Response of Ministry Of Foreign Affairs To Several Public Agenda Newspaper Articles

Foreign Minister Olubanke King-Akerele
Foreign Minister Olubanke King-Akerele
Photo Credit:
(1)  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reacted to the Front and Back Page Stories in the August 3rd, 5th and 7th Editions respectively of the Public Agenda Newspaper captioned, “Foreign Ministry in Mess; Chopping Continues At Foreign Ministry; Fernando Po Reincarnates At Foreign Ministry; Dismissed Employees Seek CSA’s Intervention.”

(2)  The Foreign Ministry categorically states that contrary to these reports, it has embarked on a course of cleaning up the corrupt practices of the past, as part of Government’s determination to ensure transparency and accountability in the public sector. In this regard, the Ministry notes that at no time had Minister Olubanke King-Akerele misapplied funds intended to purchase vehicles or unilaterally took administrative decisions as alleged.

(3)  The Ministry clarifies that with the endorsement of the Ministry of Finance, US$570,000 was reallocated from travel, daily subsistance allowance and vehicle purchases within the 2008-2009 budget of the Central Office to address the dire needs of the Foreign Missions and their staff.  Last year, following the Kakata Cabinet Retreat, in October, this information was conveyed to the staff of the Foreign Ministry  at a General staff meeting between top Management and staff.

(4)  At the same time, two large buses were purchased for the first time to address the transportation needs of staff at the Home Office, including other vehicles for the effective running of the Ministry. More recently, these include a van for the Printing and Mail Pouch Services, a utility pick up, etc

(5)  Allegations by the paper that there is lackadaisical support for Liberia’s Diplomatic Missions Abroad, and lack of cooperation with Veteran Diplomats or Ambassadors-At-large, are also unfounded, noting that more then seventy percent (70%) of the Ministry’s Annual Budget is allotted to the Foreign Missions. Indeed the very fact that in her first budget for the FY 2008/2009 the above mentioned amount of US$570,000 was reallocated from Central Office to the Diplomatic Missions belies the alleged lackadaisical “support for Liberia’s Diplomatic Missions.

(6)   On the issue of Ambassadors-at-Large, they participate at Senior Staff meetings and are part of the consultative processes that leads to decision making as appropriate, and when needed, on relevant subject matters. The revision of the Foreign Service manual has been their primary responsibility; while they participate on the Committee for Management of the Foreign Service Institute and, in the recent past, reviews of the portfolio of Honorary Consuls, preparations of Gazette and formulations of Proclamations, etc, etc.

ACHIEVEMENTS

(7) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, building on past accomplishments, has  improved its  standards in the public service both internationally and at home, under the  incumbency (effective September 2007) of Her Excellency, Madam Olubanke King-Akerele, while Deliverables for the Fiscal Year July 2008-June 2009 notwithstanding challenges,  have been largely met.  Amongst these are: a) initiation of legal actions for retrieval of Government’s  overseas assets; b) rotation of staff c) assessment  of archives, d) inspections of overseas  missions; e) improvements in financial management at Central Office and field missions, f) introduction of innovation in a restructured Foreign Service. We wish to highlight the following dimensions:
(8)  The Ministry has been able to increase the salaries and compensation package of our Foreign Service Diplomatic staff by some 63%, ensuring necessary foreign currency adjustments.
(9)  At the same time, we have succeeded in bringing local staff compensation packages within the laws of the countries in which they serve. We are also continuing to make improvements for the welfare of our foreign service officers, introducing for the first time, provisions for medical insurance coverage, notwithstanding the fact that their remains room for improvements.

(10)  Moreover, the Inspectorate General Services have been re-launched after more than 15 years of inactivity. Concretely, this means that with financial support from UNDP, assessment missions have been effected to our Embassies and Consulates  in New York; Washington, D.C.; Brussels, Rome, Paris and Berlin and from Government’s own budgetary resources to Nigeria, Japan; China; Guinea and Ethiopia. Additional missions are planned in the new fiscal year.

 (11)  Several training innovations under a revitalized Foreign Service Institute have been effected notably to Egypt (25 officers for two weeks-all paid for by the Egyptian Government); and other training opportunities in Liberia, at the Foreign Service Institute with technical assistance from Egypt and King’s College London. New financial guidelines and reporting procedures have been instituted both at Central Office and the field missions.
(12)  We have, also adopted a strategy for renovation,  with the assistance of Ministry of Finance and retrieval of Government assets. In collaboration again with the Ministry of Finance we are making progress in settling liabilities owed by past Governments, including arrears owed to international organizations.
DISMISSED EMPLOYEES
(13)  It further clarified that Messrs James Kpangba and Tunta Faijue, former Director of Personnel, and Personnel Action Notices (PAN) Analyst respectively were dismissed from the Ministry because they connived with some staff of the EDP Section at the Finance Ministry and placed 38 names on the payroll without fulfilling the necessary Civil Service requirements. This action resulted from a Personnel audit conducted at the Ministry with cooperation of the Director of Civil Service, as part of its ongoing reform processes.
 

(14)  Furthermore, the Ministry of Finance had earlier (in March) dismissed those Staff of its EDP Section who connived with staff of the Foreign Ministry in this regard. Of significance is that the said Personnel officers of the Ministry were found to have engaged in questionable practices with the insurance carrier of the Ministry. Staff had complained, where upon an investigation was conducted and it was found necessary to turn the matter over to NSA for investigation. This is underway.


Threats of Reduction of Full time employees to cadets etc. etc.

(15)  On the alleged threats of the Minister to reduce the status of full time employees attending institutions of higher learning to cadets, let us be very clear on the Ministry’s position. The Ministry conducted a Human Resource Audit, as a basis for formulation of a Human Resource development strategy some few months back by Prof. Joseph Sawyer of Eastern Connecticut University in the U.S.A. Among the findings were that a large number of full time employees are also full time students. We are investigating this further. Should we find that these full time employees are out of the office for some 70-80% of working hours, then we will review their status as full time employees of the Ministry, in consultation with the Director of Civil Service Agency.


(16)    The Ministry will continue to encourage educational improvement. Moreover, when in May, the Minister learnt (while away on medical leave) of the number of graduates from the Ministry, she E-mailed the Administration to give each of them a financial package of congratulations to show its solidarity with their accomplishments. In addition, those who are graduates are under consideration for involvement in the Foreign Service Institute’s innovative training programmes underway.
(17) On the caption re Fernando Po, we do not propose to give this item the dignity of a response.

REFORM AGENDA AT MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS:

(18)   The issue at bay at this point in time is Reform: we have been  cleaning up at the Ministry, with emphasis on accountability, and transparency. This is what the Minister has been engaged in since taking over the Ministry in September 2007. This has meant, in turn:
•    Personnel audits revealing deficiencies that had to be corrected.
•    Investigations of bad practices in the Archives that are being dealt with.
•    Rigorous analysis of financial transfers to missions and CBL authorization etc.
•     Efforts to retrieve Government assets as  mentioned earlier   in, amongst others, London, Nairobi, Brussels, Paris and investigation of sales or swaps of GOL properties in Nigeria etc. This has meant engagement of legal assistance, since the legality of many of these transactions has to be ascertained.
•     Securing International Technical assistance for the Printing Division and the Archives; for the restructuring of the Foreign Service Institute and obtaining technical assistance from Egypt, UNDP,  UNITAR, King’s College, London and others.
•    Continuation of staff capacitation through taking advantage of ongoing scholarships opportunities offered from key partners.
•    Funding from UNDP for six months training of Protocol officers at minimum BA graduate students.
•    Focus on improving the situation of many of our  missions and the welfare of our Foreign Service officers.
•    New biometric Passports with finger printing security features to be introduced during first half of the current fiscal year.


(19)  The Minister will not be deterred from these reform initiatives. To the extent that these are misinterpreted, this clearly reflects  the level of consciousness, awareness, commitments, and values of those who may be interpreting, guided  by their respective motivations. We shall nonetheless forge ahead with our reform efforts to ensure greater accountability in line with the commitments of the present Administration.


(20)  On the charge of the suppression of workers, we shall challenge the Public Agenda to prove this charge in a court of law with their sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Public Agenda will also have to show proof of putting the Ministry in bad shape since the incumbency of the Minister as well as substantiating all other allegations with regard to the Foreign Missions.    


(21) Meanwhile, the Ministry has observed that some dismissed employees are engaged in spreading lies through the press to misinform the public about its operations with the aim of tarnishing the hard earned reputation of the Minister  of Foreign Affairs and that of the Government.
 CONTINUOUS ATTACKS

(22)  The net effects of this bombardment of all these negative allegations against both my Person and in turn, the Government, has merely strengthened my commitment to continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this regard, I  come from a Family with a long history of Public Service making significant contributions to Liberia from both sides of my Family.  I plan to continue this tradition of service to our nation and to the Liberian people. More than ever before, I shall, in the performance of my responsibilities, as I have, over my 25 years of International Development Service, be guided by the admonition below of my mother:

DARE TO BE A DANIEL
DARE TO STAND ALONE
DARE TO HAVE A PURPOSE FIRM
DARE TO MAKE IT KNOWN

THANK YOU ALL!