Liberia: Tenured Officials Suffer Delay at Supreme Court

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

As the initial conference didn’t go as planned, and Supreme Court presiding Justice Kaba didn’t schedule their reappearance date either

Amidst the absence of a scheduled date for their reappearance, tenured officials from the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) and the Governance Commission (GC) found themselves in limbo following an inconclusive initial conference. On February 28, a number of tenured officials from the two entities gathered at the Supreme Court, hopeful for a resolution regarding their protest against President Joseph Boakai's decision to remove them from office.

They had convened at the court in anticipation of progress in their case. Unfortunately for them, Presiding Chamber Justice Yussif Kaba declined to proceed with the proceedings in the absence of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, leaving the officials without a clear path forward.

Adding to their uncertainty, Justice Kaba refrained from providing a specific date for the next hearing, indicating that the timing would hinge on the decisions of all five Supreme Court Justices should either party decide to appeal Justice Kaba’s ruling.

President Boakai’s administration has defended its actions by invoking Article 56a of the Liberian Constitution, stipulating that officials in the Executive branch serve at the President's discretion.

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.”

Boakai and his Unity Party government have since become embroiled in legal challenges over attempts to remove the officials from tenured positions, a move that has caused the affected officials to seek a Writ of Prohibition from the Supreme Court, through its Justice in Chamber Yussif D. Kaba, 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 Act 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 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 tenured 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.

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

He underlined that some tenured officials had allegedly violated the National Code of Conduct by engaging in party politics and campaign activities during the 2023 elections. He asserted that such actions could lead to their dismissal without compensation, emphasizing the incompatibility of active political involvement with tenured positions.

“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.

However, 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.