Reflections on the Latest Reshuffle

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President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on Wednesday undertook a Cabinet reshuffle naming a leading Liberian diplomat as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the third woman to hold that position. The first was Madam D. Musuleng Cooper and the second, Madam Olubanke King Akerele who, like Ms. Kamara, worked for many years with the United Nations.

There were three other major subjects of the Cabinet reshuffle. The first was Lewis Brown, Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) who was appointed Liberian Ambassador to a yet unnamed country. The second was Youth and Sports Minister Eugene Nagbe, who succeeds Brown at MICAT, while the third was Internal Affairs Minister Dr. Henrique Tokpa, former President of Cuttington University.

This was certainly not an earthshaking Cabinet reshuffle. Ms. Kamara only succeeds Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan, who recently resigned in order to seek electoral office in the 2017 elections.

It is not yet clear which office he seeks, though many believe he is either eying the presidency or positioning himself to be chosen as some standard bearer’s running mate. If the latter were true, that standard bearer remains to be seen.

But Ngafuan, who is also a prolific poet, may like to see himself as Liberia’s next poet-President following the tradition of the first, President Edwin J. Barclay, author of several great poems, including the celebrated Liberian anthem, “The Lone Star Forever,” second only to President Daniel B. Warner’s the Liberian National Anthem, “All Hail Liberia, Hail.”

Ambassador Lewis Brown, we are sure, is leaving MICAT in tears, but not because he is losing his ministerial position. No. Brown is a realist and knows that one who is afraid to get burnt should not enter the kitchen. Three things make his leaving sorrowful.

First, he came into office shortly following the 2011 elections, and soon learned that GOL owed the Liberian media at the time hundreds of thousands of United States dollars. He launched a series of tough negotiations with senior media executives and soon realized that the media itself was divided between those who desired a “golden handshake” and those who desired only to be paid what GOL owed – nothing more, nothing less. The golden handshake was a lump sum payout each media house would receive, writing off GOL’s media debt. Under this arrangement, GOL would have overpaid some newspapers more than 10 times their due and underpaid other newspapers down to a fraction of what GOL actually owed. Some media houses, like the Daily Observer, declined the offer and continued to pursue full payment.

After that flawed exercise, Minister Brown proceeded to develop a new procedure, by which MICAT would become a clearinghouse for all GOL advertisements. Upon publication, each media advertising invoice was to be sent to MICAT for vetting. This process was intended to minimize the careless misplacement of media invoices across government and promote a robust handling of GOL’s media bills. Well, Brown neglected the arrangement so it has become stagnant.

Minister Brown is now gone and most of the media still have not been paid amounts owed over several years. In the case of the Daily Observer, the MICAT itself currently owes US$6,000, while the outstanding GOL bill due this newspaper is nearly US$50,000.

Minister Brown, whether or not he chooses to, should shed tears over this travesty of justice for media houses, like other businesses, survive on timely payments by customers for their services. How else would they be empowered to pay reporters and staff adequately, obtain supplies, transportation and better equipment to produce better quality of news reporting, modernize and expand their facilities in step with the rest of African and other world media institutions?

In short, Minister Brown did not fight for the media, not even for the government’s own broadcasting flag ship, the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), which endured many blackouts due to lack of fuel, particularly during the Ebola crisis when LBS should have been a major weapon of information against the deadly virus.

The second reason for Brown’s tears is his and his government’s failure to rebuild the much needed National Cultural Center (NCC), after GOL sold Kendeja, NCC’s home to R.L. Johnson to build his tourist resort. GOL had 10 years and Minister Brown a full five years to rebuild this most vital of institutions, which represents the soul of Liberia—the NCC—but this has not been done.

Brown’s third reason for tears is that he was handed a huge piece of land on which to build the National Library for Africa’s oldest independent republic that lacks a national library. Alas! It has not been built.

That, most certainly is reason for tears—not Lewis Brown’s only, but the whole of Liberia—especially its children, students and the whole populace!

The new Information Minister, Eugene Nagbe, surely has his work cut out for him. The sooner he gets started on it, the better; for, as Lewis Brown found out, time is an enemy, not a friend.

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