Wanted: Honest men and women for Liberian govt

Presumptive president-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said on Thursday she is looking for a few honest men, and women, to form a government able to tackle the challenge of rebuilding war-torn Liberia.

“There are going to be three basic requirements: the requirement of competence; the requirement of honesty; and the requirement of the regard and protection of human rights,” she told reporters in an interview at her home.

Resplendent in a sky-blue African embroidered gown and headscarf, the woman most likely to be Africa’s first elected female head of state added: “Anyone who has not met those particular three conditions will not find a place in the government”.

Johnson-Sirleaf (67) beat footballer George Weah in a November 8 second round and is waiting for certified results due on November 23 before celebrating a victory which has been long in coming after three decades in government and opposition, in prison and exile.

In a country where warlords and masters of shady enterprise have been welcomed into office and ministries for decades, putting together a Cabinet to fight poverty and disease, rebuild shattered infrastructure and refill a looted treasury is an unenviable task.

And vowing to do so across the spectrum of political parties while also dipping into the diaspora population could prove to be an endeavor more difficult than winning the presidency itself.

To lead effectively, the Harvard-educated technocrat will have to reach out not only to her long-time opponents, of whom there are many, but also to Weah and her 20 other rivals during this electoral contest, which chose the first government for the West African country since the August 2003 end to civil war.

“Ellen [Johnson]-Sirleaf needs to form a broad-based government of national unity as she has indicated,” Winsley Nanka, a Liberian political analyst and journalist in the United States, told Agence France Presse in an e-mail.

“She needs to look at the competent people within the various political parties whose core competencies could be of use. Except for a few, she really does not owe much political debt to the party leaders.”

Several names have surfaced among the Monrovia chattering classes including that of her aide, Harry Greaves Jr, who has expressed quiet interest in the finance ministry, Nanka said.

Failed presidential candidates Joseph Korto and Winston Tubman could be considered for the education and foreign affairs portfolios respectively, he added, though Tubman was less likely due to his endorsement of Weah in the run-off and his ongoing challenge to an election he insists was rigged.

“We have committed to a government of inclusion that will cut across party lines, ethnic lines, religious lines,” said Johnson-Sirleaf, who served as finance minister in 1970s-era governments.

“Liberia has had a system so imbued with corruption for so long that there are good people out there, who meet all the other tests except the test of honesty, but I am just going to have to find people,” she said.

Poised to be the first woman in Africa to become an elected head of state, Johnson-Sirleaf has also committed to boosting the presence of women in government in non-traditional roles.

There might even be room for Weah in a Sirleaf Cabinet, she added, not only the portfolio of Youth and Sports that has been repeatedly mentioned but perhaps something else.

“I’ve not offered him a post… I have said I am open to a discussion in which that could be one of the options,” she said on Thursday, brushing off the fraud claims as “bogus” and an effort to “delay the inevitable”.

“But the country’s not going to be stymied, or non-functional, if he is not here. We’re going to move on, with or without him.” - Sapa-AFP