Liberia: Tenured Officials Face Bleak Fates

(l-r) Embattled GC Chairman, Garrison Yealue, Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Youh and Chairperson of the LTA Board of Commissioners, Edwina Crump Zackpah

-Supreme Court’s precedent on the matter doesn’t favor them

Many had little or no clue about the ripple effect that the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case Cllr. Edward Kla Martin, former executive director of the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) vs. the Liberian Government, would have soon.

The Supreme Court said in its ruling that no public official has a vested right to a public office, except for those officers or offices that are clearly and expressly protected by the Constitution.

"WHEREFORE AND IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the petitioner’s petition is denied. The Clerk of this Court is ordered to inform the parties in these proceedings of the decision of this Court. Costs are disallowed. AND IT IS HEREBY SO ORDERED.”

Cllr. Martin, from his facial expression, was rendered hopeless as he listened to Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Youh, who read the opinion of the High Court, saying, in essence, that no Liberian is entitled to any public office, except in special cases as outlined by the constitution. And the fact that Martin’s case was not one of the special instances captured by the constitution, the ruling drew the curtain on his quest for justice, being that the high court is the final arbiter of justice in the land.

But little did many know that this same ruling, a precedent for future cases, would haunt many other tenured position holders.

Less than two years after that historic ruling, scores of officials who are holders of tenured positions are trooping to the Supreme Court to protest their unlawful removal by the Joseph Nyuma Boakai government, but if precedent is to be a determinant here, it means their fates have been decided ever since before the ascendency of the Unity Party regime.

High Court Issues Prohibition

President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and his Unity Party government are embroiled in legal challenges over attempts to remove current officials from tenured positions at government institutions, such as the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) and the Governance Commission (GC).

The Supreme Court, through its Justice in Chambers Yussif D. Kaba, has issued a Writ of Prohibition against the seating of the newly appointed Governance Commission Chairman, Professor Alaric Tokpa, in response to lawsuits filed by all five LTA commissioners and the head of the GC.

The five LTA commissioners and the current head of the GC, Garrison Yealue, have described President Boakai’s action as unlawful and violates the 2007 Liberia Telecommunications Authority and the Act establishing the Governance Commission.

The government's decision to remove officials in tenured positions has sparked criticism from various quarters, including the Law Reform Commission head and the Judiciary Committee of the Liberian Senate. The head of the Law Reform Commission, Cllr. Boakai Kanneh and the head of the Judiciary Committee of the Liberian Senate, Cllr. Christian Chea of Sinoe County, noted that the President is proceeding wrongly.

However, the Cabinet supported President Boakai's actions but faced legal challenges, prompting the issuance of the Writ of Prohibition.

“The cabinet has authorized the president, and it has been concluded as government policy that all of those tenure positions that the president will exercise his authority to appoint people in any position in the executive whether the person has tenure or not except those positions that are protected by the Constitution of Liberia,” said President Boakai’s Legal Advisor Cllr, Bushuben Keita.

Cllr. Keita added: “If the tenure was created by statute, it is a position of the government that violates Article 56a,” Keita said.

The petitioners, representing the LTA commissioners, have requested the court to prevent their unlawful removal and uphold the principles of justice and legality.

“That Petitioner says and avers that prohibition is the appropriate remedy to prohibit the Government of the Republic of Liberia from proceeding contrary to law by nominating Prof. Alaric Tokpa to the position as Chairman of the Commission while his tenure is still active and effective for the period of four years in said autonomous agency as provided for by the Article 89 of the Liberian Constitution which gives rise to the creation of the Governance Commission,” the petition averred.

For the LTA, the petitioners include all five commissioners, Edwina Crump Zackpah (Chairperson), Israel Akinsanya, James Gharwen, Zatowon Titus, and Osborne Diggs.

The Zoe and Partners Law Firm, which represents the legal interest of the aggrieved LTA commissioners, requested the court to grant the Writ of Prohibition by preventing the unlawful removal of the commissioners and upholding the principles of justice and legality.

Their petition to the Supreme Court said: “That consistent with the Liberia Telecommunications ACT of 2007, a person serving as commissioner or Chairman may not be removed from office before the completion of his or her term of appointment without cause as defined by the ACT.”

All five of the LTA commissioners’ tenures are yet to expire, with most expected to end by December 2026.

Supporters of the regime are said to be opting for the removal of tenured officials whose tenures are yet to expire with the belief that they can be paid off by the government like what was done with the former Liberia Anti-Corruption boss, Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin, during the regime of former President George Manneh Weah.

Critics are, however, warning the government about the huge financial implications this move could have on the public coffers.

The Supreme Court has decided to hold a conference between the plaintiffs and the government to address the legal disputes surrounding the appointments.

President Boakai's government has justified its actions by citing violations of Article 56a of the Liberian Constitution, which indicates that officials working in the Executive branch of government should work at the well and pleasure of the President.

Article 56a states: “All cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials, both military and civilian, appointed by the President pursuant to this Constitution shall hold their offices at the pleasure of the President.”

Keita also noted that tenured officials also breached the National Code of Conduct by some tenured officials by being involved in party politics and campaign activities during the 2023 presidential and representative elections. He said they would be dismissed by the government without compensation.

“You cannot be a tenured official and you actively take part in politics, serve on a campaign, post all your campaign photos, and do all else and still expect your tenure to be respected or expect to be paid if your tenure is taken away,” Keita said.

The Supreme Court's latest ruling has ordered the government to halt further actions related to nominations for these positions until the conference is held.

With Yealue and the LTA’s commissioners’ petitions expected to be heard today, February 28, it remains to be seen whether they will face a similar fate as Martin, and be told by the Supreme Court that “No public official has vested right to a public office, except for those officers or offices that are clearly and expressly protected by the Constitution.”

 Meanwhile, the legal controversy surrounding the appointments to tenured positions reflects the complexities and challenges faced by the Unity Party government in its early days in office.