She vehemently decried the corruption invective as a matter of perception. Other pundits submitted that it was unfair to brush under the carpet the volume of achievements the president painstakingly listed and the promise of more to come.
The first strand of the analysis, which is incidentally also the media perspective, captured by the oldest credible newspaper, the Daily Observer, is the corruption perception argument put forward by the President. The Daily Observer’s Editorial of January 28, 2016, captioned, “Perception of Corruption and Ellen’s Sincerity,” poured scorn on this argument. The newspaper took the line that the president has herself to blame for the severe criticisms regarding her Annual Message.
“We think the President made a cardinal mistake when she told the Legislature and the Liberian people that there was a perception of corruption in the Republic. The import of that remark or what it told us is there is really no corruption in the country, only what people are thinking or perceiving,” the Daily Observer points out.
In the opinion of the newspaper, the President seemed to have forgotten that in her inaugural Address in 2006, she told the nation that “corruption was public enemy Number One”. Pushing this argument forward, the newspaper recalls that in other speeches President Johnson Sirleaf said “corruption was endemic.”
Without mincing its words, the Daily Observer emphasizes that corruption has indeed compounded during Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s administration. The newspaper pointed out some glaring examples of this malady: “The President has fired many of her key officials, including leading Ministers, for corruption and said not a word about the corruption in which they are involved.
“One of them built a huge mansion and when she [Madam President] was invited to see it, she asked where he got the money for that. When he could not answer, she fired him on the spot…
“Another minister from the same Ministry was, we understand, in the midst of transferring a huge amount of money when someone in the bank tipped her off. She immediately summoned the Minister and demanded to know. When again he could not answer, she fired him on the spot. But like the previous one, he was given a slap on the wrist and the public never got to know why”, the Daily Observer points out.
The newspaper provides more instances of corruption, thereby debunking notion of perception. As if this was not grave enough, the Daily Observer turned to instances of rape which the President raised in the Annual Address, asking with a tongue in the cheek, “how concerned the government was about rape when some of the suspects of this heinous crime had been set free by the President?”
Concluding, the editorial warns: “Ellen has to realize that, as in the case of past Liberian leaders, there must come a day of reckoning…”
The second strand of analysis regarding the Annual Message was a pillar opposite of the first. Led by the Minister of Information designate, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, this group argues that the Sirleaf administration has done a lot to rein in corruption. In an interview with ELBC on January 26, 2016, Mr. Nangbe said the war against corruption is succeeding. He pointed to the establishment of integrity institutions such as the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, the General Auditing Commission and the Public Procurement & Concession Commission and their relentless pursuit of those who are allegedly involved in corruption of all stripes as show of commitment of the government to fighting the war.
Mr. Nagbe changed the narrative by listing the level of infrastructure development undertaken by the government, noting that the trend surpasses the achievements of previous administrations. He said apart from building over 1,500 schools, the government continues to support vocational institutions. “The president was right to highlight these projects in her Annual Address to the Legislature,” Mr. Nagbe stressed.
He also indicated that the main topic of Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s address was the security situation in the country in the face of UNMIL’s drawdown. “The President is right that a lot of work has been done in preparedness for our security forces to take over when UNMIL departs.
“Our security forces are being trained; many have undergone training in neighboring countries and other parts, including China and Egypt,” he said.
Mr. Nagbe said that in the international circuit, the government is well-respected for its contributions to forging international peace and development. “You heard the President when she told the National Legislature that Liberia’s standing in the comity of nations is good. Liberia is Chair of the Africa High level Panel. This is why there is goodwill for Liberia in the international community.”
No doubt, President Johnson Sirleaf’s Annual Message to the Legislature will remain topical for a long time, especially as Liberia moves closer to the 2017 presidential elections. Some pundits will try to make political capital of every point in the address. The government, for its part, will cling on to the bright side of the Address as a means of ramping up hope in the populace. Government strategists will continue to elevate development projects as achievable undertakings on the roadmap for governance as the Sirleaf administration enters the last lap of its term.