1. By its resolution 2239 (2015), the Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) until 30 September 2016 and requested me to keep it informed of the situation in Liberia and the implementation of that resolution. The present report provides an update on major developments since my report of 22 February (S/2016/169), including the assumption by the Government of Liberia of its security responsibilities from UNMIL on 30 June, as well as my recommendation for the extension of the Mission’s mandate.
II. Major developments
A. Political situation
2. During the reporting period, considerable attention was focused on the assumption by the Government of Liberia of its security responsibilities from UNMIL, which was achieved by the 30 June deadline established by the Security Council in resolution 2190 (2014) and reaffirmed in subsequent resolutions. Political discourse was also dominated by the upcoming 2017 elections and the fallout from corruption charges levelled against senior officials by the international non-governmental organization Global Witness, as well as the worsening economic situation in the country.
3. In the period leading up to the conclusion of the security transition, there was considerable public anxiety about the ability of the security forces to protect the population and to maintain stability, with reassurances from the Government about the readiness of national security agencies to perform the tasks that UNMIL had previously been undertaking. Given the public distrust of the Government, a group of political and civil society actors threatened to stage mass demonstrations in Monrovia in early March to express their lack of confidence in the capacity of the Liberian institutions to provide security throughout the country. They called off their planned rally, however, at the request of my Special Representative for Liberia and, instead, on 11 March, presented him with a petition addressed to the Security Council, which called for a continued UNMIL presence beyond the elections to be held in October 2017. Against the backdrop of a politically tense environment fomented largely by widespread suspicion over the causes of certain high-profile deaths, this development successfully averted the potential for street violence, which has often accompanied such demonstrations. To raise confidence and awareness among the population about its mandate and transition-related activities, UNMIL continued to hold town hall meetings throughout the country, deployed a “peace caravan” comprising traditional communicators and artists to 11 of the 15 counties and dedicated airtime for government officials to convey confidence-building messages about progress in building national security capacity on UNMIL Radio, which broadcasts around the clock in all counties. During a ceremony held on 1 July to mark the assumption of security responsibilities by the Government, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and my Special Representative underscored the fact that the United Nations would continue to support the consolidation of peace in Liberia.
4. During the reporting period, there were several changes in the President’s cabinet. In April, the former Minister of Justice, Benedict Sannoh, resigned after tenure of just over a year for reasons that were not made public. In addition, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amarah Konneh, resigned to take up a position with the World Bank. The ministers were replaced by former River Gee County Senator Frederick Cherue and former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia Boima Kamara, respectively. Both appointments were confirmed by the Senate and the incumbents have assumed their positions.
5. On 11 May, Global Witness published a report entitled “The Deceivers”, which detailed allegations of bribery and other corrupt acts, implicating several persons, including senior Liberian officials and members of the ruling Unity Party. On 12 May, the President requested a special presidential task force, which was already established to follow up on other corruption cases, to investigate the charges. The then Chair of the Unity Party, Senator Varney Sherman, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler, formerly a senior Unity Party official, were indicted on 24 May on charges of bribery, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, criminal soliciting and criminal facilitation. On 25 May, Mr. Sherman was arrested and Mr. Tyler appeared in court under police escort. Both were released on bail but charged in court on the same day. The arrests were met with criticism from some legislators who questioned the authority of the Executive to undertake such investigations. The charges also created divisions within the Legislature, with some legislators calling for the recusal of the Speaker, leading to a series of altercations within the House of Representatives. The Speaker, in turn, accused the President of using the charges to attempt to remove him from office. Meanwhile, divisions within the ruling party deepened, with Mr. Sherman and his supporters lobbying against the President. During the party’s convention, held from 7 to 9 July, the Vice-President of Liberia, Joseph Boakai, was elected uncontested as the party’s standard bearer, with the support of the President. The election of serving ministers into the party’s executive committee drew criticism from political parties and civil society, however, who pointed to the code of conduct for public officials, which prohibits Government employees appointed by the President from engaging in, or using government resources for, partisan political activities.
6. On 17 June, the National Elections Commission published the schedule for the 2017 presidential and legislative elections, including the launch of civic education activities in January 2017, voter registration in February 2017 and the start of official campaigning on 8 August 2017. In June, a decision was reached, through a process involving the Government, the Commission, the donor community and the United Nations, to adopt an optical mark recognition system for voter registration, rather than a biometric one, given that it would reduce costs and could be achieved in a relatively compressed time frame. Opposition parties expressed concern about possible fraud resulting from the use of the optical mark system.
7. Since my previous report, Alexander Cummings of the opposition party Alternative National Congress declared his intention to run for president, and the Unity Party formally nominated Mr. Boakai as its candidate. The number of political parties has increased to 23, following the registration in May of two new parties, the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction and Vision for Liberia Transformation. The registration of more than 20 additional political parties is pending. My Special Representative engaged regularly with political parties and other stakeholders, encouraging political party dialogue, consultation, information-sharing and coordination through the renewed framework of the Inter-Party Consultative Committee organized by the National Elections Commission.