Liberia: Boakai Accused of Violating Executive Law on Ministerial Appointments

Lawmakers raise issues on the President’s disregard for National Unity, Inclusion

President Joseph Nyuma Boakai has been accused of violating a national law that has guided the presidency for over half a century in the appointment of cabinet ministers that could be a reflection of national unity and integration.

The appointment of cabinet ministers from various counties has been brought into question by Nimba County District #2 Representative Nyan G. Flomo, citing a potential violation of the 1972 Executive Order, which stipulates the appointment of at least one cabinet member from each county to promote national integration and unity. 

Flomo, on Tuesday, 27th February 2024, during the 14th day sitting of the House of Representatives, pointed out the violation of Section 10.2 of the Executive Law of 1972  captioned “Appointment of Cabinet Ministers from all Counties” which says: “As far as practicable, the President shall appoint at least one member of the Cabinet from every county of the Republic.”

The law was introduced at a time when ministerial leadership was concentrated among an elite few and, to begin an effort to decentralize governance, President William R. Tolbert deemed it expedient to establish a culture of inclusivity by having other counties represented in the highest echelons of the Executive Branch. 

Known as a leader of progressive change, President Tolbert came to office following the death of his predecessor, William V. S. Tubman, in 1971. President Tolbert, who had been vice president for 20 years, marked the beginning of a new era in the political governance of the state when he was inaugurated on Jan. 3, 1972.

One of the Tolbert Administration’s major first instruments of law was the Executive Law of 1972. 

Since then, the law has not evolved and may, perhaps, need to be amended consistent with Article 56(a) of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, which states that appointed officials “shall hold their offices at the pleasure of the President.”  The pleasure of the President, on the one hand, could be to require competence over county affiliation in order to achieve certain socio-economic and development goals. On the other hand, the ‘pleasure of the President’ could be the exact opposite — tribal or regional domination in government without regard for quality of service. 

In his communication addressed to the Speaker, J. Fonati Koffa, the Nimba County lawmaker argued that the appointment of a ministerial position from each county is aimed at strengthening the national integration and unity of the people of Liberia, regardless of ethnic, regional or other differences, into one body politic.

In an effort to ensure compliance with the Executive Law, Representative Flomo has called for the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs to provide a detailed list of cabinet ministers and their respective counties of origin, seeking clarity on the current administration’s adherence to the appointment guidelines.

“I want to crave the indulgence of Plenary to invite the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Amb. Sylvester Grisgby to provide a comprehensive list of appointed cabinet ministers along with their counties of origin to establish as to whether Section 10.2 of the Executive Law Captioned,” Flomo noted. “This is meant to establish whether the appointment of cabinet ministers from all counties that the law talked about is being observed relative to the ongoing appointments of cabinet ministers in the current administration.” 

He added: “Honorable Speaker, and distinguished colleagues, the oversight power that the Constitution has given to this Honorable Body, if and when, accordingly and appropriately exercised will go a long way in ensuring that our people enjoy the beauty of democracy as a government by the people (instituted by them), of the people (their right to participation in government) and for the people (government's duty to work for them).”

The House of Representatives leadership, following the motion, took note of the concern and is expected to request the necessary information from the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs to validate the distribution of cabinet positions across the counties.

Meanwhile, prior to Rep. Flomo’s communication, Gbarpolu County Senator Amara Konneh raised similar reservations regarding the distribution of ministerial appointments, highlighting the imbalance in representation across various counties in the recent appointments made by President Boakai.

Konneh stressed the importance of upholding the principles of national representation and inclusivity in the cabinet, as he presented concerns that underscore the importance of transparency and adherence to established guidelines in the appointment process. 

“President Joseph Boakai has appointed 15 Ministers to head Ministries, including 2 ministers of state without portfolio. Lofa has 5 (29.4%), Bong has 4 (23.5%), Bassa, Bomi, and Nimba have 2 each (35.3%) while Cape Mount and Sinoe have one each (11.7%).” 

“Lofa - Commerce and Industry, Education, Youths and Sports, Internal Affairs and State without Portfolio; Bong - Public Works, Agriculture, State without Portfolio and Gender; Bomi - Finance and Transport; Bassa - Health and Information; Nimba–Justice, and Defense; Sinoe - State for Presidential Affairs and Cape Mount - Foreign Affairs,” Senator Koonneh wrote. 

Senator Konneh added: “15 of 18 cabinet ministers (83.3% of cabinet positions) appointed from 7 of 15 counties (46.6% of counties).” 

After resistance to the Defense and Justice Minister’s appointments (both from Nimba County), the Justice Minister’s appointment was withdrawn when the Defense Minister resigned. 

Another Minister from Sinoe was appointed as Justice Minister, while Ministers from Nimba were appointed at Labor; Mines and Energy, as well as Post and Telecommunications. The Ministry of Defense is still without a minister proper. 

Meaning, eight (8) counties (Gbarpolu, Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Kru, Rivercess, Grand Gedeh, Maryland, and Rivergee) are without Ministerial posts.

Pundits applaud the discovery of the 50-plus year old legislation, by Rep. Flomo, but smell a double standard on the part of the House of Representatives. 

“When did the current leadership of the House of Representatives know that a sitting president was in violation of this law?” an analyst who asked not to be named wonders. Some of the very Legislators today were seated in leadership of the Lower House over the last six years and allowed then-President Weah to saturate his administration with people from the Southeast. Apart from a few Nimbaians due to political obligations and a few other non-southeasterners who were too high up in the CDC to be sidelined, Weah went as far as dictating that other branches of government were headed by southeasterners. Did he care about national unity? The hypocrisy must stop. 

“What about cabinet appointments based on competence over county affiliation? Thankfully, it’s the SENATE that confirms appointees, not the House of Representatives. If the House is really concerned about that law, they should update it to be commensurate with current realities.”