— But with a condition
President George Weah’s nominees for the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) have been finally confirmed by a majority vote in the Senate, but not without strings attached.
As part of the condition, the Senate has prohibited Albert Chie, the President Pro Tempore, from communicating the “Senate’s decision” with President George Manneh Weah in the absence of benefits payments to former commissioners who lost their jobs as a result of the LACC Act amendments.
Among those confirmed are Cllr. Alexandra Zoe, Chairperson; Ernest R. Hughes, Vice Chairperson; Randolph E. Tebbs, Commissioner, Monitoring and Investigation; and Dr. Miatta Jeh, Commissioner, Monitoring and Investigation.
Having previously served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the state-owned Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTC), Zoe and her team are expected to bring a fresh impetus to the LACC and bolster efforts to combat corruption in Liberia, which is rampant.
Their controversial confirmations come at a crucial time when public trust is of utmost importance, particularly amid concerns over allegations of financial mismanagement and embezzlement within government institutions.
However, it remains unclear whether Chie, who is a staunch loyalist of the President, would abide by the prohibition made by the Senate plenary, which is the highest decision making body.
Chie has been a vocal supporter of nominees' confirmations, despite pushback from some of his colleagues, which ultimately led to the Senate’s previous session, ending the deadlock on the issue.
In August, the Senate, through a majority decision, placed on hold the nominees’ confirmation on grounds that the appointments came at the eleventh hour, with elections just around the corner.
The Senators, who have since rescinded their position, had earlier argued that it should be a matter of principle to let the next President, who would be elected by the people, make the nominations and allow the Senate to confirm or reject the nominees.
They also cited the nominees’ failure to submit proof of assets declaration, among other violations, as sufficient grounds for the nomination to be placed on hold.
Chie, during this period, sized the matter and changed the confirmation format from open to closed-door, allowing the Senate Committee on Autonomous Commissions and Agencies to handle the screen process which is marred by secrecy —- paving way for the sudden change of votes just as the Senate special two weeks session called for by the President came to close yesterday.
Meanwhile a majority of the Senate, including several from the opposition, flip-flopped. Senators, including Abraham Darius Dillon and Johnathan Sogbie of Montserrado and River Gee counties, respectfully maintained their position of not voting for the nominee confirmations.
Both Senators had constantly argued that the President’s nominations were not timely and it also violated Section 6.8 of the amended LACC act and other clauses.
“As we are supposed to adjourn the 54th legislature, we have unresolved issues surrounding the LACC confirmation,” Dillon said in his rebuke of his colleagues’ decision. “We firmly believe that the laws we passed as an institution should be respected. The new LACC Act designates the commission as the new repository for asset declarations and empowers them to penalize individuals for under-declaring. However, we haven’t witnessed the nominees fulfilling their obligations to declare their assets.
“Section 6.12 of the new LACC Act explicitly states that no two commissioners should hail from the same county. Our observation reveals that some of the nominees share the same county of origin. It is fundamentally incorrect to knowingly confirm these nominees to an institution entrusted with ensuring integrity within our country,” he added.
Dillion’s argument however failed to sway away his colleagues who went on the record and voted in majority to confirm the nominee. It is not clear whether or not the Senate Committee on Autonomous Commissions and Agencies cleared the nominees of meeting the requirement of the amended LACC Act.
The President’s appointments of Zoe and others come after the legislature repealed and restated the LACC Act of 2008 — which dissolved the Commission’s current leadership and called for appointments of new officials vetted by an Ad-hoc committee.
The Supreme Court of Liberia had earlier ruled that the legislature has the constitutional power to make and alter laws without limitation after the restated act has been challenged.
The court’s ruling was in response to a petition from Cllr. Edward Martin, the current Executive Chairperson of the LACC. He asked 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 Supreme 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.”
Meanwhile, the Senate special session ended also with the passage of Bea Mountain Mining Corporation’s restated mineral development agreement, which seeks to extend the Turkish company’s operations in Liberia to the year 2051.
The Senate, however, failed to act on several amendments to the Public Health law which, among other things, called for the legalization of abortion.
According to the Pro Tempore, the Senate disclosed the “Public Health law informally” and that debate will continue upon the return of the Senate in the last quarter of this year.