Senator Amara Konneh expresses disappointment with President Boakai’s first 100 days in office


Senator Amara Konneh has expressed his disappointments and concerns in an opinion piece published in the Daily Observer Newspaper regarding President Boakai’s first 100 days in office. He noted that despite significant financial support provided to the President by the Legislature, only a few commitments out of a hundred were met during this period. Senator Konneh highlighted missed opportunities in Washington where commitments were made but not followed up on after the inauguration. He criticized the focus of President Boakai’s team on securing jobs for themselves and their friends instead of forming an inclusive and professional government.

Senator Konneh mentioned that he provided a transition blueprint to President Boakai, which was developed by a team of experienced Liberian professionals, aiming to build support for the new administration, assess the financial situation, and form an inclusive government, regardless of political affiliation. Despite efforts to secure international support and funding before the inauguration, including high-profile meetings in Washington, the expected follow-up actions were not taken by the President’s team.

The Senator also discussed the dynamics within the President’s inner circle, where some members, feeling entitled to proximity to the executive, marginalized outsiders who had supported President Boakai from behind the scenes. This led to a lack of implementation of recommendations and a disconnect between the President and critical supporters like Senator Konneh and former Auditor General John Morlu.

Senator Konneh emphasized his role as a legislator in holding the Executive accountable and highlighted various issues he believes the administration has failed to address effectively. Despite his disappointment, he expressed willingness to support the Boakai-Koung Administration in efforts that benefit the country. He called for broader consultation and diverse views in decision-making to improve governance and outcomes during the remaining tenure. Senator Konneh concluded by reaffirming his commitment to his constitutional duty of highlighting challenges and providing solutions in service to the country, expressing his loyalty to Liberia and his role as a constructive critic rather than a partisan supporter.

Below is the written opinion by Senator Amara Konneh on President Boakai’s 100 Days in Office

President Joseph Boakai ended his 100 days in office on May 1, with little to show for the US$22 million spending package the Legislature had handed him on a silver platter. According to NAYMOTE Partners for Democratic Development, he met just 10 out of 100 commitments for the period (I link the article here). This is a little better than George Weah’s performance, which Boakai’s Unity Party considered a dismal failure. What happened and how can we change course?

Before answering this question, let’s start with what the President needed to accomplish, from the outset, and how I and many others tried to help.

Liberia’s post-Weah reset required three major things: 1) building domestic, regional, and international support for our new President and the country; 2) taking stock of the country’s financial position, before the inauguration, and shoring up that funding with international support; and 3) forming an inclusive government comprising rigorously vetted professionals, irrespective of political persuasion or closeness to the Executive.

To support this effort, I submitted to President Boakai a non-partisan White Paper with a blueprint for his transition, which covered all the bases listed above. I developed this with a crack team of Liberian professionals with extensive experience in public policy, economics, law, finance, security, politics, education, and health – all of whom have been silent supporters of Uncle Boakai since 2017. This cadre of professionals is patriotic; I had worked with some of them on a similar paper for former President Weah, after his 2017 victory, in the vain hope that he intended to govern justly. I have copies of both White Papers. Mr. Weah ignored his; and, so far, President Boakai has done the same.

Not knowing President Boakai would react this way, my colleagues and I backed up our recommendations with our money and clout. With the support of friends in Washington, D.C. – and at no cost to the President-elect – we quickly lined up for him high-profile meetings, the likes of which we had never seen since President William V.S. Tubman when he visited with US President John F. Kennedy, in 1943, and Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf when she won the presidency and met with World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, in 2005. Both high-profile meetings took place before the Liberian presidents’ inaugurations.

Our mission was clear: highlight Liberia as the beacon of democracy in a sea of increasing constitutional changes to extend presidential terms and coups across Africa and alleged election rigging in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, which triggered sanctions by the United States Government. Our goal was ambitious: to raise US$100 million in development financing before the inauguration because we suspected that the government had no money. We now know from the General Auditing Commission’s Audit of the Consolidated Account that former President Weah had left a net bank balance of US$6.9 million. So, we argued to our friends in Washington that our partners needed to show up for us to deliver for our people. Our message resonated and our traditional bilateral and multilateral partners opened their arms to us in a big way: State, Treasury, USAID, MCC, Commerce, the World Bank, and the IMF. We left Washington with a commitment of approximately US$60 million mainly from the Bank and Fund. Our next step would have been to raise the remaining US$40 million from the European Union and the African Development Bank. We planned to fly first to Brussels, then land in Abidjan to meet with African Development Bank President Dr. Akinwumi Adesina.

But we never made it to Brussels. And, once in Abidjan, President Boakai’s team only took him to beg his counterpart President Alassane Ouattara to relax the overdue payment of debt LEC owed to CI-Energies due to its bad corporate governance and a malfunctioned distribution system. They convinced him he didn’t need to meet Adesina, and so that mission failed to bring in new money. Even the US$60 million commitment we got in Washington, the disbursement of which depended on follow-up discussions with counterparts in Liberia to agree on triggers for disbursement, did not materialize. This is not free money. Two days ago, a reliable source told me no one has followed up with our partners in Washington, since they returned in December.

When President Boakai’s team returned to Liberia, they turned their focus towards securing jobs for themselves and their friends. The white paper had recommended recruiting the most qualified among the President’s supporters and other Liberians who may not have supported him. This does not suggest that my friends whom he appointed are terrible choices, but a thorough vetting process for key technical positions under the Minister or Director would have served him and the country well. A team of Boakai’s respected allies who had no interest in getting appointed could have spearheaded a rigorous vetting process, led by our new Vice President Jeremiah Koung. This also never took place.

Why did our recommendations go unheeded? Insecurity and entitlement. After the inauguration, President Boakai’s inner circle – those who feel their longstanding and overt commitment to him entitles them to greater proximity to the executive – separated themselves from the so-called “outsiders” or “latecomers” who, for professional reasons, supported Boakai from the shadows during the last administration. The insiders dismiss our “outsiders/latecomers” contributions although, without us, President Boakai’s victory was uncertain. This separation is no less pronounced because we, outsiders/latecomers, believe our support for Boakai requires us to highlight and help fix the gaps in his leadership and his team. The insiders consider us a threat because we refuse to assume the sycophantic posture some of them have chosen. But our objectives are to help lay strong foundations for the Boakai-Koung administration’s legacy, in which we have a stake because we played major roles in their election.

I am not the only one who has been treated this way. Former Auditor General John Morlu leveraged his own credibility to run an American-style campaign to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Boakai-Koung ticket. He then submitted his own recommendations on the post-election transition with an emphasis on counts 2 and 3 I mentioned above. He offered remote support that went unheeded. But it soon became clear that the Unity Party would regard hard-eyed analysis intended to support the new President we helped to elect as disloyal and contrarian. President-elect Boakai himself made separate phone calls to Morlu and me saying his team had complained that we were not “team players” and were too “vocal” in the campaign’s chatroom and other communication channels about focusing on the three transition objectives I mentioned above. President-Elect Boakai quickly isolated us, from that point on, and has been unresponsive since then – at least to me. I have found this reaction puzzling given that, during the Weah administration, Boakai and all my friends in the Unity Party had cheered me for criticizing the former President’s economic, foreign, and domestic policies and then idolized me, when I had presided over a critical phase of his defeat.

Neither Morlu nor I wanted to be a distraction within the party and our new President, so we walked away, the same way I walked away from Mr. Weah in 2018 when it became clear my advice was unwelcomed. But we haven’t shut up, and I certainly will not. My constitutional duty in the Senate is not only to appropriate funds to the Executive but also to hold it accountable for its use. The constitutional duty I share with the President and Vice President to seek the public interest also demands that I bear the discomfort of confronting and correcting the President I voted for and played a pivotal role in electing. Indeed, if I failed to do so, that would make me a traitor and a coward. And they all know that I am neither, so they have tried to brand me as bitter. Some of them are even financing starving journalists and career blackmailers to launch a scurrilous attack on my reputation with lies and fabricated stories.

A bitter man would not have played the pivotal role I did in finding additional resources in the budget for the President’s agenda. The Legislature has given the President a budget of US$748.8 million. Excluding the Legislature and Judiciary budgets, that’s about US$684 million to improve all the things for which we condemned former President Weah. The Legislature gave him more money for public Sector Investment Programs (PSIP) than he had asked for in his draft budget proposals. My contribution to that effort is well documented in an action memo I sent to the leaders of both Houses. I also voted to confirm all but three of the President’s nominees. I did all this, despite being sidelined by the President and his allies and seeing my advice dismissed. And I remain ready to be supportive of the Boakai-Koung Administration in any way that fosters growth and development.

I am not bitter; I am disappointed that this administration, this president, has failed to inspire a weary nation. The asset recovery exercise that members of the task force are criticizing; the surcharge removal on petroleum products; the administration’s violation of the tenure law; the use of appointments to fill low-level civil servants that should be competitively filled; the President’s capitulation to a mutiny by the military; the scandalization of the National Security Agency; and his inability to tackle the corporate malfeasance at LEC to fix the country’s energy crisis, are just a few points on a long list of false starts. And I am not the only one who feels frustrated with the lack of momentum and integrity. Many in the President’s inner circle, in the Legislature, and on the periphery are complaining but are afraid to speak up because they are either afraid of losing their jobs or falling out of grace with the President, without whose approval, they believe, they might succeed. Some have indicated to me that their leaders have abandoned them. Furthermore, the public has started complaining, too, and I have the poll numbers to back it up.

Fortunately, there is still time – five years and seven months – to turn things around and leave a significant legacy. But that is not much time. To both improve and accelerate the quality of his government’s interventions, President Boakai and his team must consult more broadly with the many patriotic and smart Liberians outside the small group that is trying to keep him in a bubble, like former President Weah’s allowed his small team to do to him. More diverse views can help President Boakai make better decisions.

As for me, I am not abandoning President Boakai. Nor am I wishing him to fail. He’s still my President, my traditional Uncle! I will focus my disappointments on the issues that affect the country he and I love so much. But I am not a party man, I am not a yes man, and I will continue fulfilling my constitutional duty to highlight challenges and offer solutions. That, to me, makes me a true nephew to my uncle, a true friend to all my friends in the government and the Unity Party, and a true service to our country.

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