When President Sirleaf fired or asked her entire cabinet ministers to take an administrative leave of office “effective immediately” in 2010, I questioned the wisdom behind the decision and hinted that her decision could have a potential negative impact on the democratic process.
While it is true that Liberians are no longer lingering in jail cells in the country because of their political views, the fears of the past and present that Liberians have for their president is evident throughout the country because of the imperial power of the office.
President Sirleaf has not only embraced the idea of a powerful presidency, her support to amend the constitution and dilute the power of the president has been cold and distant.
As if the 2010 decision wasn’t abhorrent enough to cause uproar in Liberia and abroad, President Sirleaf upped the ante in 2012 when she suspended 46 government officials for their failure to declare their personal assets.
On the surface, some see the decision to suspend that many people in government at once as a brilliant move that’s supposed to inject transparency into a corruption-plagued Liberian government.
Beneath the surface, however, the president’s decision adds to existing concerns about presidential overreach, the obvious lack of legislative involvement in this matter and other matters, and also shows a complete obliviousness of the negative effects such decision has on the economy and national security.
By suspending 46 government officials at once when the nation’s economy is spiraling downward shows the seriousness of her policies, and also shows how much effort she’s putting into protecting the country and getting it out of its current economic slump.
By suspending so many officials at once exposed the government to shut down technically, exposed the nation’s borders to terrorism and drug trafficking, and also exposed the banking system, airports, school system and other institutions to manipulation.
As a leader who believes she is serious about transparency, accountability and ending corruption, it would have been reasonable for Ms. Sirleaf to also declare her assets. Did she?
And is there any accountability and transparency when President Sirleaf travels frequently across the globe?
As usual, Sirleaf’s die-hard supporters, however, applauded her move as ‘bold and decisive,’ and even argued that such decision falls within her authority as president, while others view her decision as a breach of the democratic process.
It is bad practice when a president has enormous executive power that allows that president to govern unilaterally. It is also unfortunate when the legislative branch operates faintly and in name only to lose consciousness of what is going on in a country that desperately needs conscious minds to awaken its dying souls.
The reality of this tragedy is a president who speaks convincingly about democracy, but is uninterested in implementing genuine democratic change the country needs to move in the right direction.
The lack of a credible and effective legislature to seriously challenge the president’s policies has emboldened her, and also made it easy for her to exploit a weak, corrupt, pliant, ineffective and unconscious legislative branch, whose members are not interested in legislating to make life better for their people; but wants to protect their own political and financial interests.
As a pro-democracy candidate at one time in her previous life, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spoke unequivocally about democracy, and projected a sense of believability at a time when others had doubts about her.
The president’s unilateral decision sent a mixed message that the executive branch is unserious about implementing genuine democracy in Liberia.
That is why it is important for Liberians to work feverishly to have the nation’s constitution amended to curb the power of the imperial presidency.
Because when the constitution is not amended to reflect the realities of the modern day, Liberians will continue to cry foul when another president attempts to manipulate the constitution to further his or her own political objectives.
It was a completely terrible year for democracy during the last general and presidential elections when the process was embroiled in a series of electoral controversies that questioned the fairness of the process.
The mere thought that partisans and appointees of a President who ran for reelection were in charge of the National Elections Commission (NEC) is not only unfair and undemocratic, but a mockery of the entire democratic process.
As potential presidential candidates position themselves for the 2017 elections, it will be politically prudent for the individuals to not be singularly focused on the presidency, but work to change the process.
The question now is how beneficial is it to a presidential candidate when the National Elections Commission (NEC) is not independent and neutral?
For the love of Liberia, potential presidential candidates should be concerned and involved in building democratic institutions in the country.
Doing so will strengthen the mandates of the National Elections Commission so that a sitting president will not shamelessly manipulate its employees and functions.