Is Public Works Minister Earless?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

One of the essences of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in a democratic governance system is for the people to express their views on how they feel about their public officials. That is, by critically monitoring and evaluating the performances of their officials. By this, those concerned take measures or steps to make adjustments or correct whatever shortcomings as perceived in the eyes of the public. However, this does not mean that by theses freedoms; whatever is said by the people is right, as they could be acting on misinformation.

Notwithstanding, what matters is to always listen, and act appropriately and promptly either to correct the misinformation or take measure or step and correct a problem or situation that is of public concern. But to remain mute in the face of public concerns or public opinion could be something detrimental to any administrator.

Today in Liberia, one of the public officials who continue to come under criticisms is the Minister of Public Works, Antoinette Weeks, who has overwhelmingly been accused by members of the public of not “showing her juice” since her predecessor, Samuel Kofi Woods, left the Ministry about a year ago.  There have been all kinds of characterizations of this woman by many. Some say that she is not media friendly, and that she has not been able to justify her inclusion as a member of the team.

Furthermore, she is seen as someone who does not practise teamwork and is also disrespectful to other authorities, such as her refusal to reinstate an employee of that ministry based on a directive from the Civil Service Agency (CSA), and also her failure to respond to communications from the Legislature, one of the reasons for which she is now facing hearing at the Capitol Building.

What is of concern to me is that since this lady, who unquestionably holds a doctorate degree became Minister of that Ministry, there  have been public outrage on how she is running the ministry and ongoing projects in the country. It all started when she wrongly made some changes in the Ministry, and was advised by the CSA to rescind her decision, something she is yet to do; also, her ministry has not been able to ‘intervene’ in the deplorable road condition on the Somalia Drive in Gardnerville, despite incessant calls from residents and commuters. Additionally, there has been no information about ongoing projects, some of which are not moving, as expected. Because of these, the ministry is the only institution that has now been dubbed, “SLEEPING GIANT.”

In all fairness when I heard of the first female Public Works Minister, I was very happy over that because I saw that as one of the gigantic steps in the country’s effort to break some of the aged-old stereotypes about certain jobs concerning women.  Regrettably, the way and manner in which she is performing is a matter of concern. Let me quickly say that I am not questioning her academic credentials, but the fact of the matter is that credentials are one thing and delivering the good is another thing. This is the situation today. It is not about degree; it is all about performance.

Whenever I hear these public outcries against the minister, I always wonder as to whether or not she does not have ear to hear, or is only ostensibly  being very insensitive to public opinion, something that public officials or any manager should not take lightly. To say it figuratively, why would this first female Public Works Minister does not want to keep her “ear on the ground,” to become effective and efficient?

Why won’t this lady work to make history for herself and women, by leaving a legacy for others to emulate? It is not a gainsaying that the Ministry of Public Works is very crucial to the country’s post-war reconstruction, especially when it comes to infrastructures such as roads and bridges, therefore, anyone appointed to that position, must be prepared to wear the jeans; it is not an arm-chair job; it is a field job that requires the minister moving like a foot soldier.

Let us take for the sake of argument that the minister is earless, and therefore, does not hear all of these public outcries against her, as some are even calling for her dismissal and resignation. Doesn’t she have eyes to see some of these deplorable road conditions, some of which she plies on too? Does she need an ear bender? I say NO!  What she needs is self-evaluation and self-assessment to be able to make a change and the necessary impact. She should now begin to internalize, as to those areas of her weaknesses and what needs to be done. She needs to discuss with her subordinates openly and with clear mind on the way forward. Even as the captain, one still needs sailors and other workers onboard the ship or vessel.

To make long matter short, the minister needs to improve on her communication skills, whether it is interpersonal communication or group. This is crucial for any administrator or manager, like my sister Antoinette. I am sure if this is done, much would be achieved and that she would not even refuse to reinstate, respond to inquiries like those from the Legislature and will not even be cited for hearing. Also,  she must know, as stated earlier, know that this  is not an arm-chair job, but a field job to see, as it is said that “seeing is believing” so as to ascertain whether or not these projects are being implemented in keeping with the specifications.

Regarding the issue of her resignation, it is left to her to determine as to whether or not she is up to the task or not. For dismissal, it is not in my purview to say so, as this is constitutionally the prerogative of the appointing power- the President of the Republic of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to decide.

Until this first female Public Works Minister realizes the importance of communication skills, mutual respect and team work, she is doomed to fail or be the subject of public outcry, I REST MY CASE.

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