Congratulations Scholar Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei! My outmost respect

Scholar Nyei, as I love to call you, I am especially proud of you for achieving this milestone – earning a PhD.

I am sure you know that I am not surprised that you would have achieved this great fete. You have made everyone of proud. I am honored to call you my friend and comrade.

I can remember a few short years ago when Dr. Sawyer (the Papay) approached me and asked that we invest in you because you held great promise as a future leader. It was a decision that needed no time to think about and we immediately did our part. If I am asked again and I have the same opportunity, I will repeat it in a heart beat.

Investing in you was ‘riskless’ risk: it only had an upside and absolutely no downside.

Thank you for making us proud and demonstrating that believing in you was not a mistake.

Congratulations comrade, scholar Nyei…

4 years and moving on…

On September 14, 2016, I had the distinguished honor of being asked by Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, to serve as Chief of Executive Officer and Commissioner of the Liberia Maritime Authority. It was an honor for me to have served for 4 years.

I remain grateful to Madam Presidemt for opportunity afforded me. I will argue that nothing in my parentage or social status warranted this honor but through the blessings of the Almighty, I was asked to serve.

It could only be the Almighty!

After four (4) years of service, I am soldiering on to other things. I hope that I made some impact in the lives and careers of those professionals that I encountered at the Maritime Authority. But if nothing else, they definitely impacted me. I will continue to cherish the memories of the time we spent working together.

I hope I respected and honored them as much as they did to me.

However, in the process of discharging my duties, if I did hurt anyone, I am profoundly sorry and I seek your forgiveness.

In terms of accomplishments at the Authority, I hope that I did leave behind a system of management and operations that is embedded in the DNA of the Authority. I am not concern about infrastructure (the national HQ); I am more concerned about the system and processes that will enable the new leadership of the Authority to achieve more.

I want to thank all the young professionals that I met at the Authority and enormous support they gave me. They taught me a lot.

I am not a maritime professional by training and so I relied on the cadre of technicians at the Authority to achieve the little we did. What I carried to the Authority was a professional management experience that I thought could be used to harness and direct the technical capabilities of the professionals to deliver results.

In my fantasy, we did! But I stand corrected!

I am hopeful that our paths will definitely cross again as I “punctuate” this journey and soldier on….

It’s not good bye; it is see you later

Taking your bow

When I was active in the government and on Facebook, I repeatedly warned my fellow ‘government officials’ to be careful how they treated others because the table was going to turn. I emphasised that the table had always turned and so everyone should expect that will turn again. Someone was in that position before you got there and you won’t be the last.

My admonition was based on the fear that if you didn’t treat people well, you might not be able to face them when you leave that high office. And, I wanted my colleagues to remember that the friends we made while on our high horses were not our true friends. Those people were beholden to the offices that we held at that time.

Some took my admonition and others did not. Well, the table turned and we are here.

One thing that I took from my boss, AMK, was that we should all be prepared and ready to take a “bow.” However, he said to me, “Jimmy, always learn to take a bow when people are still clapping; not when they start to boo.”

I had no idea that AMK did “theatre.” All along I only knew that he studied Public Administration at Harvard but he was right. In theatre, you take your bow when the crowd is still clapping rather than….

Story on Budget Surplus. Nice Try

On Monday, July 27, 2020, a junior colleague, Michael Roberts, brought to my attention an article on facebook about budget surplus that had been attributed to me. I was astonished that someone would write something and for some dubious reason decide to attach my name to it. I do not know the motive of the individual who did this nonsense but I will like to state for the public record that I did not and will not do such nonsense.

Whenever I to express my views, I have my blog where I will post my views, opinion, and positions.

If I have any suggestions for the Minister of Finance or the team at the Ministry of Finance, I have a channel through which to express them and that channel affords me more possibility of getting my views or thoughts reflected and/or incorporated.

Whoever did this nonsensical article have their own reason but should have kept me out of it.

Code of Conduct: Important but Flawed from Inception

With the resignation of the Foreign Minister, H.E. Milton Findley, for the purpose of contesting the ensuing senatorial elections, I see that Code of Conduct (CoC) has, once again, become a topical issue. And rightly so.

But here is my take on the CoC. I think it is fundamentally flawed. The March 2014 Law was never a product of a deliberative lawmaking process. It was a knee jerk reaction by the political elites to suppress the presidential ambition of Governor Joseph Mills Jones. This was wrong and never should have happened. Why do I say that? Well, let me start from beginning…

When I returned home in June 2009 to begin the process of managing the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), I realized that one of the policy interventions in the PRS under the Governance and Rule of Law (GRL) Pillar that was managed by Cllr. Arthur Johnson, was the enactment of a Code of Conduct for Civil Servants and Public Officials. According to the implementation schedule, this intervention had a completion date of December 2008 but the briefing that Cllr. Johnson provided to me indicated that the draft law was before the National Legislature with no movement. The two (2) institutions responsible for this intervention were the Civil Service Agency (CSA) and the Governance Commission (GC). Cllr. Johnson noted that the political process to enact such a legislation was onerous and would take some time.

In one of our LRDC Steering Committee (SC) meeting in 2009, which was chaired by the President, the Deputy Speaker, Tokpah Mulbah, was accompanied by some other members of the National Legislature. In that meeting, the Deputy Speaker was asked about the status of the CoC. It was astonishing that the Deputy Speaker indicated that the CoC was too complex and that they (the Natioal Legislature) were taking a more detailed look at it because it seems that the CoC might prevent them from accepting ‘chicken’ and ‘goat’ from their people as gift. I am serious! Chicken was mentioned. The National Legislature wanted to ensure that the CoC would not prevent them from accepting chicken. But he mentioned that if we want the law to not apply to them (the Legislators) but only to the Executive then they could look at it, quickly. This was in 2009.

Well, until the end of the implementation of the PRS in 2011, nothing was ever heard of the CoC. It was technically dead.

Remember that not only did the PRS require that a CoC be enacted but Article 90 (c) of the 1986 Constitution stipulates that the Legislature shall prescribe a Code of Conduct (CoC) for the purpose of ensuring that public officials don’t engage in conflicts of interest or act against public policies. This was a constitutional requirement but who cares, right?

But when the Central Bank of Liberia’s Governor, Joseph Jones, started behaving in manners that no other central banker, the world over, had ever behaved, then the “system” or political elites got terrified. Governor Jones had been encouraged by Theo Bettie (the late) to run for the presidency. To achieve this end, Governor Jones needed to start participating in ‘gowning ceremonies’ and national-wide tours and providing loans to various interest and political groups.

With Governor Joseph Jones presiding over the nation’s coffers, the ‘system’ needed a way to put him in check. Remember, at this point, the Vice President (Joseph Boakai) intended to run to replace his boss; Speaker Tyler was also considering a potential run; and Nuquay and other legislators were organizing a political party, the PUP. These powerful forces had to figure out a way to prevent Governor Jones from having an unfair advantage over them.

The first step that the system took was to amend the Central Bank of Liberia’s Act of 1999. On February 13, 2014 or thereabout, the National Legislature made several amendments to the CBL Act of 1999 but the two (2) important provisions were: (1) the Governor should not run for political office but he/she wanted to run for office, he/she should resign three (3) years prior to the elections; and (2) that the CBL can only ‘issue’ banknotes or mint currencies upon approval of the National Legislature.

With the passage of this amendment, the ‘system’ believed that it had Joseph Jones exactly where it wanted him. Well, the Governor had a well-oiled political machinery and before long, the commentaries on national radio and within legal circle was that the amendment would not affect Governor Jones because it did not exist at the time he took the job. It might be for the next governor that comes after him.

Wow! The ‘system’ then needed to do something else and boom: The Code of Conduct.  The ‘system’ decided that it would dust the CoC and quickly enact it into Law and this time it could catch Governor Jones. Passing the CoC was an easy thing because it protected the political interests of the legislators who were coming up for re-elections in 2017. The CoC would ensure that cabinet ministers (deputy and assistants) would not have an advantage over sitting lawmakers. For sitting lawmakers, their major challengers were those in the cabinet because they might have the financial means to put up a fight. Well, with all the rational self-interests aligned, on March 4, 2014, the CoC was enacted.

Remember, this a law that had been sitting in the Legislature since 2008 but because its passage could potentially prevent a sitting a lawmaker from accepting chicken, it never went anywhere. But now that it seems that Governor Jones might become President or that sitting lawmakers might meet stiff political fight from cabinet ministers, the CoC becomes easy to pass.

Because the law itself was not a product a deliberative lawmaking process, a very flawed instrument was created. Just reading the Law provides several difficulties in its implementation. For example, when do we know that someone had the ‘desire’ or ‘intent’ to run? Then the law complicated itself further when it talked about the office of the Ombudsman. It does not say how many persons will constitute this office. Will he/she or they be confirmed by the Senate? How long he/she or they serve? It says nothing! Some legal minds tried to put together an Executive Order to clarify those issues, but it was late in the day and so some smart legislators decided to intervene under the pretext that they will fix the law. Well, I am not sure they ever did and now we have another election coming up.

Actually, I think the law was passed under the wrong circumstances. The CoC should be a very important instrument and was not to be used to go after a particular person. It was wrong. The system should have told Governor Jones that he changes his mode of operations and behave as a responsible central banker by being politically non-aligned or disinterested or the system requests and accepts his resignation. Though he had tenure of office, but he could be removed especially given the way he had been comporting himself. No central bank governor engages in open political activities the way Governor Jones did. But that was no reason for the system to enact a law that targeted him. Now we have a Law that has become an embarrassment, so to speak.

That’s my take…  

My views and positions

All my views and positions are posted here, on my blog. I do have strong views and positions but have decided that they be posted on my blog.

Whoever wants to express his or her views on current happenings has the right to do so but should not attribute same to me or others.

I know that sometimes we think that attributing certain things to others might lend it some credibility but I think we need to be careful…

Thanks

Reflections – ‘returnees’ vs ‘locals’: managing the tension

As if the developmental challenges that the country faced were not already monumental, there was a strange but real and deep tension within various ministries and agencies of the government (and maybe the entire country): the resentment of ‘returnees’ by the ‘locals’. By returnees, I am referring to Liberians who had returned from abroad, especially the United States. I emphasize the United States because we never noticed such resentment if a Liberian returned from Nigeria or Ghana or somewhere else. There was something about returning from the United States and taking up a job in the government that made the ‘locals’ really resentful. Before I forget, let me be quick to mention that some of these resentments were fueled, in part, by the attitude of the those who returned. I will explain later.

This issue of resentment was pervasive within the entire government, but I will focus on the Ministry of Planning where I encountered it, firsthand. I was not really a victim of such resentment because I made myself very conscious and aware of such possibility and endeavored to comport myself in such a way that reduced or eliminated any incentive or cause to be resented. I know that even without cause, some people might still resent you because of their insecurity and idiosyncrasies. That is on them. Besides, when I returned to the country in 2009, I had been out for just about 8 years and hadn’t lost touch with the mindset and thought process of the Liberian people: we, Liberians, tend to blame other people for our shortcomings. Someone is doing well might probably just be responsible for us not doing well.

I left the country on December 28, 2000, retuned for the elections in September 2005 and then in September 2008 and finally in March 2009. I had never lost connections with the Liberian way of thinking and I had never thought of myself as being better than others simply because I had been to the US or got some western education. As someone who graduated from Zion University and considering what our colleagues from UL said and thought about us, I would never dare think of other people in such a manner. I always believe that ‘by their fruits, we shall know them’. I am not a big fan where you went to school; I want to know what you can deliver.

And so, in the Ministry of Planning, there were few of us who had returned: Amara Konneh, Sebastian Muah, Rev. Henrique Wilson, Eddie Essiah, Lilian Best, and me. I joined the team after they had been there for about 9 months. And from time to time, we had others like Boom Wilson, Chara Itoka, Diasmer Bloe, Siafa Hage, etc who came on short assignments. All of these people had their own personality traits and interacted with the ‘locals’ in different ways. Though unintentional, the manner and form in which they carried themselves, did add flame to the fire. In many instances, these returning professionals believed they were exercising professional characters but within the context of the ‘locals’, these people were pretending to be better than they (the locals) and so the resentment.

For example, if you wanted to see Minister Konneh and met with his Special Assistant, Ms. Lilian Best, who is very organized, straight, and disciplined and she asks you some basic questions and if you couldn’t answer those questions properly, she might deny your request based on the Minister’s tight schedule or refer you to one of the deputies who could provide what you were looking for. Most local staff would take this as an afront and become resentful of Ms. Best. “Who does she think she is?” Of If the Minister asked Siafa Hage to do a follow up on some project that had been assigned to someone because a deadline was coming up and Siafa, who is very religious to his task and would not take no for an answer, approached you, you might think he is over-bearing. But a local staff, looking that the 6.7-foot, xxx pound guy speaking to you in ‘seres’, you might think he is looking down upon you. This also fueled the resentful.

For several different reasons, these tensions existed. To make any meaning progress, Minister Konneh, the team leader, had to ensure that the relationship between the ‘returnees’ and the ‘locals’ was smooth or manageable. It meant that more team building exercises needed to happen; it meant that ‘locals’ needed to be encouraged to participate in senior staff meetings; it meant that general staff meetings needed to continuously give reassurances to staff and to hear from the ‘locals’ about their perspective on the management of the ministry. These meetings and feedbacks really helped to reducing the tension. We also held regular outside functions that brought the team together. We tried to ensure that whatever win the ministry scored was shared by the entire team. In an affirmative manner, locals had to be more opportunity to travel and represent the ministry where it was feasible.

Usually, these tensions are under the surface and around the ‘water-cooler’. But in one instance, it really raised its head and it caught my attention. I remember when we were recruiting for National Program Specialist in the LRDC. This was the process that selected Ms. Ellen Pratt for the position. As I indicated before, she turned down the position. But before we made the offer to her, one of our colleagues was refusing to sign the interview report. We tried to make the interviewing panel as diverse as possible. Rev. Alvin Attah who was the head of the EU’s National Authorizing Office at the Ministry of Planning was on the panel. At the end of the process, he refused to sign on grounds that we should give the position to a local person and not another ‘returnee’. I was appalled. If she is qualified and she is a Liberian, then why should we discriminate? And more intriguing is that the Rev. Attah did get some of his education from Nigeria. But the system saw him as one of the them because it was Nigeria and not America. He was considered a ‘local’ and not a ‘returnee’ because he got his education from Nigeria.

Well, over time, we managed to reduce the tension and worked together as one big happy family. I am not sure what happened in other ministries and agencies but at planning, we were able recognize this menace and deal with it. Even today, several years later, every one of us from planning still see one another as family.    

PS. We had Sebastian Muah with us so you can imagine how complicated it was to manage this problem but we were able to pull it off.

Reflections – creating relevance & vibrancy: not the place but the people

I have heard many people say that they were assigned to the wrong ministry or agency. Usually it is not on the basis on their skill set but rather on whether the place is vibrant or ‘lucrative’. These people, even with a degree in Chemistry would prefer to go to the Ministry of Finance than to work in the Laboratory at the University of Liberia. So, when they complain about the wrong assignment, it is not on the basis on their competence or skill set.

What I usually tell people is that it is not the place, but rather the people who manage those places that create relevance and vibrancy. Most ministries and agencies would be vibrant if they had leaders with the right mindset, attitude, and skills.

Imagine as a young man coming from Harvard and the President asking you to go to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs. In Liberia, it is no secret that when we do not have confidence in or use for someone then we sent them to the ‘planning’ section of the ministry or agency or maybe the government. The Research and Planning section is where we usually send people that we met in Ministry or agency whom we believe have loyalty to our predecessor. We move them there to make room for our own ‘foot soldiers’ whether they are qualified or not.

Well, I was not in country when Amara accepted the position as Minister of Planning, and I did not know Amara then. I also know that Natty B. Davies had turned down the Minister of Planning job before it was offered to Amara. Dr. McInTosh, the former Minister of Planning, hardly spend time at the Ministry. He spent most of his time at the UNDP office doing his job. This is what the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs was in the Government before Amara and his team arrived.

For whatever reason, he accepted the job in August 2008 and then had the herculean task of making a moribund or neglected entity relevant and vibrant. This was indeed a daunting task and would require professional and leadership skills to pull this off or he would become just another minister in the cabinet with no real value other than his relationship with the President.

Though the Minister had a good relationship with the President, he had to make his job important so that even his colleagues would respect his opinion and proposal. Your relationship might get you in but earning the respect and administration of external stakeholders and observers will require a lot more substantive undertaking.

With this debacle in mind, Amara really needed folks who could make ‘planning’ to have its rightful place within the governing structure of the country. And so, bringing on board the right folks with the right mindset was critical. In addition to recruiting the right team, the leader needed to manage them properly.

As a part of his leadership skill, Amara made it his business to cultivate a relationship with his principal deputies so that working together would be cordial. He would eat lunch, almost every day, with his deputies or at least do ‘fruits’ in the evening with them. This really helped in building the chemistry amongst members of the team. This was the soft side, the people skills.

On the hard side, to ensure that we delivered the highest quality products that would grab the attention of cabinet ministers and the President, Amara instituted a practice called the “dry run.” Before any report went out or any presentation was made, the responsible unit had to make a presentation to the senior management of the ministry. This would give everyone the chance to ask questions and make suggestions. This rule applied to everyone without exception. Even our highly paid consultants who came to do work for us would have to do a ‘dry run’ before the final work product is released.

The process would usually happen in the evening, after normal working hours or if you were lucky, it would happen during lunch time. The boss would be kind to order lunch from a place called US Five or if it were late in the evening, he would order some sandwiches from Diana Restaurant. But come hell or high water, that ‘dry run’ would have to be done and everyone will have to be present. After the first dry run, then the responsible team would take all the relevant comments and suggestions and finalize the report or presentation and schedule another dry run.

If the report or presentation were for the Cabinet, the responsible team would have to a do a “high level” brief so that Amara would share with the President before the actual presentation. This was a ritual for him! This was part of his leadership style. He never surprised the President with anything that we would be releasing or presenting. She would always have her master folder with the brief in it. And you know what? She always read her briefs. I do not know what time she found to read those briefs especially since she left the mansion very late at night and came early in the morning, but she always did.

Many can remember that others in the cabinet called us “the laptop boys.” We worked as a team. And this is very important: it is always a good thing to work together rather than undermine one another especially when you are on the same team. Whatever success the ministry scored, everyone on the team enjoyed it. It was always about “those guys” from the Ministry of Planning or Amara and his boys. Everyone was proud to be a member of the planning family. The team worked as a unit and delivered results that we could all own no matter which shop it came from.

Always remember that teamwork is extremely important, and it really does not matter where you are assigned. It is what you do at the place of assignment. The relevance that the Ministry of Planning had toward the end of Madam’s first term was due in large part to the team that ran the Ministry and nothing else. Planning Ministry had always been there but when Amara brought together a team and provided the leadership along with overall support from Madam President, the Planning Ministry became the talk in the cabinet and out there.

We created an enviable entity that many would have loved to be part of. It is the people, not the place that makes the difference.

Go back and look at the Ministry of Planning between 1997 and 2014. You will notice that Planning was very active between 2009 and 2012 than at any other time in the recent past. This was due mainly to the fact that the team, with deliberate intent and delicate efforts, decided that it will make the Ministry of Planning relevant and vibrant.

It was the people that made the place.  

Reflections – building the team

And so, we did the cabinet retreat. I believe that it was like nothing that the cabinet had experienced hitherto. It was well organized; it was structured; and it was very productive. I did not waste anyone’s time. I preserved the President’s valuable time, making her to only intervene when it was necessary. During the presentations of the outcome, she was really engulfed in the process. In fact, because of her interest in the presentations, we left from the Baptist Seminary very late (around 9:30 or 10:00 pm). She asked the right sets of questions and made the emphasis where they were needed.

That was that. But like we always said during our team meetings, what happens the morning after? This question is particularly important because it keeps you focused.

However, to do the real work, you need the right group of people. And one thing that I noticed when I joined the team at the Ministry of Planning was that Amara had made it his business to get the best and brightest. He made efforts to go after those who could really add value to his work. He was aware that once he assembled a class A team, he would get superior results and then he would look good. But not only that! It also meant that the work would get done. The notion that whoever you put in a position will be able to do the job is a LIE and it is WRONG. You need to get right people with the right mind set to deliver on the complex tasks. Sometimes, put the politics aside and focus on the task hand. Regardless of a person’s politics, they still love their country and when given the opportunity to serve, they will do their best. I am a living testimony. I do not want to repeat that here. I know some of my good UP friends who told Amara not to hire me. But all that is in the past.

To build my team, I knew that I needed the best and brightest. This was not a difficult task because I could see what was occurring in the Ministry of Planning: Amara had brought on Sebastian Muah, Henrique Wilson and James Dorbor Jallah (DJ). Most people do not know that Sebastian is one of the smartest young men in that country. Though he may not have the melodious voice when articulating his thought process, but he is very good. And yes, I know he can be extremely aggressive in his approaches to things, but he is good.

Many people do not know but Amara made deliberate efforts in recruiting DJ to serve as Deputy Minister of Regional and Sectoral Planning. Amara didn’t know DJ before going to the Ministry of Planning but once someone told about DJ, Amara didn’t care about DJ’s politics. He hunted him and brought him on board. And at that time, DJ had been offered the position of Executive Director of the PPCC but Amara was able to appeal to DJ and convinced him to come at Planning. I am using the word ‘appealing’ intentionally because that is what a good leader does: he or she head hunt for good talents and do not rest until they get those talents. DJ and I came on board about the same time – June 2009 or thereabout.

I can also remember that Dr. Lester Tenny did come to the Ministry of Planning sometime in June or July 2009 on recommendation of the President whom he had met in South Africa. Amara informed Dr. Tenny that the practice in the Ministry is that he would be given a test and would make a presentation to the Senior Management team and then they would go from there. Gosh! Dr. Tenny got angry and started blasting in the hallway. I had just joined the team at Planning, but I know that I went through the same thing, so I wasn’t sure that Lester was angry. Anyway, Dr. Tenny had been an acquaintance from our quizzing days. He was a junior student at Cathedral and was on the team when we (T-High) beat all of them that year (1992) to carry the trophy (I had to plug this one in). This is why Lester did not join us at Planning, but we later worked together in 2010 when he became a Management Consultant at the Public Works.

With the kind of efforts that Amara made to build his team at Planning, I decided to replicate the same efforts in building my team in the basement. I knew that to do an excellent job, I needed to get the right people: talented and passionate. I remember interviewing Ellen Pratt and extending her an offer to serve as National Program Specialist, but she turned down the offer because the compensation was not sufficient to bring her down from Atlanta, Georgia. I continued the hunt and I was finally able to build a class A team in the LRDC.

I was able to bring on board some of the finest Liberians to help me achieve the task of putting the PRS back on track. I brought in H. Gleh Appleton to be my Pillar Technical Advisor for Infrastructure and Basic Services; Jerry Tamba Taylor for Economic Revitalization; Joseph Zangar Bright for Governance and Rule of Law; Shanda Cooper for Peace, Security & Reconciliation; and Theo Addey as National Program Specialist. These were some of the finest Liberians that I have ever met and I proud to have worked with them.

I did not only build a class A team, I provided them additional training and skills to enhance their job. I brought in people to train my team in Rapid Results Approach (RRA) so that they understand how to sequence the interventions so that implementation is easier (not easy).

I also made sure that I motivated the team, not with money but with my attention and encouragement. I paid attention to what they were doing and offered my suggestions and directions where and when necessary. Usually, employees want to know that the boss is paying attention to what they are doing. Money is important but people want to be valued, appreciated, noticed, and respected. These are important motivating factors in any workplace. When you do those things, people will always want to work for you. They will always go beyond the call of the duty and deliver more than you can imagine.

Another aspect of the team in the Ministry of Planning was that Amara allowed each of us, his direct report, to run our shops without micromanaging. He supported our creativity and initiatives and provided the needed feedback and support.  

My philosophy is that when you are a leader or you want to be a good leader, always recruit people who are smarter than you. The smart, accomplished leaders are those who hire people smarter than they are. They tend to preside over a productive, efficient, and happy workforce.