This newspaper has received with concern, news reports of a bill submitted to the Legislature by President Weah, seeking to amend provisions of the law on tenured positions in government. Proponents of this move have long since maintained that former President Sirleaf created too many tenured positions all in an effort to preserve the privileges and perks of her appointees even after she had left office.
They have often argued that such an arrangement tended to undermine Presidential authority because, in their view, all Presidential appointees serve at the will and pleasure of the President. Therefore it goes without saying that, should the President no longer desire the service of a particular individual, he should have the freedom to terminate that individual’s services but further, according to their logic, under current arrangements, the President’s ability to exercise this Constitutional prerogative is severely impaired.
But there are countervailing arguments suggestive of the view that the current push to end tenured positions is but a subtle attempt to give President Weah sweeping autocratic powers which, in their view, portends ill for the consolidation of democracy in Liberia. In their argument they point to the singular fact that President Weah has kept his asset declaration a top secret, which they believe is in violation of the law, arguing that President Weah is commingling state resources with his personal resources.
The argument about tenure, is however valid. On one side of the argument, there are those employees who work hard and who contribute significantly to the institution. For the most part they are employees who, owing to their knowledge of the institution can maneuver and get things done. They are usually well adapted and can effectively navigate through bureaucratic bottle necks to get things done for the institution.
Thus it makes sense investing in such employees to function in higher or cross functional roles rather than seeking out new hires that may not have the experience and may require a long period to adapt to organizational behavior and culture.
On the other hand, there are those who just believe in passing the years doing little other than collecting monthly paychecks. They take the job for granted and use tenure as a means of survival in their respective institutions. But institutions need to have structured mechanisms to periodically assess the operational performance and relevance of the roles assigned to those tenured employees. In the case of Liberia with weak institutions, such capabilities are extremely limited, when pitted against established patronage networks.
In such situations, the President becomes not only the dispenser of perks and privileges, his personal indiscretions become the bar by which success or failure is measured or determined. And since, appointment to tenured positions in public sector management are for the most part driven not by concerns for excellence and high output but by Presidential predilections.
At the heart of the argument is the primary concern about Presidential predilections which too often become overbearing and dictatorial. And despite 12 years of what should have been a process of reform of the “imperial presidency”, the culture of the Presidency became even more engrained. The carrot and stick approach to the political opposition was one heavily favored by preceding Presidents. Tubman used it to great effect such that he became to be perceived as a “good man”. President Tolbert used it much less effectively, constrained as he was by the lack of resources to dispense in free style fashion as his predecessor did.
As for Presidents Doe and Taylor, they leaned more heavily on the stick rather than the carrot to deal with political opposition. In both cases their policies and practices virtually led the nation down the path to a prolonged and brutal civil war. But President Sirleaf, unlike her immediate predecessors, relied more heavily on the carrot rather than the stick. Recalcitrant lawmakers were for the most part simply won over by large cash inducements to pass whatever bills she sought to pass into law, including concession agreements.
It is the opinion of this newspaper that rather than calling for the repeal of tenured positions, President Weah should instead direct his focus to building and strengthening national institutional capacity. Faced with a situation of acute brain drain and its consequences, it would do the George Weah administration well to do all it can to mitigate the adverse effects of the brain drain. And one way of doing so is to consider tenure as way of attracting the best and forestalling the negative effects of brain drain.
But it should, by no means be surprising that the public is expressing consternation about President Weah’s latest move. Memories of the legacy of dictatorial rule remain etched in the national consciousness. In the face of growing public concerns about the declining state of the national economy, the search for scapegoats has not escaped attention. The media for example is being blamed for reporting the story of the missing billions, which some officials insist is not true.
In another vein, former President Sirleaf has since become the whipping girl and is being blamed by CDC party officials for responsibility for just everything wrong with this government including the missing billions. President Sirleaf certainly had her faults, but to attribute every misstep of this government to her is most unfair and it clearly suggests that the search for scapegoats will likely intensify, especially as the economic situation worsens.