In Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has begun her much anticipated cabinet changes with the reshuffle of two key cabinet posts and the appointment of some deputy ministers. In the reshuffle, which took place late Wednesday night, Justice Minister Frances Johnson-Morris was removed and sent to the Commerce Ministry while Commerce Minister Olubanke King-Akerele was named the new foreign minister.
The new justice minister is Counselor Phillip Banks, who served in the same post during Amos Sawyer’s interim government of National Unity in the early 1990s.
Critics see the transfer of Justice Minister Johnson-Morris to commerce as a demotion and wonder how these changes would make the Sirleaf government more effective.
Cyrus Badio is press secretary to President Sirleaf. He told that the cabinet reshuffle is part of the president’s effort to improve the performance of her government.
“The current cabinet changes are all part of an effort on the part of the president to improve the productivity and efficiency within government circles,” he said.
Badio dismissed claims by some critics who say the new cabinet changes would do very little to make the Sirleaf government more effective, especially since they say new foreign minister King-Akerele has no foreign policy background.
“The current foreign minister, Olubanke Akerele has worked within the United Nations circles for well over 20 years occupying various positions. She served as deputy director for the United Nations Development Program for women. She also worked as United Nations Development Program representative in Mauritius and Seychelles, and you know the whole United Nations setting is about dealing with multi-lateral institutions. So definitely she has a vast wealth of experience which we feel is an asset to this government as it reaches out to improve its international image,” he said.
Badio dismissed claims by some critics who say the transfer of Justice Minister Francis Johnson-Morris was a form of demotion.
“Well, I am not sure whether I will agree that it is a removal. As you know, the president of this country has the prerogative to make changes in the government any time she wishes to move the country forward. So I don’t agree that the Justice Minister was removed. What the president did was just to shift individuals around so as to enhance productivity within the government,” Badio said.
He also rejects suggestion by some that Johnson-Morris was transferred from the Justice Ministry because President Sirleaf might have been concerned about the number of high profile cases which the government has lost since coming to power.
“That is to the contrary because you may not know that the ministry under Counselor Johnson-Morris in fact won more cases than you were made to believe. And so the president feels that the successes of the justice minister can be transmitted at the Commerce Ministry where government is also seeking to improve on the whole issue of price control and the availability of commodities for the local market,” Badio said.