Imminent Reshuffle?

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At least four presidential appointees, among them, a junior staffer, may be on the listing of the Executive Mansion for possible replacement during the upcoming reshuffle exercise, the Daily Observer has reliably learnt.

A phone call from a ‘highly placed’ source confirmed to the Daily Observer Tuesday that an ‘imminent reshuffle’ would be announced shortly upon the arrival of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from a visit to the United States.

According to our source, officials already tipped for possible replacement have reportedly been informed through written communications addressed to their deputies, who would be in charge, while a search committee reviews applications from lists of candidates that would fill in the gaps. This report is yet to be independently verified by the Observer.

Others to be replaced, our source said, will include two administrators of controversial security agencies that have constantly been criticized by the general public in recent times.

Among those named by our source to be affected by the reshuffle exercise are Finance Minister Amara Konneh, Education Minister Etmonia David-Tarpeh, Public Works Minister Antoinette Weeks, and Presidential Press Secretary Jerolinmek Matthew Piah.

Minister Konneh was sworn into office in February 2012 replacing the present Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan. He is a core member of President Sirleaf's Economic Management Team and is credited with helping to stabilize the Liberian economy from the effects of a protracted civil war. Concurrently, he also serves as Liberia's Acting Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs. Mr. Konneh is also a National Coordinator of the Liberia Development Alliance that coordinates Liberia’s development agenda (Agenda for Transformation – 2012 – 2017), among other positions of influence.

Of late, he has become the subject of public criticism owing to his handling of the country’s budgets, particularly with the subsequent crisis of a ‘budget shortfall.’

Mr. Konneh has coordinated the implementation of the Lift Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy (2008 to 2011); his critics are of the opinion that he has ‘underperformed.’ He has been summoned numerous times by the national legislature over issues ranging from his dual-ministerial role at Finance and Planning to the budget shortfall, and lawmakers have recently called for his resignation.

Minister of Education, Etmonia David Tarpeh, previously served as Minister of Youth and Sports during President Sirleaf’s first term (2006-20012). She succeeded Mr. E. Othello Gongar in the second term and was subsequently confirmed as Education Minister by the Liberian Senate more than three months later.

But the country's education system under her oversight continued to flounder, and took center stage when all of the 25,000 cadidates who took the University of Liberia's entrance exams last year flunked. President Ellen Johnon Sirleaf, internationally embarassed by the situation, was constrained to admit that the education system was a complete mess. Since then, frantic efforts to get the system on track have hardly shown tangible results, as students continue to learn in deplorable conditions, under-trained teachers continue to demand bribes for grades, and students themselves, particularly at the university level, continue to resist efforts geared toward implementing change. Last week, Minister Tarpeh and her deputies finally presented a plan to the president; but judging from this latest development, that may have come too late.

Dr. Antoinette Weeks, the first female to occupy the Ministry of Public Works as Minister proper, was appointed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf a year after President Sirleaf’s first term ended, replacing Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods, who had occupied the position for four years.

Minister Woods, for reasons yet to be disclosed, resigned his post in 2013, thereby making way for the first female minister of Public Works. Woods took over the government's infrastructure arm and pulled back its lost confidence to the public during his four-year term.

However, since she took over, there has been public outcry over her poor performance, the latest concern being raised by the House of Representatives over her failure to exercise effective monitoring of contractors constructing roads in the country.

Concern has also been raised about the delay in reconstructing Somalia Drive, for which the Japanese and Liberian Governments signed a US$50 million agreement almost a year ago.

Madam Weeks, who holds a B.Sc., M.Sc. and PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering with expertise in Project Management, Compliance and Regulatory Oversight, is not considered to have  performed at the same level as Woods did. Although he is not an engineer, he spent much of his time, especially weekends, touring and inspecting projects — the hallmark of his success.

Rather, she has reportedly been actively engaged in disputes with coworkers, over which one deputy minister reportedly resigned.

Furthermore, Madam Weeks is on record for her aggression towards the media and has, on many occasions, denied requests for interviews from journalists, describing them as bad journalists.  

The incumbent Presidential Press Secretary, Jerolinmek Matthew Piah, took over from Liberian Journalist Cyrus Badio with the expectation that he would bring to the Executive a renewed dynamism of communication with the public.

Since he took over the President's communication apparatus, however, his engagement with media houses has left much to be desired, especially as it regards timely responses to questions from media houses. Since leaving the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism early 2012, he has remained in strong defense of the President’s actions and whatever criticism has been directed at the Executive.

It can be recalled that when the Press Union of Liberia sanctioned the Executive Mansion with a media block out in May of 2013, the Presidential Press Secretary along with Deputy Minister of Information for Public Affairs, Isaac Jackson, lambasted the media’s action and accused the PUL of violating the public’s right to information.

Of recent, Presidential Press Secretary Jerolinmek Piah is on record for debunking Grand Bassa lawmaker, Gabriel B. Smith’s statement against the President, describing it as “reckless.” He also jumped to the Presidency’s defense when the political leader of the Movement of Progressive Change (MPC), Simeon M. Freeman, criticized the recent State of Nation Economy Address made by President Sirleaf.

He also reacted to opposition member Benoni Urey’s statement against the President, instructing him to concentrate on Agriculture, which, he (Piah) argued, Urey knows more about than government.

It remains to be determined whether this report of a major reshuffle is corroborated by the President upon her return from the United States.

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