Liberia: Southeast to Control All 3 Branches of Gov’t?

Chief Justice designate  Sie-A-Nyene Gaypay Yuoh

The Senate plenary appears poised to vote, within a few days, to confirm Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Gaypay Yuoh as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. 

Should this happen, this will effectively spell the southeastern control of the three branches of the current government.

President George Weah hails from Grand Kru; House Speaker Bhofal Chambers from Maryland; Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Tugbe Chie from Grand Kru County; and soon-to-be-confirmed Chief Justice is from Maryland County. 

Even though there seems to be no constitutional violation with this arrangement, many are concerned that all national power is intentionally being placed in the hands of a selected few, concentrated in the southeastern part of the country. And during her confirmation hearing on August 26, Yuoh was asked by Bong County Senator Prince Moye whether she was aware of such a situation. She surprisingly replied, “no” in a jam-packed Senate Chamber at the Capitol.

Sen Moye: “You are aware that when the Senate passes on your nomination, we will have the heads of the three branches of government coming from one region of the country. Are you aware of that?”

Yuoh: “No, if that is a fact, what can I say, is that against the law of the country, I didn’t check that.” 

Moye: “Are you also aware that the last President that was President when this country was plunged into a civil war came from that region (President Doe )?

“Yes, President Doe hailed from Grand Gedeh County. 

Moye: You are also aware that some of those vices gave justification for the war? But before Yuoh could attempt to answer, the Presiding Senator and chairman of the judiciary committee H. Varney G. Sherman, hit his gavel reminding Moye that he was getting out of order.

On a similar path as Moye, River Gee County Senator Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie reminded Yuoh that the general election is next year and, should any election-related matter go to litigation, “it will have to end before her at the Supreme Court.”

 “Is that where you will seek to pay back what has been done for you; I told you I have concerns and am raising my concerns,” the senator asked. 

Sogbie was also abruptly stopped by Sherman’s gavel, which brought an uncontrollable heated argument between the two.  Sogbie, who chairs the Senate committee on Information, in fuming anger walked out of the hearing.

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice designate has disclosed that the general public does not understand the workings of the judiciary branch of government — a situation she said is not limited to Liberia.

“And because of this lack of understanding and knowledge of this branch of government, there is a high misconception of the judiciary, mainly the courts,” she said. “The procedural laws have often adversely affected the expeditious disposition of cases in our courts; and non-compliance by the executive branch of government with the Judicial Financial Autonomy Act, oftentimes undermined the workings of the judiciary.”

With regards to her vision as Chief Justice in addressing those issues listed, the 67-year-old Justice said it is for the Supreme Court to be the regulator of the practice of law to ensure that the Liberia National Bar Association adheres to Article 2 of its constitution and by-laws, which requires “the LNBA to advance the cause of legal education, secure the passage of legal legislation to improve the judicial system, improve the relationship between the Bench and the LNBA; ensure that lawyers conduct themselves ethically; and improve legal aid among the general public.”

“I hope to request to the Legislature to delegate such function of law-making, specifically the procedural laws to the Supreme Court, the administrative experts in addressing issues arising in the courts, relating to the applications of procedural laws.”

“This request is in consonance with the delegation clause of Article 34m of the Constitution of Liberia; that the Legislature May delegate other functions as it deems necessary for the expeditious disposition of cases.” 

Youh emphasized the need for the three branches of government to utilize the coordination clause as found in Chapter 1, Article 3 of the Constitution in ensuring that the judiciary is financially functional to avoid constantly citing the Minister of Finance to ensure compliance with the Judicial Financial Autonomy Act. 

“In addition to ensuring that the Act is fully complied with in an expeditious manner, I also request that the judiciary be prioritized in the allocation of contingency budgets.

“If confirmed and appointed as Chief Justice, I expect to see a lot of hard work… this is all I have done for the last forty years — living in the legal profession working very hard. With my colleagues on the Supreme Court bench, we will be swift, decisive, accurate and, most importantly, we will work to make our courts more acceptable.”

On the question of what her philosophy will be as Chief Justice — a reformist or a conservative, and what would she want to change immediately, Yuoh said she wants a digital system of record keeping not only at the Supreme Court but in all of the courts in Liberia. 

According to her, the system is currently used in most African and other developing countries. Concerning her philosophy, she intimated that the terms ‘conservative’, ‘moderate’, and ‘liberal’ are all relative and that she does not believe that the law is reasoning. 

“The law is the law and that’s my philosophy as a judicial person. That’s what I ascribe to and strive to do each time I put pen to paper or type out to draft an opinion for the Supreme Court.”

When asked by Sen Dillon whether Liberia should honor protocols and treaties the government ratified, such as the ECOWAS court and its ruling in favor of impeached former Supreme Court Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, Justice Yuoh reverted to Article 66 of the Constitution... which states, “the Legislature shall make no law nor create any exceptions as would deprive the Supreme Court of any of the powers granted therein.” 

At the Supreme Court for the last nine years, Youh serves as the oversight justice over the judicial branches of Sinoe, River Cess, and Grand Gedeh Counties and, currently over the judicial circuit of Cape Mount, Bomi, and Gbarpolu Counties.