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Liberian president fires entire ministry

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Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says corruption must be purged from the Finance Ministry.

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Liberia
Africa
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

MONROVIA, Liberia (Reuters) -- Liberia's newly installed President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, living up to her reputation as an "Iron Lady", has dismissed all Finance Ministry employees in a bid to curb the rampant corruption crippling her country.

Facing a Herculean task of rebuilding a nation shattered by 14-years of civil war, Africa's first elected female leader said her victory in November's presidential runoff gave her a mandate to clean up Liberia's finances.

"All employees are sacked from their positions until a screening exercise that is expected to commence at the ministry is completed, and those qualified will remain," Johnson-Sirleaf said during a surprise visit to the ministry on Wednesday.

"Those who are part of financial malpractices and scandals must give way for those who are prepared to do the will of the Liberian people," she told employees.

Endemic corruption was a key cause of Liberia's civil war, which killed 250,000 people and devastated Africa's oldest republic, founded by freed American slaves in 1847.

Johnson-Sirleaf, a 67-year-old Harvard-trained economist, pledged at her inauguration last month before assembled African and other world leaders to make the war on corruption a top priority. Newspapers across the continent hailed the move.

She named former World Bank official Antoinette Sayeh as finance minister, with a brief to root out graft and build bridges with international donors, who have made further aid reliant on weeding out corruption.

With a debt of more than $3 billion, the West African nation is reliant on aid from the United Nations, the World Bank, the United States and Europe.

But the risk in dismissing the entire ministry staff is that finances may be paralyzed, analysts say. A similar "root and branch" approach in the army -- where all soldiers were dismissed but could then re-apply -- sparked protests.

"This is quite a bold step to take," said Mike McGovern, West African project director with International Crisis Group. "It is a sign of the seriousness with which (Johnson-Sirleaf) regards the problem."

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