Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has accepted the resignation of Internal Affairs Minister A.B. Johnson, a close relative of the president.
Cyrus Badio, press secretary to President Sirleaf said Minister Johnson was asked to resign because he breached procurement procedures.
“Minister Johnson fell short in the implementation of the rules governing the administration of the Social Development Fund, a special fund set up by government to support communities where companies like Arcelor Mittal are operating. And there are set guidelines which have been put in place to govern the administration of that special fund. The minister fell short as head of the project management team in the administration of those funds,” he said.
Badio declined to say whether Minister Johnson had embezzled monies from the special fund.
“So far we have no indication that the failure to follow the rules governing the administration of the fund is the same as embezzlement,” he said.
Mr. Johnson’s resignation comes as lawyers for former information minister Laurence Bropleh appeared in court Monday to answer charges of criminal facilitation for his role in the theft of over $280,000.
Badio said President Sirleaf has always been determined in the fight against corruption.
“The president has always taken action to fight what you referred to as corruption. But in this case let’s not be quick to jump to conclusion that it is corruption. In this case the minister, as head of the project management team just did not follow the guidelines which had been put in place for the administration of that fund that has been set up by the government,” Badio said.
Local news reports said Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson first sounded the alarm last year that the internal affairs minister and the minister of Lands, Mines and Energy might have fiddled with funds given to his county by ArcelorMittal, a steel company operating in the county.
With presidential elections scheduled for next year and Nimba County being one of the larger counties, Badio denied that President Sirleaf might have asked for Minister Johnson’s resignation in a bid to win votes.
“The president is not going to be moved by this. She is the leader of this country and where she feels that action needs to be taken she will act so as not to forestall the development of this country,” Badio said.
Mr. Johnson is a close relative of President Sirleaf. But Badio said President Sirleaf will always choose what is good for the country over any family relationship.
Israel Akinsanya, chair of the opposition Liberty Party said the internal affairs minister should be subject to an audit by the General Auditing Commission.
“Mr. Johnson is accused of a lot of other things. Besides the county development fund issue, you have social fund issue and you have the issue of pay for local chiefs who have not been paid for four years. And the Liberty Party today issued a statement calling for a total investigation by the AGC, and also that Mr. Johnson should be allowed to travel until after such an investigation finds him not guilty of any impropriety,” Akinsanya said.
Badio would not say whether President Sirleaf would ask for an investigation of Minister Johnson. However, he said the search has begun for the minister’s replacement as internal affairs minister.