Liberia: President’s cabinet sweep divides pundits

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A crackdown on corruption in Liberia which sanctioned investigations of some public officials, has led to the dismissal of all but one member of the presidential cabinet. Only the minister for presidential affairs is to stay on for the time being.

While some analysts believe the move by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will provide her a “fresh slate” for the next phase of her administration, others think the move may be part of her strategy to improve her chances in next year’s election.

The shakedown comes a year ahead of presidential elections and Joseph Lake of the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit believes believe that patience with her government is wearing thin over the issue of corruption, and she [President Sirleaf] faces a strong challenge in the 2011 presidential election from local hero George Weah and this may be an effort to freshen up a weary cabinet.

“President Johnson-Sirleaf told the ministers that the reason for demanding their mass administrative leave is that this administration is entering a critical stretch and this would afford her the opportunity to start with a fresh slate going forward,” according to the release.

“The President further announced that a cabinet restructuring will be made in the shortest possible time and that several ministers could be reappointed. But only the minister for presidential affairs is to stay on for the time being.”

The sack allegedly follows last month’s promise by President Sirleaf to investigate some serving and former public officials for their role in a proposed carbon deal that would have given a U.K. firm control of a fifth of the country’s rain-forests.

Despite the premise stated for the sackings, critics of Sirleaf’s administration say she has not done enough to root out corruption or ease tensions between communities divided by 14-years of near-constant civil war.

Nonetheless, oil and minerals resources are drawing increased investment from energy and mining companies and observers hope it will bring a better livelihood for Liberians.

The reshuffle could also be used “as an opportunity for reflection” by the ministers now on leave, President Sirleaf suggested, as deputies will take over the ministers’ responsibilities until replacements were nominated.

President Sirleaf has been in power since 2006 and was expected to seek another term in the planned 2011 poll, yet Liberia is remains low on the U.N.’s human development index.

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