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.

Reflections – the Cabinet Retreat

Once the President had stepped in and ‘commanded’ that cabinet ministers, their deputies and assistants would be required to attend the Cabinet Retreat, the pressure then shifted to me. I had to ensure that the request to “shut down” the government would be meaningful and beneficial to the government. I believe that there been a cabinet retreat before but it probably was just the regular gathering of ministers or their deputies showing who was closest to the President by chatting with her or whispering in their ears or laughing with her.

But this time, it had to be different. I wanted it to be different. I wanted it to be about serious work. Imagine an opposition kid who had made a request for cabinet ministers to leave their ministries on a Thursday and Friday to assemble for a retreat failing to deliver in a meaningful way. It would seem like I had planned on sabotaging the government.

Well, I had some thoughts in my head and felt that the Retreat would be like nothing they had seen or experienced before.  I wanted it to be a real working session and for us to dig deeper into the development strategy and understand what it really meant. Too often, we call these documents fancy names but never really understand what they are all about because if we did, we would pay attention to the implementation of the interventions contained therein.

To do the work I needed qualified staff but due the transition of the LRDC leaving the Executive Mansion and going to the Ministry of Planning, we were short on staff. When I took over, I had an office assistant named Moses Gray and three (3) Pillar Technical Advisors (PTAs) in persons of Cllr. Arthur T. Johnson (Governance & Rule of Law); Cllr. Frederick Gbemie (Peace, Security & Reconciliation); and Amos Koffa (Economic Revitalization). Just before I came on board, William Towah had resigned and moved over to the Ministry of Public Works and so the Infrastructural & Social Services pillar was vacant. I did not have time to recruit for it before the Retreat which was just about few weeks away.

I did not even have a Secretary to do my typing. I had tried two (2) ladies from within in the Ministry of Planning: Bendu K. Bonneh and Sarah Wally but none could handle the task. Luckily for me, I had a Technical Assistant from the UN named Eric Hubbard. He was a blessing. He loved working and then he met me. We hit it off and started doing the work. Also, based on the recommendation of some friends, I recruited a lady by the name of Cleopatra Watkins-Johnson who served as my Executive Assistant. She was a gem and a God-sent. I don’t know what I would have done without her.

Anyway, Eric and I did most of the work because at that time Cllr. Johnson was doing his public defender duty and the other guys (Frederick and Amos) were doing other stuff. Now, this was an embarrassing position because Cllr. Johnson and Cllr. Gbemie were my classmates from Zion University. Now I have become their boss. What do I do? I must make sure I respect them as colleagues while at the same making sure that they performed their tasks. However, I made a promised to myself that I will never treat my friends or colleagues like subordinates because I know it is just a matter of time before the table turns. To be the boss of your friend or former classmate is just a matter of title and which side of the table you sit. Bear in mind that anyone can sit on that side and so I like to refer to them as my colleagues – because they are my colleagues despite the title of the moment.

To achieve our purpose of holding a very thorough and productive cabinet retreat, we decided that we would first hold a series of technical working sessions with all the fifteen (15) sector working groups as a part of a pre-retreat. And in these sessions, we would review all of the ‘deliverables’ under each of the sectors. The purpose of doing this was ensure that each stakeholder understood what was required by each intervention. First, do we understand what this deliverable mean? Can it be completed within the timeframe allotted? What are the resources (human and financial) required to complete this intervention? Are roles and responsibilities clear enough?

Based on the responses to these questions, we would then rework each of the ‘deliverables’ to ensure that they are clear and that all constraints were identified and measures to mitigate those constraints were also identified. To accomplish this, we spend one (1) week in the Ministry of Planning building with all the sector working groups. Eric and I had designed all the templates and scheduled all the sessions to ensure that we touched every sector and looked at every deliverable.

Usually when people tell me that “Jimmy, you seem to understand most of the issues in the country and can ably articulate them.” I am sure they may not be aware that I spend time reviewing every deliverable in the PRS and understanding the rationale for them. I sat in every working session and reviewed all the work products from each of the working groups. This gave me a good understanding of the issues and challenges in all the sectors. My advice to anyone who is interested in a career in public policy or the public sector as whole is to start at the planning function. It is like accountants who start as auditors; they do a little bit of all sectors and tend to have a broader understanding of many sectors than those who go into one sector or industry and spend their career there.

Once we completed the working sessions with all the sectors, we were then ready for the principals to review the work that their technicians had done. Unlike the Technical working which comprised of the government and development partners, the actual Retreat comprised of government officials, only. We wanted the ministers to review each deliverable and state whether they agreed with what they technicians had proposed and then to understand what their role would be in the implementation process.

Overall, we intended for each sector to come out with a revised Implementation Matrix which identified the resources and constraints and how to mitigate those constraints. We wanted each principal to appreciate what they had to do within the remaining two (2) years of implementation.

During the actual Retreat, many of the Ministers participated actively. Noticeably, Harry Greaves (late) who was considered an ‘untouchable’ at the time, sat all by himself and barely participated. Well, it was during or immediately after that Retreat that Harry Greaves was fired for something else. I don’t have the full understanding of wat it was, but I did notice this guy who would not sit in any of the groups but was there simply because Madam President had instructed that everyone be there.

Well, the working sessions were so intense and interesting that I got the attention of many participants especially in the Governance working group where Dr. Sawyer and others were. The interest in the various groups on Thursday, Friday and Saturday were intense. My friend, Col. Remmie Gray, who was then the County Development Officer (CDO) in Cape Mount took notes for this group.

The structure of the Retreat was such that Madam President came and opened the Retreat and then left. The various actors would then work in their various groups and then present their work products at the close of the Retreat on Saturday where Madam President would be present. This format made it possible that no one was showing off in front of Madam President; they had to do actual work and then present their findings.

With fingers crossed, everything went well, and Madam President came for the closing in the Church building at the Baptist Seminary. I remembered we stayed till around 9 pm that night.

As an outcome, each sector was required to present revised implementation matrix for the remaining two (2) years and then state what they would do in the next 90-days. This is where in introduced the 90-Day Action Plan. This was intended to serve as an early warning system so that we know if anything is going wrong before the actual due date. A year is comprised on four (4) 90-day cycles and so if we plan on a 90-day basis, we will be able to detect anything that is not in line and fix it before it becomes problematic.

The lesson here is that your development plan should be that important that you are ready to spend time understanding it and putting it back on track. If it is not important then I do not know what is. My friend, Dr. Alioune Sall, once told me that without a plan, we are like sailors who do not know where we are going and so we will never know the value of wind…

Reflections – my first meeting with the Cabinet.

On or about June 10, 2009, a few days before the official start of my portfolio as Deputy National Coordinator of the LRDC, Minister Konneh asked me to join his team (Sebastian Muah, Boom Wilson, Henrique Wilson, etc) at the LRDC Steering Committee meeting which was chaired by the President, H.E. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. At this meeting, Minister Konneh was releasing the first year’s (April 2008 – March 2009) Annual Progress Report on the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS).

The report presented by Minister Konneh showed that only 21% of interventions had been completed during the first year of the PRS. This was a terrible news and it meant that I had a huge task ahead of me.

At that meeting, I was introduced by Minister Konneh to the Steering Committee. The President asked me to say a few words. I extended greetings, called my name, and indicated that I was ready to do my best in serving my country. My big brother, Minister Kofi Woods, was there and afterwards he congratulated me.

Again, though I was a founding ideologue of the CDC but I considered myself a Neo Progressive and so it didn’t matter to me whose agenda was being implemented so long as the Liberian people would be the beneficiaries of the interventions. Politics did not occur to me. All I wanted to do was an exceptionally good job so that one day, I will be a footnote on a page when the history books are written.

To take on the huge task that was ahead of me, I decided that organizing a cabinet retreat that would bring everyone together to review the strategy and decide on how we would improve implementation and deliver on our mandates would be great idea. To achieve this, I would need the full, undivided attention of the entire Cabinet because they are the owners of the process. I thought that it was important for them to understand the various interventions, resource required and deadline so that when the Pillar Technical Advisors (PTAs) who worked with me or the PRS Champion in their agency approached them, the ministers would have an idea of what they were talking about. I needed to draw that connection at the highest level of the Government.

Well, my boss, Minister Amara Konneh, decided that I should go the Cabinet meeting and make the case for the retreat. He wanted me to convince the President and the Cabinet on why I needed the entire cabinet at the retreat for three (3) days.

Well, so in August 2009 (around the 3rd or 4th), I walked into the Cabinet room, set up the projector and made available printed copies of my presentation to members of the President’s Cabinet. The practice was that you would be in the cabinet waiting room until it was your time to make your presentation and then you would be ushered in.

It was my time and I was ushered in. I began making my presentation by first discussing the first year Annual Progress Report and the dismal performance. I then moved onto what was needed to improve performance and then what I needed from the cabinet. This was tricky!

Everyone enjoyed the presentation until I reached the point where I requested that every Cabinet Minister include deputy and assistant ministers along with relevant directors should leave everything that they were doing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (August 13 – 15) to be present at the Baptist Seminary for the comprehensive review of the Poverty Reduction Strategy document and all the interventions contained therein.

Just as I completed making the request, Minister Samukai, the Defense Minister of the Republic of Liberia, jumped in and asked “young man, do want us to shut down the entire government in order to attend a retreat?” This was one of the toughest questions I had been asked to date. How can an opposition figure answer YES to such a question? And with such a question coming from a member of the national security team, it made it even more terrifying. Besides, if you know Minister Samukai and how authoritative and commanding his words can be, you will understand my position. Even my boss, Amara Konneh, could not answer the question. Something told me that to say yes, given my politics, could be seen a treason. Silence was the only response I could offer.

I was not ready to let my politics or its appearance get in the way of what we were about to achieve.

With total silence in the room, Madam President jumped in and said YES! Everyone will be there. Everyone will leave whatever they are doing and be at the Retreat.

Well, the rest is history! We did that wonderful Cabinet Retreat at the Baptist Seminary. It ran from Thursday, August 13 to Saturday, August 15, 2009.

For me, the President’s keen attention to the details of the presentation; the reason for my request that the entire cabinet should be present; and the decisiveness in responding to a critical question that had the propensity to derail the work, impressed and motivated me even more. Only the President could answer that question.

Let me be quick to clarify that Minister Samukai, a Fulbright scholar and economist, is one of the finest public servants I have met. My mention of him is just to recount what happened and nothing else. I have the fullest respect and admiration for him. He knew my late father, Col. James F. Kollie, from the Armed Forces of Liberia.

Stay tuned…

In the next piece, I will talk about the Cabinet Retreat. I will go into details about the planning that goes into the holding of a cabinet retreat and what the outcome should look like when thoughtfully planned and executed. A cabinet retreat is a big deal and it should be kept that way…

Regarding my ‘Reflections’…

I thought I made sufficient efforts to provide the context of reflecting on my decade-long public service but it seems that I failed.

The true purpose is not to provide a commentary on anything that is happening today but to narrate my experience so that those who aspire to leadership in the future can understand and appreciate the mistakes that we made so that they may not make the same, exact mistakes.

It is not intended for those who are already in leadership…

In the first two posts, I was narrating the beginning of how my public service started.

In my next post, I will talk about my first interaction with the President’s cabinet. The opposition, buzzy boy was given the opportunity to address the cabinet and make a call-to-action. I will narrate how it went down…

Stay tuned…

Reflections – the context and the beginning of my decade-long public service

Whenever you are lost and don’t know where to start from; it is always a good thing to start at the beginning. It also always good to provide context to what you are about to explain so that people who don’t know much about the subject matter can appreciate the utility of the story.

Here is how my decade-long public service in Liberia started…

It was 0n Thursday, 29 January 2009 that I received an email from Mr. Ignatius Geegbae, Administrative Assistant at the UNDP who was working on the TOKTEN program, inviting me to interview for the position of Deputy National Coordinator of the Liberia Reconstruction and Development Committee (LRDC). He wrote that the interview was scheduled for 4 February 2009 at 11″00 AM. I didn’t know what the LRDC was and so I asked him to send me the ToR for my review. I also do not know how he got my CV and I have never asked him to this date.

After reviewing the ToR, I agreed to do the interview. The interesting thing is that a few days earlier, I had given my employer (Merrill Corporation) my ‘two-week’ notice that I would be leaving my position on Friday, 13 February 2009. And so, an interview for a job in Liberia that was scheduled for 4 February 2009 was like a miracle. Besides, the ToR looked interesting. The LRDC sounded like our Office of Agenda Management (OAM) that we had conceptualized during the founding of the CDC. Or maybe, it was really only Dtweah and I who conceptualized that whole OAM thing because it seems that no one else in the movement even appreciated that concept or attached any value to it. But well, we were excited about it, then and so the LRDC gig looked more fascinating to me.

On 3 February 2009, Mr. Geegbae informed me that the interview had been cancelled and that they would get back to me in due course. This, however, did not bother me much or affected my plans because I was already set to leave my job on 13 February 2009 and fly to Monrovia on 7 March 2009. I really did have other things lined up for Monrovia and so the LRDC gig was just a bonus.

When that day came in March 2009, I packed my bag and boarded the Lufthansa flight for Accra. I stopped over in Accra for a week so that I could see my son who was schooling in Accra. I had left him in Accra in September 2008 to do one year of schoolwork in Accra.

After the week in Accra, I flew to Monrovia as planned. And later in May 2009, the UNDP invited six (6) persons including me to interview for the position of Deputy National Coordinator of the LRDC. Three (3) of us were in Monrovia and the other three (3) persons were in the US. It was a written test. After the test, they informed me that I passed the test and was shortlisted for the oral interview. They informed me that three (3) persons were shortlisted for the interview and because one (1) person was oversea, they would do a phone interview so that no one had an advantage in in-person contact with the interviewers. At the appointed time, they called, and we did the interview by phone. I thought it went well because I had spent time reading the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) and understood what it was all about. It had its shortcoming but like every strategy, it is the implementation that matters.

The UNDP later informed me that the names of two (2) persons had been forwarded to the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs to make final decision. I later found out it was Lawrence Morris (the Honorable) who was the other person on the list.

The Minister of Planning, Amara Konneh, whom I didn’t know and had not met before, was the one we were waiting on for the final decision. Well, he decided, after few weeks, that he would give us another test before making his decision. We met at the Ministry on Saturday, 6 June 2009 for a written test and a PowerPoint presentation. I finished first and left. Later that evening, I got a call from Mr. Edward Essiah, Chief of Staff to the Minister of Planning, that the Minister had decided to offer me the position and that I should report to the Ministry on Monday, 8 June 2009. And I did! Later, I got my official letter of employment which indicated that as of 15 June 2009, I was employed as the Deputy National Coordinator of the LRDC with direct reporting responsibility to the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs who was the National Coordination of the LRDC. Off course, the President was the Chairperson of the National Steering Committee of the LRDC.

The LRDC was the forum that brought that all the stakeholders (government, diplomatic missions, development partners, civil society, NGOs, etc) together to implement the PRS.

After the rigor of the interview process, the Government of Liberia decided that they would take a radical, opposition ideologue like me to run and manage the Secretariat responsible for the implementation of their development agenda. I want you to imagine this for a bit and reflect very deeply: the guy who considers himself a ‘founding ideologue’ of the largest opposition party that inarguable won the first round of the elections in 2005 is now hired by the Government to run its development program. Hmmmm! Don’t take this lightly! Imagine again! I am James Kollie, a founding ideologue of the CDC. I am not a founding member. Whenever someone refers to me as a founding member, I feel insulted.

Well, it happened. And this was not in a vacuum because many of the actors knew me. I was never on the closest when it came to the establishment of the CDC. I was the Secretary General of the CDC-USA. I managed the CDC website and responded to inquiries as well as critiques. I was active on Limany and The Perspective websites. I was very active on all the Liberian listserv and in all chatrooms. I was a General who was on the battle front. I didn’t only strategize; I executed battlefield plans.

Everyone who was paying attention to Liberian politics at that time knew me and/or interacted with me. Even after I left the CDC on 16 February 2006, I moved directly into championing the establishment of the Neo Progressive Movement so I wasn’t an unknown quantity insofar as my opposition political views were concerned.

However, Minister Konneh and President Sirleaf decided that they would take their bet with me. They apparently saw some value or quality in me that they were willing to overlook my politics and utilize my expertise. They knew that the benefits outweigh the risks of having me run the implementation of the country’s development agenda. That is true leadership! They went for talent and capacity over political loyalty. They wanted to get stuff done and they knew that James Kollie could help them. There are many James Kollie out there.

Well, for whatever it is worth, I was given the opportunity to contribute to my motherland. I had convinced myself, as a Neo Progressive, that helping my country was more important than my political view of any particular persons and so I put my all into doing the job of coordinating the implementation of the development agenda. I wasn’t concern whether it made President Sirleaf looked good or not; I was concerned about whether a Liberian child in Toe’s town would benefit from one more clinic or one more school. And if because of my coordinating effort, one more mile of road was paved, it didn’t matter who was the President when it happened. What mattered the most was that it got done and that child benefited.

The lesson here is that we should always, not some time, go for capacity and competence over political view and loyalty. I am a perfect example of someone overlooking my political worldview and position and extending to me the opportunity to make my contribution to my country.

The position that I occupied between June 2009 and March 2012 as Deputy National Coordinator of the LRDC was an extremely important position. It wasn’t high profile, but it was extremely important and critical. It was like sitting in the President’s office and managing the development agenda. For an opposition kid to have been given that opportunity is indeed a lesson in governance. It meant that after the campaigning was over and governance started, the country needed folks who could deliver, and the leaders saw me as one of those persons. I had gone through several interviews and came highly recommended. I had shown my capability and the leaders noticed. Though they were warned of my politics, they decided that I was worth more to them than the portrayal of my political views.

This is how my decade-long public service began in Liberia and this is one lesson to be learned from that beginning…

Remember! I wasn’t just another Liberian. I was a political figure with very strong views. It wasn’t like just bring another person on board who is not in our party; it was bringing on a key opposition figure into a critical role. This is not accommodation; it is leadership that believe that in talents.

And no one ever asked me to join their party before I could get this gig or continue with it! Absolutely no one. And I never joined the Unity Party.

stay tune…