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President Boakai walks in Weah’s shadows on wrongful appointments and terminations

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With just over a month as President of Liberia, Joseph Nyuma Boakai is accused of violating laws establishing some agencies within the country. Key among the accusations are wrongful appointments and terminations the president is alleged to have made to vital statutory agencies. 

The matter has become the centre of discussion on every street corner, radio station, newspaper, and intellectual centre across the country. 

DUBAWA looks at the controversial appointments and terminations by providing historical antecedents to what is beginning to look like a deja vu. 

In 2018, when former president George Weah assumed the Liberian presidency, he started by removing tenure status from all entities with tenure by initiating a bill submitted to the 54th legislature.

The former Liberian leader did not just stop there but went further to change the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) Act, removing all those in tenure positions at the entity. The then-head of the LACC, Counselor Edwin Kla-Martin, challenged this decision. 

Like former President Weah, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai is walking a similar path by removing all those in tenure positions and appointing new officials.

Controversial NOCAL appointments

On February 13, 2024, President Joseph Boakai made some appointments in his government that affected the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL).

President Boakai named Mr M. Boakai Jaleiba the vice president of administration at NOCAL. On February 8, 2024, Mr. Emmanuel Azango was appointed by President Boakai as the first vice president at the same NOCAL. This decision contradicts the act establishing the oil company.

According to Article 12 (e), under the title “President and Chief Executive Officer,” the act creating the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), says the president or chief executive officer of the entity, in collaboration with the board, shall appoint all other vice presidents.

President Boakai walks in Weah’s shadows on wrongful appointments and terminations

The story at the National Identification Registry was the same. At the Registry (NIR), President Boakia, on February 20, 2024, at #114 on this document, nominated Dr. Edward Liberty as head of the entity, replacing its current head, Mr. Andrew Peters, another appointment that violates the act creating the NIR.

Part V, section 5.3 of the act establishing the NIR, states that the board of registrars shall appoint the Executive Director and shall serve a term of four years.

This decision by President Boakai has since been criticised by the current head of the NIR, indicating that the president has no legal authority to appoint anyone as head of the entity while his tenure is yet to expire.

Mr Peters, in a news report by the New Dawn Newspaper, asserted that the president’s new appointment was ill-advised. After consulting his legal team, he warned he would pursue the matter in court. 

Mr. Peters was appointed by the board of registrars of the NIR through a board resolution in June 2023. 

The National Lottery Authority

The president’s controversial appointments did not stop at the NIR. At the National Lottery Authority (NLA), President Boakai again replaced the current head, Mr Reginald Nagbe, with Mr Ciapha Saah Gbollie to oversee activities at the Authority, during the President’s February 20, 2024, nomination in government. Mr Gbollie’s name is at #92 on the list.

In 2018, when President Weah took over as president of Liberia, he named Mr Reginald Nagbe as head of the NLA. Still, Mr Nagbe could not take over until 2021 due to the current head of the entity having to complete his remaining tenure.

The Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA)

The trend continued with the Liberia Telecommunication Authority. Since replacing the commissioners at the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) with the newly nominated ones, President Boakia has become the centre of discussion in the country.

He recently named Abdullah Kamara, Patrick Honnah, Clarence Kortu Massaquoi, Ben A. Fofana, and Angela Bush Cassel to replace the five commissioners whose tenures are yet to expire.

These names are found between #74 – 78 on the recently nominated government officials under the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA).  

Since the appointment of the new commissioners, the old and current commissioners whose tenure are yet to expire have run to the Supreme Court of Liberia to seek redress.

What does the law say about appointments to the LTA?

Article 9, section 3 of the Act establishing the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA), found on page 8 of this document, states, among other things, that “The term of office for the Commissioners shall be four (4) years.  

The act furthered that the appointment of any Commissioner may be renewed by the President for another term of four (4) years, adding that no member of the Commission shall serve for more than two (2) terms.

It is clear from the above that the president’s new appointments contradict the dictates of the law.

What are lawyers saying?

Counsellor Busheban Keita, legal advisor to President Joseph Boakia, told journalists during an executive mansion briefing on February 23, 2024, that the cabinet under the leadership of President Boakai would scrap all tenure positions within the country except those created under the constitution of Liberia.

Cllr. Keita stated, “The cabinet has decided that those tenure positions violate article 56; (a) therefore, the cabinet has authorised the president, and it has been concluded as a government’s policy that all of those tenure positions will be scrapped and that the president will exercise his authority to appoint people in any position, whether tenure or not.” 

Cllr. Keita made the assertions between 13:30 – 14:50 minutes/seconds of the over one-hour press briefing at the Liberian Executive Mansion.

Cllr. Keita furthered that President Boakai would submit a bill to the legislature as soon as possible to scrap all tenure positions created by statute and not under the constitution. 

Counsellor Augustine Chea, seated as Senator of Sinoe County, has a different view from that of the legal advisor of  President Boakai, according to Cllr. Chea disagrees with the President’s Legal Advisor and others who said the tenure law violates Article 56 of the Constitution.

Cllr. In a Facebook post on his official page, Chea asserted, “The President’s Legal Advisor and others misread the Supreme Court’s opinion or don’t fully understand contract law. The Supreme Court ruled that Cllr. Martin should be paid for the unexpired period of his tenure because his contract rights were violated, and the Government must “respect the sanctity of contracts” as enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution. Then they interpret that to mean that tenured officials have only contract rights but no tenure because the tenure law violates Article 56 of the Constitution, which empowers the President to remove his appointees at will. 

What does Liberia’s constitution say?

Article 56 of the Liberian constitution states, among other things, that military and civilians, appointed by the President under this Constitution shall hold their offices at the pleasure of the President.

Also, article 86 of the Liberian constitution gave the power to set up the following autonomous Public Commissions- Civil Service Commission, Elections Commission, and General Auditing Commission. This article further stated that the Legislature shall enact laws for the governance of these Commissions and create other agencies as may be necessary for the effective operation of Government.

New twist by Supreme Court ruling 

Following weeks of legal battles on the tenure positions instigated by some tenure officials at the LTA and the Governance Commission (GC) on the one hand and the government of Liberia on the other hand, the Supreme Court of Liberia has ruled against the government of Liberia. The embattled officials of the two entities have thus won the cases they brought against the government.

President Boakai welcomed the high court ruling and noted that his government remains committed to the rule of law, a pillar of his development agenda for the country.

However, he has, with immediate effect, suspended all of the commissioners at the LTA and the chairman of the Governance Commission (GC) indefinitely.

According to President Boakai, the suspension is due to what he considers alleged malpractices and questionable financial records of the LTA. The suspensions come a day after the Supreme Court handed down its ruling involving the government and those being suspended.   

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