— Minister Tweah reveals; says 2020 is the ‘Year of Transformation’ in Liberia’s agriculture sector
Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah says the appointment of Madam Jeanine M. Cooper by President George M. Weah was not a mistake, because the President had particular and clearer criteria, that he wanted a practical Agriculture Minister and so several candidates before her were shut down by him.
Minister Tweah, who spoke on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, at a reception held in honour of Madam Cooper after she had been commissioned as Minister of Agriculture by the President of Liberia, said President Weah knew what kind of Minister he wanted.
The reception was organized by Mr. Stephen A. Tolbert, II and his mother, Ambassador Neh Dukuly-Tolbert at their home on Sophie Road, Congo Town.
“So, what he had in his mind, in vision only he (President Weah) knew what kind of Minister he wanted. The resumés he reviewed, he said the practice he wanted was not in them,” Tweah explained.
Minister Tweah further narrated that they were running out of options when Madam Cooper’s name surfaced. “When we sent her resumé and name forward, the majestic response was very overwhelming from the President. It was like ‘This is the practicality that I am looking for.’”
He disclosed that the President had really searched for someone that he could connect with, not just on the resume.
Tweah added: “He wanted an Agriculture Minister he could feel from the beginning. I believe this Minister will do the job because I want to change the Liberia agriculture landscape.”
“So, on behalf of the President and the cabinet, I would like to say we will give you our fullest support,” he added.
Minister Tweah said the President took personal this whole agriculture job because he himself has seen the data and significant resources that have flowed in the sector, yet we don’t see the kind of transformation that we want.
He said: “So, he said, ‘the buck stops with me (President), after me we are not going to be talking about agriculture. 2020 is the year of transformation in the agriculture sector. She is also the face for private-sector agriculture, so we couldn’t get a better choice.'”
Speaking earlier, Ambassador Neh Dukuly-Tolbert narrated that Min. Cooper’s mother and she were school friends from St. Teresa Convent, Switzerland and many other places, therefore they saw each other as sisters. She expressed how happy she is to stand in place of her niece, Cooper’s mother.
From among her guests, all of whom she had recognized, Minister Cooper singled out Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah and the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel F. McGill, for being the two whom she said pitched the offer to her to become Minister of Agriculture.
“At one point during our conversations, I asked them why you guys are double-teaming me in this conversation. I told them this thing is too big; I don’t want it,” she said to the amusement of her audience, who included some very prominent Liberians and foreign dignitaries, as well as leaders in various sub-sectors of agriculture such as rubber, cocoa, cassava and rice farmers. According to her, she took two to three days to consult her friends and family about the offer. “But even as I was asking, I already knew that this was something that God was preparing me to do.”
She further stated that agriculture is in her DNA as her father was an agriculturist. Min. Cooper disclosed that after being mentored by some associates, at 27, she established her first agribusiness, which was buying and selling rubber.
Speaking further, the new Agriculture Minister said she is very honoured by what President Weah did to appoint her Minister. “I am touched; I never in my life ever, ever dreamt that I would be standing here and somebody would be calling me ‘Minister Cooper’,” she said.
According to her, there are high expectations in the sector. “The high expectations excite me rather than give me cause for fear or worry. I am not worried.”
She also was full of praises for Amb. Tolbert, whom she regarded as her aunt because of the deep friendship that existed between her mother and the Ambassador.
“Thank you for standing in the place of Mommy. The story goes back even further in terms of generations, when your father, who was Secretary of State, served as best man to my grandfather, who was Secretary of Public Works when he got married in the 1950s. They were great, good friends; their daughters were great good friends and I really treasure my relationship with Steve. We have become great, good friends; that is three generations of doing this. Thanks so much for organizing this,” Min. Cooper told her aunt.
Meanwhile, Minister Cooper has announced that she has now put her shares in her Fabrar Liberia Incorporated into what she termed as “Blind Trust.” Her action is intended to avoid any conflict of interest with her new role at the Ministry of Agriculture.
“In this public forum, I like to say something about my company Fabrar, which I was running peacefully before, but which I have now put my shares into a blind trust so that I can focus my attention on the affairs of the Ministry,” she disclosed.
Madam Cooper introduced her two sons, including Fabio Lavelanet, who started the company, among others who are now going to be in charge of the running of the company.
Fabrar is a Liberian-owned agribusiness holding company with the social purpose of increasing the access of Liberian farmers to local and international markets.