Liberia: President Weah Relieves Embattled LACC Director

The former Executive Director of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin  


…. The former LACC Chairperson, however, had been on the red line of the government with his corruption probes, which led to the indictment of some high-profile government officials for corruption.

President George Weah has relieved Cllr. Edward Martin, the Executive Chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, of his post. 

Martin, who had previously served in the Weah government as Montserrado County Attorney, has been on the firing line since he lost a lawsuit against the government for dissolving his tenured position and recreating it.

The former LACC Chairperson, however, had been on the red line of the government with his corruption probes, which led to the indictment of some high-profile government officials for corruption.

Two of Martin’s high profile indictees were the Minister of Agriculture, Jeanine Cooper,  and the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission, Davidetta Browne-Lansanah.

Martin’s investigation claimed that Cooper, awarded contracts to her brother Zubin Cooper and diverted agricultural materials for personal use. The minister was also accused of awarding contracts to Farbrar- a company in which she has beneficial ownership. 

Lansanah was also accused of conflict of interest, and money laundering in the leasing of twenty facial recognition thermometers at a total cost of US$182,320 from a family firm.  

The NEC Chair, however, had the case thrown out of court without prejudice to the state on grounds that Martin’s team overstepped its bounds to investigate the issue of conflict of interest, which should have been carried out by an ombudsman.

The anger became visible at a cabinet retreat in Ganta, Nimba County, sometime last year, when he was heckled several times by some cabinet members in the presence of the President while presenting the anti-graft institution’s achievements in the fight against corruption.

However, the President succeeded in replacing Martin, whose fate was sealed as the restated LACC Act calls for the dissolution of the Commission’s executive leadership and the appointment of new ones.

Martin and his fellow commissioners, however, were not excluded from the re-application process, which was carried out by an Ad-hoc committee set up to pre-select new commissioners.

If the act had not been amended and restated that way, Martin would have still been on his job since it is a tenure position, and cannot be sacked until there is a breach of trust. 

Part XVI of the restated LACC act, titled Transitional Provision, states that all “commissioners now serving the LACC shall remain in office after the enactment of this new law until their successors are appointed, but each is eligible to apply and be subjected to the appointment procedure provided for this law.”

However, it remains unclear whether Martin will reapply for the position. The  Ad-hoc committee was chaired by the legal advisor to the president and other members of the Governance Commission, as well as others. 

The President, while announcing the new commissioners of the LACC, refused to thank Martin for his service or even mention him in the press release. 

Cllr. Alexandra Zoe and Ernest Hughes have been appointed as  Chairperson and Vice Chairperson of the reinstated LACC, according to the Presidency.  The new LACC chairperson currently serves as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the state-owned Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTC).

His other co-workers are commissioners Randolph Tebb,  Dr. Miatta Jeh, and Atty. Samuel Dakana and they are expected to be in charge of monitoring and investigation. The two others are   Oretha Davis and David Wilson, for the prosecution departments, which they are going to head. 

Meanwhile, Martin might still hang on to the job for a few more weeks, pending the Senate’s confirmation of the LACC’s new officers. 

His days on the job were numbered after the Supreme Court of Liberia earlier this year ruled that he erred in challenging the legislature’s constitutional power to make and alter laws without limitation.

The court ruling was in response to a  petition from Martin asking the court to declare sections 16.1 and 16.2 of the amended LACC Act unconstitutional, saying it was an abuse of power for a government to dissolve a tenured position and recreate the same.

However, the Court in its unanimous verdict delivered by Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, ruled that the Legislature has the “unquestionable power to amend, modify or abolish the LACC as deemed expedient in the interest of the state, and its action cannot be said to violate the constitution.”

Martin’s lawyers had argued that Parts 16.1 and 16.2 of the restated LACC Act were not in accordance with the norms and concept of ex post facto law as entrenched in Article 21 of the Constitution and that allowing the sections to remain would be a grave breach of the Constitution.

Article 21 of the 1986 Constitution, which Martin's lawyer is quoting, states that “no person shall be made subject to any law or punishment which was not in effect at the time of the commission of an offense, nor shall the Legislature enact any bill of attainder or ex post facto law.”

The Court Justices, however, disagreed and ruled that no public official has the vested right to a public office except for those officers or offices that are clearly and expressly protected by the Constitution, “which is not the case in the present petition.”

The Court added that “however, should it become necessary to terminate the services of the petitioner and others similarly situated before the expiration of their contractual rights, the sanctity of contract as enshrined in the Constitution should be given due consideration.”

According to critics, the new LACC was intended to undermine Martin's effort in exposing alleged corruption -- with some of the alleged culprits being closer -- to the president.

However, the President and his supporters justified it as one that is long overdue and that it broadens the scope of operation.

Meanwhile, the amended LACC act however limits the anti-graft agency's capacity to connect with the public and provide updates on the progress of investigations.

It also significantly limits the re-established LACC's ability to "force the freezing of assets of a person or individuals being investigated or prosecuted for alleged acts of corruption." 

Freezing of assets is now restricted to persons representing flight risk or those who have fled the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia.

Section 10.9 of the restated act restricts the Commission by enforcing undue confidentiality, preventing it from disclosing vital facts about the inquiry to the public until an indictment is announced.