2017 Race Heats Up

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As if not already overcrowded for a population fewer than five million, the 2017 Presidential and General Elections field has expanded yet again with Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan being the latest to enter the ring of contestants. Announcing his resignation as the nation’s chief diplomat over the weekend, Ngafuan joins a long list of persons, who want to contest for one of the posts in 2017.

Of the 20 political parties already registered for the coming election, several personalities are sure to vie for the nation’s highest seat. Most notable among them are the usual suspects: Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, Senator George M. Weah, Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine, Rev. Kennedy Sandy. Joining Ngafuan as a newcomer to the elections fray is Benoni Urey, a businessman who is also running for president. The list is un-exhaustive as yet although, as elections draw nearer, more names will surface.

Looking ahead, Foreign Min. Ngafuan, whose resignation from Madam Sirleaf’s Cabinet takes effect as of October 10, said he has made it “unequivocally clear about two years ago that I did not intend to be inactive in the 2017 Presidential and General Elections, which depending on how it pans out, will determine whether our country will progress or retrogress.”

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s second and final term will end in 2017 and the need to elect another Liberian to replace her in January 2018 is therefore necessary in keeping with the Constitution.

He stated in a press statement he issued on October 2 that he is resigning now in order to satisfy provisions of an Act of the Legislature prescribing a National Code of Conduct for All Public Officials and Employees. Foreign Min. Ngafuan especially cited Part 5 on Political Participation in the Code.

According to part 5.1, all officials appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia shall not engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected office, serve on a campaign team of any political party, or the campaign of any independent candidate.

Wherein, part 5.2 says any person in the category stated in section 5.1 herein above, desires to canvass or contest for an elective public position, that person should take into consideration that any minister, deputy minister, director-general, managing director and superintendent appointed by the President pursuant to article 56 (a) of the Constitution and a managing director appointed by a board of directors, who desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post at least two years prior to the date of such public elections.

While stating that he doesn‘t fully agree with the provisions, “however, as a law-abiding citizen, I do not intend to disobey the law,” Ngafuan said.
It is unclear from Mr. Ngafuan as to which position he intends to vie for. Vacant seats in 2017 would be that of the Presidency and 73 posts of representatives at the National Legislature.

Speculations on every street corner, talk-show centers and on radios are that Mr. Ngafuan, 45, wants to contest for the Presidency, which his “uncle” (VP Boakai) based on Lofa County’s tradition, is vying for, too.

On Friday, July 17, Mr. Ngafuan, delivering the keynote address at the induction of officers-elect of the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU) urged Liberian intelligentsias to unite and forge a common front for the coming presidential and general elections in 2017.

He had defined the intelligentsia from Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a group of intelligent and well-educated people, who guide or try to guide the political, artistic, or social development of their society.”

In that same address, he regretted, however, that though the Liberian intelligentsia “a community of people, who are very rich but still believe they are poor; a community of people who should be driving but accept or resign themselves to be driven.”

“Firstly… we need a paradigm shift in the debate and the conversations leading to the elections of 2017. While it is true that individuals will be the ones whose pictures will be on the ballot as candidates in 2017, we need to remember that… elections should be about the people, about visions, about policies, about programs, about platforms, about issues. Candidates should be regarded as instruments or means to the achievement of these ends, not ends in themselves,” the Minister further stated.

Mr. Ngafuan, himself a product of the University of Liberia, served as president of the University of Liberia Students Union (ULSU) in his final year at that institution.

He emphasized that elections should be primarily about the fulfillment of the ambition of the people instead of the fulfillment of the ambitions of individuals; or else, politicians will afford to treat people like “political condoms – useful before elections; useless after elections.”

According to the Minister, the debate going to 2017 should shift from “who wants to be something to who wants to do something or can really do something;” adding: “If the focus is on who wants to be something, the political field will definitely be overcrowded because everybody may want to be something. If the focus is rather on who can do something, the political field will narrow because not everyone can do something.”

“So my dear comrades, I will not tell you that leadership of Liberia should be given to a particular class, craft, cult, tribe, county, or religion. What I will tell you is that leadership should be given to the positive forces of Liberia.” The Minister defines those forces as the honest, the dedicated, the selfless, the competent, the nationalistic, and the visionary Liberians.

Some political pundits have said if Foreign Min. Ngafuan will decide to contend for the highest office in the land, he will no doubt draw from his past experience as president of ULSU, a student body of over 25,000 students and a microcosm of the larger Liberian society.

He also has youth on his side. At 45, he still commands the respect and admiration of many Liberian youth who see him as a role model for his high achievements both academically and professionally. The ability to resonate with the youth, which comprise at least 60% of the Liberian population, could translate into serious political leverage in an election. Some have said, however, that he is ‘hard to give [money to people]’; others see this as a mark of the much needed fiscal discipline that is often suppressed across government.

His resignation statement, which was posted on social media early Saturday morning, has generated a lot of comments, with most commending him for his service to the nation while some have asked him to account for funds placed in his care at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan took office as Minister of Foreign Affairs on 10 February 2012 after his appointment on 17 January 2012 as Foreign Minister in the 2nd Administration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Before then, he served three and half years as Minister of Finance, taking over in 2008 from Dr. Antoinette Sayeh, now IMF Director for Africa. Ngafuan first joined the Government of President Sirleaf as Director General of the Bureau of the Budget in February 2006.

As Finance Minister and Liberia’s Governor to the Board of the African Development Bank (ADB), Ngafuan chaired the ADB Constituency comprising Liberia, Ghana, Gambia, Sudan and Sierra Leone from May 2010 until his appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs in January 2012. He was also Liberia’s Governor on the ADB Board of Governors from August 2008 to present, serving too as Governor representing Liberia on the Board of Governors at the World Bank and the IMF.
According to Foreign Ministry website, Ngafuan is credited for making the government’s budget process a truly public process; taking the budget to the people by ensuring openness and transparency, refusing to shroud its review in secrecy. His numerous accomplishments at the Ministry of Finance stand as towering monuments of his success. As Minister of Finance, he successfully spearheaded Liberia’s march to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) completion point, paving the way for full relief of Liberia’s external debt of nearly 5 billion United States Dollars. He presided over the development and passage of Liberia’s Public Financial Management Law, the first in its history, and the adoption for the first time, of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), which seeks to ensure timely public disclosures of government’s financial statements and the automation of its financial management system. On the revenue side, Ngafuan introduced the ASYCUDA system that has brought efficiency and improvement in government’s controls at major custom collectorates.

In July 2011, he introduced the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS), and the rollout in 2008 of a Direct Deposit Payment scheme. As an IT system, IFMIS has automated the entire budget process, drastically cutting back on mounting transaction time and related cost, and embedding in the system basic controls to facilitate timely reporting and audits.

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