Regarding the Pleasure of the President

By Francis K. Zazay

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 31, 2007


John S. Morlu
I see that some writers in the Diaspora and Lofians in particular are discontent about the immediate dismissal of Mr. John S. Morlu. This has led some to begin to question the appointments of the President, to the extent that some are evaluating surnames to justify nepotism. While some of the names mentioned by various authors on many listserves are far from resembling those author’s intent, I thought to look at the issue of the "president pleasure" in making appointment since this appeared to be the case that has triggered the pens of my fellow Liberians.

I would begin by stating that Article 56 a of the constitution gives the President the power to appoint and dismiss “all cabinet ministers, deputy…..” at the “pleasure of the president”. It is in keeping with this authority that the president makes appointments and, someone once said “disappointments” to mean dismissal. Many leaders in Liberia have this authority including religious leaders. I recall knowing a certain gentleman who was on his way to work when he was suddenly stopped by a bystander and told that the radio has just announced his dismissal; while another was in the hospital suffering from minor illness when it was announced on the two o’clock news that he has been appointed to a cabinet post. This was in the early 80s when Liberia was a witness to new dramas. I am even informed that such was the practice in both the Tubman and Tolbert eras. This “at the pleasure of the president” appointment and dismissal clause appears to be used both as show of power and control mechanism to ensure harmony within the cabinet. Whether or not this has proven to be effective or is something timely for modern day professionals remains to be studied, but this is not the issue. What I think the issue should constitute is what constitutes the “pleasure of the president” and how should such power be exercised. This answer lies in the manner in which the president is elected, in my opinion.

You see, Liberians desire to elect a president who is most qualified in terms of judgment, leadership, focus and dynamism when they go to the pools. It is assumed, given this believe that the person elected as president would therefore exercise the wisest judgment with due care, consistent with the trust reposed in him/her by the electorates. One of such judgments reposed in the president includes making of appointments of highly qualified and competent persons with the necessary integrity to handle a particular functionary of government. This imposes the requirement on the president, in my opinion, to search the nation for the best among its citizens. A leader who adopts this practice might find it difficult to make replacement or conduct wanton cabinet reshuffles that usually characterize many administrations. My believe is that when those appointed to serve the “pleasure” of the president are working in line consistent with their professional conduct and policy of the administration, they are presumed to be working in the interest of the nation, which is the pleasure of the president.

The president who follows such sound judgment in making appointments sometime is left to think that he/she has the right person, only to find out later that the worst choice for the policy goals of the administration has been made; thereby falling victim of the recruiter’s dilemma of: who gets fired when a worst Harvard Grad is recruited? Is it the Recruiter or the Manager who approved the appointment? The president will certainly not be the one to be fired for make such wrong judgment.

Notwithstanding this predicament, the president still has the responsibility to appoint the right persons, given that his/her responsibility is to be “Right at all times”. While replacement becomes necessary if it turns out that such person is not in line with the policy goals of the administration, it should not necessarily justify a disgraceful dismissal on the part of the president. Because if a reason to depart is on policy differences, such reason does not mean the appointee is unqualified for the position or has integrity issue. It simply means that the both of you do not work together. The fact that making such dismissals might lead to character issues, many developed countries would often ask the person to resign, or might not effect a dismissal without cause and after valid administrative hearings.

The United States that almost all Liberians seek to emulate is a savvy adherent to this practice. This has been seen in the issue with Gen. Collin Powell, Mr. Alberto Gonzales and the like. It is on the basis of the premise above that I think the “immediate dismissal” of Mr. John S. Morlu, former Commissioner of Maritime should have been handled another way-a manner more consistent with modern standards that would erase doubts of wrongdoing on the part of the president.

While it is true that the president has the constitutional power to effect dismissals and appointments at his/her pleasure, I am sure the president, being the keeper of the citizens, would not want to make dismissals that abruptly results to stroke or health problems. I am also not sure that the current generation of technocrats that the president needs to help with the reconstruction process are prepare for method of dismissals, which I think is not a good old fashion way. This is particularly true where our era has begun to see former presidents facing various judicial proceedings for acts committed during their tenure as president. I believe that if the nation’s highest officers can be made humble to face trial or dismissal for cause (in the case of Taylor for war crimes and Bryant for End of Tenure and now corruption), the same should be applied to all.

© 2007 by The Perspective

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