Reflections – my first meeting with the Cabinet.

Dr. James F. Kollie, Jr.

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…


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