Less than seventy-two hours after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf unveiled her re-election campaign team dubbed the National Campaign Committee (NCC), a firestorm of criticisms ensued from the opposition and some civil society organizations. The criticisms stem from the critics’ belief that it is wrong for the President’s re-election campaign to be financed by tax payers. This would be the case if government ministers, who are paid by tax payers, should serve on the NCC.
President Sirleaf’s decision to name current government officials to her campaign team is troubling on many levels, but more troubling were comments attributed to Senator Cletus Wotorson, President Pro-Temp of the Liberian Senate. Senator Wotorson was himself named chairman of the NCC. Senator Wotorson is reported, in a New Demcrat article, to have described as “baseless” calls from the Liberty Party and other opposition parties, and some civil society groups for government officials named on President Sirleaf’s NCC to resign their government posts.
If Senator Wotorson sees no problem with cabinet ministers serving on the President Sirleaf’s re-election campaign committee while at the same time holding on to their positions, one has to wonder how the Senator thinks the True Wig Party became Liberia’s de facto national party. If the Senator has already forgotten, let’s remind him that it was this very practice of making the national government an extension of the ruling party that created the True Wig Party oligarchy. We cannot afford to travel down this path again because we know where that road ultimately leads. And that is why this issue of Madam Sirleaf’s re-election campaign team is a referendum not just on her commitment to democracy, but also on Senator Wotorson and those government ministers who have been named to serve on the NCC. Many of those government officials carried themselves as champions of democracy in our country. They must now stand up and be counted by either resigning their offices, or by telling Madam President that they cannot serve on her re-election campaign committee. While it is their constitutional right to support and canvas for a candidate of their choice, they cannot do so while being paid by the tax payers.
Another aspect of Senator Wotorson’s alleged remarks that raised a serious concern was his calling of the President his “boss”. In his own defense to serve on the President’s re-election committee, Senator Wotorson was reported in the New Democrat article to have said, “You do not want me to help my boss get re-elected?” When did the head of the Executive Branch of our Government become the “boss” of the leader of the Liberian Senate?
For a leader of an independent branch of our government, the Legislative Branch, to believe that the head of the Executive Branch is his “boss” is not only mind boggling and shocking but has the potential to make the Liberian Senate under his leadership a mere paper tiger, reducing that august body to a rubber stamp. One can only posit that Senator Wotorson has already mortgaged the independence of the Upper House of the Legislative Branch of our government to his friend and comrade, President Sirleaf, at the detriment of ordinary Liberians who struggle daily to put food on the table for their families. Senator Wotorson, as the leader of the Liberian Senate, cannot simply see himself as a member of a particular political party. His position carries with it certain national responsibilities and those responsibilities do not allow him to see the President as his “boss”.
One of the root causes of the systemic problems in our country has been the failure of government officials to act as servants of the people. Here is an elected Senator, whose authority was given by the People through the ballot box, surrendering the confidence of the people to the President. Instead of strengthening the independence of the Liberian Senate so that it can perform its oversight responsibilities over the Executive Branch, Senator Wotorson has subjected himself, and the stately body he leads, to Presidential oversight. Can Senator Wotorson perform his work objectively and independently as the leader of the Senate when he has publicly told the Liberian people that President Sirleaf is his “boss”? Should the President have oversight of the Legislative Branch or should that branch exercise its legal role to have oversight of the Executive Branch? Should the people Senator Wotorson represents still have confidence that his decisions will be based on securing their best interests and not those of his “boss”?
When superintendents, city mayors, and now the Senate Pro Tempore are all calling the President “my boss” we have no reason to look elsewhere for why Liberia continues its dismal performance. Our country is so centralized around the President that no one gives objective, independent counsel. The success of any leader lies in the objectivity of the advice received from competent individuals around that leader. Throughout our nation’s history, and most recently over the last 50 plus years, we have witnessed the “yes sir, yes ma’am” mentality to the President which has allowed our leaders to continue making failed decisions and policies without restraint, thus ruining our country.
We are calling on the Liberian Senate to investigate the veracity of the comments attributed to Senator Wotorson. If those remarks are truly those of the Senator’s, the Senate should consider replacing him as President Pro-Temp so he can fulfill his duty of re-electing his “boss” without compromising the business of the Liberian people, many of whom do not wish to see Madam Sirleaf re-elected.
Senators, the Liberian people are watching and awaiting your action!
Editor’s Note: Tamba D. Aghailas is the National Chairman of the Citizens United for Brumskine-Siakor Election (CUBSE)