Liberia: Ruling Reserved on LACC Restated Act

.... Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene A. Yuoh said the counsel to the “parties would be notified when the opinion (judgment) is ready.” 

The Supreme Court has reserved its verdict on whether the restated and amended act of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is in violation of the constitutional rights to employment or not.

The Court is hearing arguments in a case brought forth by Cllr. Edwin K. Martin, Executive Chairman of the LACC, which challenged the constitutionality of the act passage, saying restating the act amounts to a breach of contract and that the government erred in dissolving his tenured position and then creating the same in violation of the country’s  1986 constitution.

But after listening to arguments in the case, the Supreme Court announced that ruling in the suit has been reserved, as it would take days, weeks, or even months – before the judgment is issued.

Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene A Yuoh  said the counsel to the “parties would be notified when the opinion (judgment) is ready.”  The case reached the full bench of the Supreme Court after  Chamber Justice, Yussif D. Kaba, forwarded it without ruling on the merits of the case. 

It is Kaba legal views that the arguments propounded by Martin, needs the interpretation of the Supreme Court since it borders on constitutional issues.

Martin’s lawyer —  Cllr. Johnny Momo, in a  20 counts of petition, prayed the high court to rule against the government decision to restate and amend the LACC act, which then gives birth to a new anti-corruption commission but under the same name.

Momo argued that section 6.8 of the Act that establishes the old LACC  6.8 provides that a commissioner can only be removed from office by the President for any gross breach of duty, misconduct in office or any proven act of corruption, which was not the case. 

“The legislative enactment of Part XVI, titled: Transitional Provision which was approved without any proven or legitimate cause, clearly violates petitioner’s rights to due process of law as provided for under Article 20(a) of the 1986 Constitution,” he said.

Momo noted that sections 16.1 and 16.2 of the new amended LACC Act violates the constitutional rights of their client, saying that said amended provision is not in line with the 1986 Constitution as the sections cancel his client tenure position, and create the same when there is no record of any gross breach of duty, misconduct or corruption against him.

“Section 16.1 and 16.2 of the restated LACC Act, was not in conformity with the principles and doctrine of expo facto law as enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution. It contains provisions that are not applicable, and if allowed to hold it would be a gross violation of the principle and doctrine of the ex post facto law as enshrined in Article 21 of the 1986 Constitution. The new act seeking the immediate removal of the LACC chairman and other commissioners is illegal,” said Momoh.

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

However, the Ministry of Justice argued that the constitutionality of the petition is not an issue, since the Constitution gives rights to the legislature to make laws, amend laws without any limitation.

The government lawyers headed by Solicitor General Designate, Cllr. Nyenati Tuan, prayed the Supreme Court to send the case to the court or dismiss the case.

Martin’s suit came after the President George Weah signed into the restated and amended LACC act, which critics say will be used to suppress the fight against corruption in Liberia.

The law has been slammed by civil society organizations, opposition senators, and Martin  -- calling it dangerously “repealed” with the intent of undermining strides being made at LACC  to expose alleged corrupt officials.

But the President and supporters of the legislation have hailed it as a long overdue reform, which expands scope of operation and  gives the new LACC a direct and immediate prosecutorial power, which the current LACC has, but with restrictions.

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.”

The restated LACC act is a result of a legislative request from Weah in 2021 to the 54th legislature to adopt a ‘minor adjustment’ thus giving the LACC direct power to prosecute.

The legislation, however, severely reduced the competence of the re-established LACC, contrary to what is allowed for in section 4.1(e) of the 2008 Act.

The old law allows the LACC “to cause the freezing of assets of a person or persons being investigated or prosecuted for alleged act or acts of corruption; provided the freezing of asset or assets of any accused person or persons is, at all times, authorized by a prior order or warrant issued by a Court of competent jurisdiction.” 

This is no longer the case, as the new legislature waters down said power in section 4.1(e) by restricting such freeze action to person(s) representing flight risk or those who have fled the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia — imposing immense constraints and complications in the exercise of said power.

It also limits people’s access to information as well as LACC’s openness and responsibility to the public and stakeholders: The Section 10.9 limits the Commission by imposing unreasonable secrecy, which prevents it from sharing fundamental information with the public about its interactions until an indictment is issued.

Such a clause, according to critics, unjustifiably limits the Commission's capacity to connect with the public and provide updates on the progress of current investigations, which is more than required for openness, accountability, and other relevant reasons that best serve the public interest.