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ECOWAS Urges Freeze on Liberian Political Appointments - 2003-10-26

Two months ago the Liberian government and two rebel groups signed a comprehensive peace agreement creating a national transitional government. Now there are problems as to which group has the right to appoint officials to certain positions. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which helped mediate the agreement, is calling for a freeze on the appointments of assistant and deputy government ministers.

The August agreement, reached at negotiations in Accra, Ghana, gave certain government ministries and public corporations to the former government of Liberia, the two rebel groups, and civil society. Each of these groups has made appointments to the ministries allocated to them.

But the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, known as LURD, says the chairman of the transitional government, Gyude Bryant is refusing to accept its appointments. LURD chairman Sekou Conneh said Mr. Bryant's actions threaten the peace process. "The problem is Gyude Bryant because he wants to bring his party members on board and prepare himself for the elections," he said.

Mr. Conneh has called for a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States to clarify key terms of the agreement. ECOWAS Ambassador to Liberia Francis Blain said the group is working to resolve the matter. "The understanding is that a process of consultation will be established by the chairman, after the appointment of ministers and heads of public corporations you know and so on, and in that process of consultation, the LURD, the MODEL [rebels], the former government of Liberia, and ourselves, the United Nations will be involved with a view to selecting the most suitably qualified and experienced persons for assistant minister positions and positions below the heads of public corporations and state enterprises," he said.

Ambassador Blain would not say when the ECOWAS consultative meeting would take place. In the meantime, he says ECOWAS wants a moratorium on appointments in the transitional government of Liberia. "Giving the financial situation in Liberia at this time, ECOWAS has recommended that consideration be given to freezing the posts of assistant ministers, at least for a year, until the financial situation of the country improves," he said.

Ambassador Blain said the signatories to the Accra Peace Accord have yet to accept the ECOWAS recommendation.

The Accra comprehensive agreement did not create a constitutionally elected government. But some say Chairman Gyude Bryant of the transitional government is behaving as if the people elected him.

Blamo Nelson is advisor to Chairman Bryant on the implementation of the peace agreement. He said Mr. Bryant has not violated the terms of the Accra Peace Agreement. "I think the problem is about positions that are not allocated to any faction by the agreement. Mr. Bryant is saying that anything that is not in the agreement should be discussed through consultation, and the emphasis should be on the technicality and the technical know-how of these people," he said.

The Accra Agreement also left many public offices unallocated, including some security agencies that are crucial to the success of the peace process. Critics say not resolving these issues may give what they call "unaccountable power" to Mr. Bryant, thereby leading to a repeat of the past when previous presidents appointed their friends to government positions with no regard to their competence.