The Julijuah retreat, Liberia’s version of the Camp David retreat, was a scene of intense interaction and discussions amongst officials of government brainstorming on how to rescue what seems to be a drowning dream of the Unity Party led government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to develop the country and improve the lives of the Liberian people after twelve years of rule.
Jujijuah is located in Bomi County where President Sirleaf has her private farm. On Friday morning, senior government officials trooped in their numbers to begin the cabinet retreat hosted for Heads of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), Deputy Heads of SoEs, Commissioners, Director-Generals and Deputy Director-Generals, Board Chairpersons and Members. Cabinet Ministers, who were invited, merely served as observers.
The way forward
Heads of SOEs, the commercial functionaries of the government, made presentations discussing challenges and expectations of each enterprise over the next three years of this administration. The retreat also aimed at defining the roles of these bodies in supporting the administration to implement tangible development projects that would help shape its legacy.
A sense of anxiety was felt amongst government officials, especially Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) Minister Amara Konneh, who attended the retreat with the aim to achieve something for their boss (President Sirleaf), in the remaining three years, especially as the first post-conflict leader of the country.
At the retreat, the second in its series, senior government officials brainstormed about what could be humanly possible to ensure that a tangible and positive legacy is left by President Sirleaf who completes her term in January 2018.
President Sirleaf is highly revered in the international community, but back home, the perception is on the other extreme. Her nine years in power has been marred by accusations of rampant corruption, nepotism, cronyism and, lately, disregard for the rule of law by government officials, thereby leaving the masses poor and frustrated. As if the President’s legacy wasn’t tainted enough, there was the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease which threatened to bring the government to its knees. However, with the help of international partners, the President was able to corral the support needed to reclaim Liberia’s image from being the laughing stock of the epidemic, to one of the most heroic success stories yet, against the virus.
Ensuring that a tangible legacy is left behind, President Sirleaf and Minister Konneh, who is the Coordinator of the Liberia Development Alliance (LDA), are poised to Institute Stringent Measures to ensure that government leaves behind a legacy through a robust implementation of the Agenda for Transformation (AfT). The implementation of the AfT, a five year development, focuses on improving or the provision of infrastructures such as ports, roads, energy—all of which could help strengthen the Liberian economic situation.
Some of these stringent measures, which might likely be instituted amongst members of the executive branch of government, especially SOEs, include reduction in salaries and allowances of Heads of SOEs, as well as synchronizing all of the SOEs CSR funds to prioritize specific central government initiatives. This is a change from when each SOE was responsible to carry out its own CSR programs that are yet to make much impact in the lives of ordinary Liberians.
Discussing the Mandate, Performance and Expectations for the SoEs under the Public Financial Management Law, through a presentation at the retreat, Minister Konneh revealed what appears to be wasteful Spending at SOEs.
He said the SOEs have been achieving growth through the years with not much impact on the Liberian society. These positive growth digits are not trickling down to ordinary Liberian. He also disclosed that SOEs are incurring high recurrent costs.
Minister Konneh recommended reduction in the recurrent costs or operations budgets of various state-owned enterprises to support government’s development goals, noting that heads of these institutions must sacrifice by cutting down travel expenses and exorbitant benefits among others and divert the funds to projects under the AfT.
He also made much emphasis on diverting funds to the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation for the provision of pipe-borne water throughout the capital.
Minister Konneh reported that the total expenses of these bodies climbed from 74million to 147million US Dollars, saying these expenditures were not making significant impact in the lives of ordinary Liberians.
He said the gross travel expenditure of these government-owned enterprises climbed from about 800-thousand to over 3million US Dollars, while the salary expenditure increased from 15.7million to 41milluion US Dollars over the last four years.
According to the Finance and Development Planning Minister, these enterprises were not also wisely spending corporate social responsibility funds which had increased from over 300 thousand to 13million.
Nevertheless, Minister Konneh had some good words for the SOEs. He praised them for a remarkable growth rate of nearly 10 percent over the last four years, adding that they are valued over 160million US Dollars. However, this still seems to be growth without impacts.
Coordination, Cooperation, Respect
He lauded officials for progress made thus far in terms of mobilization, service delivery, moving many of the SOEs from non-functional positions to functional and profitable positions, which are certainly gaining the confidence of the people.
Also appreciate the representative they have made in the international community, “we do get feedback and we know that when you go out to represent us, you do it with pride and respect to our country.
“Going forward, I ask for better coordination and cooperation amongst ourselves, all of us, all entities; I also ask for mutual respect, answering phone calls and letters,” Konneh implored the team.
“There are times when investors come and they sit outside people’s doors for two to three hours; we get this information. And so we are asking for that kind of respect amongst ourselves and our partners. That is very important to achieve our objectives because we are judged by sometimes the little things—they mean a lot to people.”
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Cabinet, Mr. Jordon Sulonteh will report on Actions Items from the last Retreat and an Action Matrix from the President’s Annual Message.
Other SOEs and commission heads who made presentations at the retreat included the Acting Chairman of the National Investment Commission, Mr. George Wisner; the Acting Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority, Mrs. Rose Stryker; The Director-General of the National Bureau of Concessions, Ms. Ciatta Bishop; the Director-General of the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS), Dr. Edward Liberty; the Chief Executive Officer of the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission, Mr. James Dorbor Jallah; the Executive Chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Cllr. James Verdier, Jr.; the Auditor General of the Republic of Liberia, Mrs. Yusador Gaye; the Director-General of the Internal Audit Agency, Mr. Paul Collins; and the Director-General of the Civil Service Agency, Mr. George Werner.