(Reuters) – Liberia‘s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has denied accusations by some of members of her ruling party that she placed 17 close relatives in senior government positions, saying only her three sons work in government.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner has long been accused of nepotism by opponents for placing her sons and other relatives in key positions in the state oil company, central bank and other agencies in the poor west African country.
But the first criticism from members of her own Unity Party boiled over last month, when the party chairman on youth policies said 17 family members were in government and scuffles broke out between supporters and critics close to her residence.
Jerolinmick Piah, Sirleaf’s spokesman said on Tuesday that only her sons Robert Sirleaf, a senior adviser, Charles Sirleaf, deputy governor of the Liberian central bank and Fumba Sirleaf, head of the National Security Agency, worked in the administration.
“Out of 3.5 million Liberians, only three close relatives of the president are working in the government,” Piah told Reuters.
“Besides that, are they not qualified Liberians? Robert Sirleaf has 27 years of experience working in Wall Street.”
He said Fumba was appointed as chief spy because of his past experience at the agency before his mother came to power.
“We are waiting for those who accused the president of having 17 family members to prove it. The burden of proof rest on them,” Piah said.
Despite resources ranging from iron ore to fertile agricultural land, many Liberians have remained mired in poverty since the end of west African nation’s 1989-2003 bloody civil war and Johnson Sirleaf has faced calls to step up the fight against official corruption.
Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female elected head of state, said on Monday that Charles Sirleaf was working at the central bank before she took office and that the others named by the party critics were not related to her.