MONROVIA: The enthusiasm and the expectations generated in the people that there would have been a paradigm shift in the way nominees from the Presidency are screened for possible subsequent appointment seem to have melted down as the manner and form the confirmation has taken fell far below the envisaged mark, thus, reducing the senators from asking the hard questions that would have ensured that the best nominees who are up to the task will emerge from the exercise. Special relationships existing between some of the nominees and senators and the crave for special favor from the nominees in exchange for a safe passage to confirmation have thus far marred the entire process.
President Joseph Nyuma Boakai who came to power with a high expectation from the people to “rescue a dying country” had promised the people that his government will be radically different from what was obtainable under the administration of former President George Manneh Weah, and that will be reflected in the people that will be recruited to play key roles in leadership, stressing the fight against corruption, the enthronement of rule of law, promotion of accountability and transparency.
The much heralded confirmation got underway last week and saw some of the nominated persons filing in at the senate and while some of them have already been confirmed with such an unprecedented speed in recent times, others are yet to go through the process.
Some of those nominated by the President and forwarded to the Senate for confirmation and appeared for confirmation include Boima Kamara, Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amin Modad, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Jarseo Jallah Saygbe, Minister of Education, Dorbor Jallah, Commissioner General of the Liberia Revenue Authority, Gregory Coleman, Inspector of Police and AB Kromah, Director Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA), Sylvester Grisby, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Alexander Neatah, Minister of Agriculture
Others are Cllr. Cooper Kruah, Minister of Justice and Sara Beyslow Nyanti Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Early signs that the exercise would be turned into a “sheer joke” appeared at the start of the confirmation when none of the senators bothered to cross check whether or not the credentials of the nominees submitted were fake or real during the screening. Many had thought that in the wake of all the stories of fake credentials being in the public domain, the senators would have exercised some level of caution to avert such occurrence.
The Outright endorsement and pledge to vote for nominees have been dominating the entire process as the nominees themselves were seen smiling and making jokes of the questions being thrown to them by the senators.
Senator Abraham Darius Dillon of Montserrado County, noted for his fierce stand in the senate when it comes to screening and confirmation of candidates forwarded to the senate from the presidency kicked off the soft stand against nominees when he publicly admitted that there is a relationship between him and the Minister of Education designate, Madam Jarseo Jallah Saygbe but will not recuse himself from the confirmation exercise as is required.
“The nominee is my in-law. My younger brother is married to her younger sister. I sit in a very difficult and challenging situation at this point. But my job demands me to be courageous at this time. I will not recuse myself because I do not feel conflicted”, he told his colleagues before asking questions.
This was a shock to many, with some stating that his decision not to recuse himself will compromise the process as he could influence the thoughts of others.
“Madam Nominee, did you sit or have you sat with the President of Liberia to know the vision for this sector? What is your vision on ensuring quality education in public schools where education will be free from kindergarten to 12th grade? How do you intend to rate or grade the school system in this country?” Senator Dillon inquired
This was an easy catch for Madam Saygbe who most of the time, recited scripted she brought for the confirmation as if to say that some of the questions were leaked to her.
During the question and answer question, Senator Zoe Emmanuel Pennue of Grand Gedeh County who praised the nominee for “your brilliant presentation, I must tell you that I will vote for you but also want to admonish you not to be like the other Ministers who had schools and universities”
Such an open endorsement of the nominees became dominant thereafter such that when votes were cast for the confirmation of the nominees, all 28 senators who were in plenary voted in the affirmative by 100%.
For some of the nominees that were fortunate to have worked in previous governments in various capacities got a patronage treatment and were not asked about whatever legacies left behind in their previous jobs to ascertain if there were some lapses that could affect their current performance.
Boima Kamara and Dorbor Jallah who had previously worked as Minister of Finance and Development Planning and Dorbor Jallah, formerly the Executive Director of the Public Procurement and Contract Commission(PPCC), two key officials on whose shoulders Boakai will depend on mainly to address the economic questions were given due respect and high esteem throughout the screening.
Based on whatever achievements Jallah recorded while at PPCC, most of the senators looked in that direction and forgot about even asking him if he ever met the requirement to be the Commissioner General of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA). Checks by The Analyst have revealed that based on the Act that created the LRA, Jallah did not have the qualifications to be appointed to such a position, notwithstanding whatever the Senate saw as his performance at the PPCC.
“The President shall nominate with the consent of the Senate a Commissioner General and two deputies; who shall be persons with advance or professional degrees or qualifications in finance, accounting, economics, public policy or administration of taxation, management, law or other disciplines related to tax administration”, Section 19(1) of the LRA Act of 2013 stated.
Senator Saah Joseph of Montserrado County, referred to Jallah as his “traditional nephew” before asking him how Jallah will be able to collect taxes from companies that are into the oil and gas industry where the state-run Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), a question Jallah made an easy meal out of.
Three other senators who followed, including Gbarpolu County Senator Botoe Kanneh before asking, assured Jallah of their votes in his favor for confirmation and urged him “to continue the good work you left at PPCC”.
Boima Kamara, who was jointly screened along with Jallah got Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe to thank for giving him a safe passage when he extolled Kamara’s successes at the Finance Ministry and urged him to replicate it when he is confirmed.
Senator Snowe having spoken about how Liberia has defaulted on its international financial obligation to the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS), then praised Minister Kamara for his performance during his first tenure as Minister of Finance, expressing absolute confidence in him that his second coming will be more beneficial to the country.
“I trust your ability, I know what you did before and capable of doing. I have no doubt that you will do better than before”, Snowe said.
Other senators fell in line to shower praises on and never bothered to ask him about lapses that happened.
This attitude of some of the senators not to properly screen the nominees led to the confirmation the following day.
As if this was not enough, Senator Snowe was to later on succeed in shielding the Inspector General of Police designate, Gregory Coleman from answering some questions about his stewardship at the National Bureau of Concession (NBC) where he worked as the Director General but resigned later after series of exchanges between him and two of his deputies.
Senator Jonathan Boye-Charles Sogbie who was the first to ask Coleman to clarify information on an internal memo reportedly written by Coleman on how some staff were made to be paid in checks could not allow his question to be answer when Snowe objected and insisted that the said internal memo should be taken to the committee room and discuss with Coleman there other than for him to publicly answer to the question.
After much back and forth between and among the senators, the presiding officer of the exercise, Senator Momo Cyrus of Lofa County ruled that the said communication will be discussed in the committee room at which time if there anything particular that Senator Sogbie wanted to understand, Coleman will provide the answer behind close door and not in the public.
Henceforth no serious questions were posed to Coleman as subsequent senators who came in to ask questions either praised Coleman or offered him some pieces of advice on how to proceed with his work if confirmed by the Senate.
Some onlookers who witnessed the session with Coleman were obviously disappointed when they could not see any of the senators present to ask Coleman on his controversial role in a Lebanese owned business, Liberia Traffic Management which is said to have gotten a contract behind the back door in a lucrative deal without any public procurement exercise.
Coleman who is said to be fronting for the company and had taken President Boakai to its warehouse before the inauguration where he was reported to have impressed upon the President to offer the said contract to the company.
The trend of committing themselves to favoring a nominee even before asking questions appeared even more visible when the Minister of Commerce and Industry designate Amin Modad appeared for screen. Senator Thomas Yaya Nimely put aside his question and told Modad that he was impressed with his resume which he said “I read over two different times and I think as a young man you are qualified to be the Commerce Minister of this country”.
“Mr. Nominee, I really enjoyed the 10 points you read this morning, especially when you talked about commerce that will benefit our people that live in villages and towns. I also enjoyed the presentation on the trade policy you wrote, beauty documents and I can assure you, you will have my vote”, Senator Nimely said.
Senator Johnny Kpehe of Bong County was even blunt to make Modad to feel at home when he said, Mr. Nominee, I don’t really have a question for you because I have known you for a long time and there exist a big brother and small brother relationship that has existed between you and me and there nothing new I am going to ask you about. I could ask you but I just want to tell you that you have my vote”.
This was the open endorsement other senators needed to also fall in line as all of them extolled Modad’s business acumen and hoped that he will replicate that when he is confirmed by them.
“I don’t really have a question, because I have been knowing you over the years, from a big brother and small brother relationship”, Senator Kpehe said.
Political pundits who express serious dismay over the way and manner the senators have conducted themselves said the pre-arranging of questions to suit a nominee favored by a Senate committee carrying out confirmation due to ties with the head of the committee or other members is not a strange phenomenon and has eroded the integrity of such screening exercise.
“Almost all of the nominees are connected one way or the other with the senators and even if they are not related to them, the relationship can be created by other senators whose interests are at stake
“Senators having close relationships with nominees are normally seen lobbying with their colleagues to pave the way for the unhindered confirmation of their “buddies, friends, or relatives”, said Thomas Thompson II, a social critic.
Kpator Moise, a political science teacher at one of the private universities in Monrovia said these kinds of compromised confirmation hearings are the root causes of corruption among public officials “because take it or leave it, money or special favors are exchanged between the nominees and the lawmakers to smoothen the path to confirmation”.
“Most often, Senators on various committees are in the persistent habit of heaping praise on nominees for being experienced and qualified to head the various positions they have been nominated to, prior to finalizing their respective reports for submission to the Plenary for possible action. This has the propensity of discouraging the asking of tough questions or thoroughly scrutinizing the credentials of nominees during confirmation hearings”, Mary Seton-Wleh, a women rights activist told The Analyst last night.
In some cases in the past which is also trending right now with the current confirmation hearings, many nominees feel complacent or reluctant to respond to inquiries from other members of the various committees of the Senate due to the closed relationships they have with either the heads or other members of the committee.
Besides the unfolding drama of lack of seriousness on the part of the Senators to ask the hard questions that will lead to the emergence of the right persons for the task ahead, there are other “side attractions” that have made mockery of the whole exercise.
The huge number of people who accompany nominees to confirmation including churches, cultural troops, mosques, traditional dancers, etc have distracted the momentum and serve as another means the nominees have been using to ‘intimidate the senators to do their bidding and the schemes seem to be working very well”
“You can see that the Senate has to cancel the confirmation exercise of Foreign Minister designate Sara Beyslow Nyanti because of the literal invasion of the August Body. Those people that turned out from various backgrounds were too much to be allowed in and have a conducive screening. We hope when they reconvene, there will be adequate security to discourage this kind of behavior”, William Thorne, a retired civil servant said.
Whatever the confirmation has turned out to be, one of the lessons learned and bitter too is Liberians have been shortchanged from the radical departure the new dispensation promised “because nothing much was seen or heard from the nominees and we will have to live with the reality that those confirmed may not be the right people.