Ellen’s Shame: Corruption, Poverty, Nepotism, Flawed Elections Dim First Woman President’s Legacy


President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s handling of corruption and the messy 2017 elections are amongst key issues that would most certainly overshadow her 12 years in office.

Elected in 2005 on the back of her near 40 years advocacy for good governance, social justice and a corruption free society, the 79-year-old leader will leave corruption, poverty and nepotism in a booming state.

She however stands credited for the country’s improved international image and the current state of peace and stability being enjoyed with the help of the United Nations Mission In Liberia (UNMIL).

But the 2011 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is departing the presidency with heavy criticism mainly focusing on her failure to tackle nepotism, corruption and other ugly vices.

She is accused of instituting a Putin-style cronyism wherein her children and sons and daughters of her friends and family associates are positioned in lucrative state-owned enterprises and government offices. Sirleaf three sons held and are holding high positions in her government including head of the National Oil Company, head of the National Security Agency and Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia. Member of the Weeks family are reshuffled from one top good job to the other.

All these acts are being practiced in the administration of a politician who for more than four decades dedicated her life to fighting for the eradication of those vices in a poor African country.

“I am totally disappointed. Liberians voted for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with the thinking that she would make Liberia a better place to live. Now see where she’s leaving it. We are poor than ever before. We are victims of bad governance,” Jerome Bernard, president of the University of Liberia Students Union said.

“We are backward in development. Students lack adequate education tools after nearly 12 years of governance. Corruption still remains prevalence. I feel little has been done and I will grade her 38 percent.”

But there is a positive here for the President. George Weah, the Leader of the main opposition Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) puts Johnson Sirleaf performance rating at 80%. The departing President is linked to Weah’s CDc.

In contrast to the opposition leader’s opinion, based on what the President has said before and her admittance to losing the corruption war it is impossible to earn a passing mark.

He who fails to fight corruption cannot achieve economic growth and development, Johnson Sirleaf’s governance standard reads.

This is what she said at her inauguration in January 2006:

“Fellow Liberians, we know that if we are to achieve our economic and income distribution goals, we must take on forcibly and effectively the debilitating cancer of corruption. Corruption erodes faith in government because of the mismanagement and misapplication of public resources. It weakens accountability, transparency and justice. Corruption shortchanges and undermines key decision and policy-making processes. It stifles private investments, which create jobs, and assures support from our partners. Corruption is a national cancer that creates hostility, distrust, and anger.”

2017 Elections:

The 2017 presidential election was expected to lead to a political transition from one democratically elected President to anther for the first time in more than 40 years. But the positive history in that election is at risk to the extent that President Sirleaf could transfer power to an Acting President and not an elected President.

The integrity of the National Elections Commission (NEC) was compromised before the October 10, 2017 presidential and legislative elections when its Chairman Jerome Korkoya acting behind schedule, started preparation in less than eight months to election day thus leading to a flawed process, which outcome is being contested in court.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her administration could not timely and adequately finance the election, knowing full well that there would be general and presidential election in the year 2017.

As at November 2016 only US$1.6million was disbursed to NEC for pre-elections activities out of US10million, which the commission requested. Unlike the 2005 and 2011 elections, this one was hers to plan and conduct. The outcome is rating of the Sirleaf’s government readiness for timely and peaceful democratic transfer of power.

On November 14, 2016, NEC technical staff said in a letter to Chairman Korkoya that the credibility of the elections would be at risk if pre-electoral activities required for execution before the commencement of voter registration are not implemented as scheduled.

Those pre-electoral activities, which the staff said were not implemented with respect to the original election timeline include: mapping of additional 300 centers and the collection of GPS coordinates for 2,080 voters’ registration center; preliminary civic and voter education that should have been performed by 11 November 2016, contracts approval budget support, recruitment, training and deployment of civic educators.

“Since the publication of the timeline, we have observed with concerns that some key activities have not been executed as scheduled. This is where we have our concern,” the staff said.

“The situation is not only unhealthy for the electoral process but it also undermines the integrity of the commission to conduct the 2017 general elections.”

After the elections more than 50 contesting political parties and candidates challenged the results. Based on its own investigation, NEC has ordered several repeat legislative elections. The Liberty Party and the ruling Unity Party are protesting the presidential votes and are seeking from the Supreme Court a rerun of the polls.

In anticipation of a repeat or runoff election, the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) would be sending experts to conduct the elections. The implication here is that after 12 years, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was unable to conduct a free, fair and transparent elections. Why? The answer could rightly be found in the President’s 2005 inaugural address.

“ Corruption … weakens accountability, transparency and justice. Corruption shortchanges and undermines key decision and policy-making processes. Corruption is a national cancer that creates hostility, distrust, and anger.”

Writes Festus Poquie