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Liberian President Announces Cabinet Changes

  • James Butty

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf arrives for a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria's capital Abuja, February 16, 2012.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf arrives for a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria's capital Abuja, February 16, 2012.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Monday made her long-awaited cabinet reshuffle affecting the Ministries of Commerce, Labor, Youth and Sports and the Civil Service agency.

Critics say the changes fail to address recent problem ministries, including Agriculture, Education, Justice and Finance.

The Agriculture Ministry was at the center of a controversy involving Private Use Permits and illegal logging last year.

Jerolinmek Piah, Sirleaf’s press secretary, said she has promised more changes.

"The business of the Cabinet reshuffle is an entire process that does not stop and end today. The president has commenced the reshuffling, as she promised, and she did say in the statement that, in days to come, or perhaps weeks, this process will continue until it is concluded. So, yes, this is just the beginning of the process," he said.

Sirleaf said that she is placing a "premium on the criteria of competence, integrity, commitment and loyalty. By loyalty, I mean that which is not only owed to an individual, or to a political party, but loyalty to the aspiration of our national vision, and to the improvement in the lives of our people."

Observers say the changes announced so far have failed to hit Ministry of Agriculture and the Private Use Permits (PUP) scandal.

The PUPs were designed to allow private landowners to cut trees on their property, and do not contain stringent social and environmental protections required for certain other large logging permits.

As a result, these permits can be used to avoid requirements for sustainability and fair compensation to the government and local communities.

A report last year by the environmental group Global Witness revealed that much of Liberia’s timber was being illegally harvested.

Following that report, Sirleaf suspended Forestry Development Authority Managing Director Moses Wogbeh. But Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth was spared, even though an independent probe recommended her punishment.

Piah said the changes announced Monday are part of an ongoing process.

"The reshuffling exercise is an entire process. What has happened is the beginning of that process, and it’s going to be quite unfair for anyone to suggest a judgment about what the reshuffle reflects just on the basis of what [has] happened. I think people will need to give the process a chance because the president was clear that this is a process that may run for a couple of days, perhaps weeks, in restructuring the government," Piah said.
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