By Festus Poquie
Top four elected government officials including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Vice President Joseph Boakai are all out of the country at the same time in known and unknown destinations.
House Speaker Alex Tyler and Senate Pro Tempore Amah Jallah are the other senior political leaders missing from the country. There is no clear information on the whereabouts of the Senate chief. His office has however confirmed he is not in Liberia. House Spokesman Isaac Redd told the New Democrat that the Speaker has been out of Liberia since 20 October and that he has been in South Africa.
The pair absence was noticeable Tuesday when the entire leadership of the legislature (Speaker, Deputy Speaker & Pro tempore) miss out on this year’s celebration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. Journalists and activists converged at the Capitol to commemorate the Day as a campaign to strengthen civic and legislative action to hasten the passage of laws that guarantee improved space and safety for media in Liberia.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is in the Far East – Asia, while the Vice President is in the West – USA. She left Liberia on 27 October and will not return until 6 November. She visited India and is now in China. Vice President Joseph Boakai is in the United States with a government delegation to sign US$257million deal with the US government in Washington DC.
President Sirleaf gave sweeping powers to Defense Minister Brownie Samukai prior to departing the country for Asia. Samukai a former army officer was ordered “to arrest anybody caught violating the laws of the land.” This mandate brings into question the administration’s commitment to the rule of law.
The four senior political leaders are key to the day-to-running of the country with respect to decision making.
In their absence, Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh has announced what appears to an era of economic turmoil.
Konneh, who announced economic recession in November, 2014 revealed on Thursday 29 October, 2015 that if the ailing agriculture and mining sectors are not rescued in days there will be economic instability.
“Liberia is struggling with the two backbones of its economy—iron ore and rubber. The commodity price shock has affected these two commodities to the extent that if action is not taken, the economy will have turbulence in the coming days,” Konnah said.
At the moment there are visible economic difficulties being experienced in the country with vast portion of the 4.5 million populations going to bed hungry while unemployment remains alarmingly high.
The European Commission estimates that 76% of the population lives below the poverty line of US$1 a day, and 52% lives in extreme poverty of under US$0.50 a day.
The country has scheduled presidential and legislative polls in 2017. Amongst the high level political absentees only President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is not contesting due to constitutional limitation.
Vice President Joseph Boakai is pushing a bid to succeed incumbent Sirleaf. Pro tempore Jallah and Speaker Tyler have speculated ambition for the Presidency.
Tyler has spent nine years as Speaker of the House of Representatives and wants to move to the Executive mansion. He is believed to have financed the establishment of the People’s Unification Party (PUP) and has quitted the ruling Unity Party. Tyler has reportedly been kicked out of the PUP following political disagreement and is seeking alliance with the opposition Congress for Democratic Change.
Liberian politicians believe wooing international support is crucial to becoming President. Former Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan says he is qualified to contest for the presidency because he has met and interacted with African Presidents and World leaders including US President Barrack Obama. Businessman Benoni Urey is using Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama to appeal to voters. Vice President Joe Boakai is now a frequent visitor to the United States.