ONTARIO, Canada – A series of attacks and smudge crusades on social media and in the press targeted at Agriculture Minister Ms. Jeanine Cooper have sparked a great deal of interest, especially so when Liberia faces several structural management and development problems in many of its sectors, including agriculture. Although past events necessitated some of these problems, the lack of capacity in some functionaries has compounded them. So when President George Weah appointed Madam Jeanine M. Cooper, a credible, competent, and qualified professional whose management and operational experience extends to the United Nations, there was much praise.
Barely few months into her tenure, there are some Liberians who believe politics is real life and everything and therefore are now bent on discrediting the Minister’s efforts in a volatile bureaucratic climate by unleashing unfounded accusations. Minister Cooper has done nothing wrong, nor has she undertaken any activities for personal benefits.
Hence, accusing the Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Liberia of wrongdoing and that she is deliberately trying to create divisions in the agency she is working hard on revamping is nothing but a tradition and practice of “cheap and small-minded politics.”
The chief accusation against the Minister is that she is making tough decisions at the Ministry of Agriculture – decisions that are geared toward making Liberia food secure, creating more private-sector jobs and wealth for Liberians through a realistic, and solution-based approach. Does this demand politics, especially cheap and small-minded politics? Not. But in Liberia, this is the case in recent days.
So let examine the tough decisions Minister Cooper has and continues to make in the interest of Liberia.
- Upon assuming office, the Minister conducted an operational audit as is expected of any seasoned and professional manager. An operational audit is a systematic review of effectiveness, efficiency, and economy of operation. Operational audit is also a future-oriented, systematic, and independent evaluation of organizational activities. Operational audits usually unveil discoveries, and in this case, the Minister found out that some specific ongoing agricultural contracts were ill-timed and perhaps not appropriate at this time. One such contract is the bidding process for heavy-duty equipment, which she canceled. This cancellation did not go down well with the African Development Bank (ADB) for reasons best known to the Bank. The Minister’s argument for canceling the bid is to protect Liberia, and ensure that the Liberian government’s efforts and the President’s commitment to achieving a sustainable agricultural culture and practice in Liberia are fulfilled.
The fundamental disposition of the Minister on this issue is this: “We (Liberia as a country and people) need to have a more rational use of available resources, especially as we enter a State of Emergency for the COVID 19. We cannot afford to spend money on buying equipment that would not be used.” One would think this is what most, if not all, Liberians want. So what is the issue for which people are accusing the Minister of wrongdoing?
2. The second thing the Minister did was to conduct a position and management classification audit. A classification audit of this nature is an evaluation to determine whether duties and responsibilities correspond to actual jobs or contract classifications in the agency. Once again, this is what good and experienced professional managers do, and this is necessary. Instead of firing people or transferring staffers, some of whom appointments she has no control over, the Minister opted for an amicable route to have things done given the urgency she faces to deliver on her promises she made during her confirmation. So, again. What is the issue with this?
Besides, most Liberians complain that some government agencies are not delivering or not acting fast enough. Others say heads of agencies in the Liberian administration are not making tough decisions. The truth is there are a lot of good and well-intentioned administrators in the current Liberian government who want to do right and make tough decisions as Minister Cooper has done. Instead of criticizing, Liberians –whether opposition or not, need to embrace competence and goodwill when they exist. Liberians should stop making everything political. Agriculture and strategic management should not be matters of politics. President Weah needs independent, dedicated Liberian professionals to carry out his Pro-Poor Agenda – People who would make tough decisions in the interest of the country and the administration rather than for the benefit of a few. The Minister of Agriculture is doing precisely this.
Minister Cooper not only brings more than a decade of senior-level international work experience with the United Nations, but she also brings a vast understanding of how international institutions work and get results. As a former Permanent Observer to the African Union and the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa and Head of the Liaison Office for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, she brings immense credibility and experience to the position of Minister of Agriculture – a position and sector that do not need politics today, tomorrow and in the future.
Every Liberian must give Minister Cooper a chance to deliver on her promises of transforming Liberia’s agriculture sector. The President has confidence in her abilities and competence. Let Liberians not inject distractions that would attempt to derail the Minister’s commitment to improving food security in the country and living up to the trust and confidence the President reposed in her as Minister of Agriculture.