Liberia: INCHR Commissioners Accused of Breaching Commission’s Law
– Chairperson writes Supreme Court
The Chairperson of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), Counselor T. Dempster Brown, has told the Supreme Court that three of the five commissioners of the INCHR acted illegally when they, on July 8, 2022, endorsed a declaration of vote of non-confidence in the vice chair of the board, Charles K. Harris.
Responding to a response to a petition for the writ of prohibition filed before Justice in Chambers at the high court by Harris, Cllr. Brown said his three colleagues, including Cllr. Pela Boker Wilson, Pindrous W. T. Allison and Atty. Mohammed E. Fahnbulleh, have been acting out of the law and have refused to be checked despite numerous warnings.
On July 8, 2022 Cllr. Wilson, Cllr. Allison and Atty. Fahnbulleh endorsed a declaration of vote of non-confidence in Cllr. Harris, a move that provoked current legal tussles at the Commission.
However, on December 12, 2022, Cllr. Harris filed before Associate Justice Yussif D. Kaba to issue an alternative writ of prohibition, placing a stay order on his illegal removal as vice chairperson by the three commissioners. Cllr. Brown, as chairperson of the Commission, was included in the suit due to what the petitioner said was his refusal to intervene and stop his colleagues from carrying out that arbitrary action.
In a communication to Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe, who has since replaced Justice Kaba as Justice in Chamber, Cllr Brown recounted how he continues to advise the commissioners to operate and respect the Act that created the Commission. But the commissioners, who are co-respondents in the proceedings, refused to respect the rule of law and operate in accordance with the mandate of the Act that created the Commission, he said.
However, Cllr Brown noted that the members of the INCHR board are policy makers of the Commission, while the chairperson is the administrative head. As his reliance, Cllr. Brown used Article 10 (4) of the Act of legislature that created the Commission, which provides that "the Chairperson shall preside over all meetings, he is the spokesman of the Commission and he shall assign responsibilities to members of the Board of Commissioners."
But Brown claimed that members of the Board of Commissioners are usurping the functions of the chairperson by having secret meetings without the knowledge of the chairperson — a move that violates that Act.
According to Brown, vice chair Harris was assigned the responsibility to have oversight over the department of budget and administration, which responsibility he carried on for the past one year without any problem.
"But three commissioners out of five accused the Petitioner of corruption," alleged Cllr Brown. "The three commissioners held a secret meeting without my knowledge and passed a resolution, signed by the three for a vote of non-confidence for corruption in violation of the Act," Brown added.
Two of the five commissioners, Atty. Patmilla Doe Paivey and Cllr. Dr. Niveda C. Ricks Onuoba, who are yet to be confirmed, were also part of the decision to dismiss Cllr. Harris from the Commission. Cllr. Onuoba was elected to replace Cllr. Harris.
The four commissioners claimed that while also serving as Commissioner for Finance, Administration and Budget, Cllr.Harris has negligently, and in some instances intentionally, misapplied the affairs of the Commission "thus leading to administrative malpractices and financial improprieties."
They named the alleged dual payroll system wherein the domain roster at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning differs from that of the INCHR's official staff/payroll listing, and that [the] continued remission from the ministry, the salaries for seven (7) commissioners, wherein the commission currently has only five (5) commissioners, as some of the malpractices that led to the vote of no confidence against vice chair Harris.
Meanwhile, Justice Nagbe has ordered the reinstatement of Commissioner Harris as vice chairperson until the outcome of the hearing and determination of the petition for a writ of prohibition.
Harris in his petition claimed that his majority colleagues were in error when they on October 25, 2022 held a purported meeting to elect a presidential nominee, who has not been confirmed by the Senate to replace him as vice chairperson in violation of the Article 9 section 5 of the INCHR Act.
The Act provides that "the commissioners shall elect a vice chairperson for the commission from among themselves by a two-thirds majority vote."
Consequently, Cllr Harris alleged that in August 2021, he was elected as a vice chairperson consistent with the act. “The election was held after my confirmation by the Senate," Harris' petition argued.
According to him, a review of the act does not show that the Legislature contemplated the removal of the vice chairperson as there is no provision within the act that provides how the vice chairperson should be removed.
Accordingly, Harris said, there were several attempts made by himself to resolve the matter short of litigation, "but the respondents failed to reverse its so-called decision and continue to flout the law"
He also argued that his illegal removal violates Article 20(a) of the 1986 Constitution, which states: "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this constitution and in accordance with due process of law."