is another way of shortchanging the people from doing the work for which they were elected. He said it was an abuse of public trust to ask the people for their votes and they generously gave you their votes only to be told that what you promised could not be delivered.
He said for the citizens to key into his agenda of prudent management of the country’s resources, President elect Boakai must cut down the cost of governance with such measures as stop buying cars for government officials, giving out free gasoline and scratch cards and “let them make the sacrifices others like students who go to school without any support are making”. He said the officials of government should be the first persons or main people to make the sacrifices for the country because “they are the ones benefiting more from the country than the ordinary citizens”
He urged Boakai to, as a matter of urgency, issue an executive order in the first 100 days to cut down the cost of governance and channel the extra money to needy areas like support to the police to train and equip them.
Johnson also disagreed with the new mantra on the lips of some UP people that the outgoing government should be audited and defaulters should be sent to jail as punishment. He said some of them are having a wrong conception of what audit entails and unfortunately are turning it to be a political slogan to either get at their opponents or score some cheap political capital.
“Audit should be a normal thing and let me tell you today. Adult is not only to catch people who steal, audit is to capture what has been done, take a good scan at it, look at it if it was done well, If it was done well, you want to highlight what was done well so that you will continuously do it, ; so that you also highlight things that are not done well; so that things that were not done well are flagged; so that you hold the perpetrators to account. But audit has become a word like to catch other people in Liberia which is wrong”
He said he welcomed the desire of the government to audit the past government as a way of taking stock of what they are inheriting so as to know the gap that is needed to be filled but “one has to be wary with the way the UP people are taking it to be that it is about catching people who stole money”.
Johnson is not new to the quest of Liberia for a new dawn in the development landscape of the country. He is embarking upon a $2m project, the Liberian Learning Center, a first of its kind huge, high-tech education facility whose primary goal is to empower citizens in a country with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world by providing relevant literacy and skills-based education. The construction of the first phase of a $2-million learning center in Paynesville is set to be completed and dedicated on February 23, 2024.
The project is being carried out through his charity, Empowerment Squared based in Canada where he resides. It is a direct response to some of the country’s most significant needs, including modern educational infrastructure and resources. The first phase of the project is expected to completed and dedicated on February 23, 2024.