Liberia: 'Tweah Worsening Judges’ Motivations'

The Minister of Finance 

... Says Judge Blamo Dixon

“We are working for sixty (60) days to get one month’s salary. The one-month salary cannot be paid in full.  We receive 20% thereof in forty-five (45) days and the balance eighty (80%) in sixty days,” says Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court C.

Dixon's anger comes as the Minister of Finance and Development Planning delayed paying the salaries of judges and justices, as well as judicial personnel, — leading to two months of arrears, which he had promised to settle on  Nov. 7. 

And at the opening of the November term of Court for Criminal Courts, A, B, C, D, and E for Montserrado County, Dixon then blamed Tweah for worsening their motivations to dispense transparent justice without fear and favor.

Delivering his charge to his fellow jurists, including Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh,  the Vice President of he National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia (NATJL), drew the attention of his audience to the many challenges, particularly salary payment to judges, allegedly perpetrated by Tweah.

“The disbursement of our salaries is very irregular and painful. We are working for sixty days to get a one-month salary. The one-month salary cannot be paid in full; we receive 20% thereof in forty-five days and the balance eighty (80%) in sixty days,” Dixon, also Resident Judge for Criminal Court ‘C’, publicly disclosed. 

 “The Financial Autonomy Act of the Judiciary Branch of Government is being grossly violated by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning.”

According to Dixon, the situation has gone from bad to worse, to the extent that judges' motivations have dwindled.  He added that it is his hope that the Chief Justice  will restore “our high motivations on the job for us to dispense transparent justice without fear and favor.”

“It behooves us to be mindful as we enter 2023 that the stability or instability of our country lies in the quality of the judgments, verdicts, decrees, orders, and decisions that we will render in our various courts from November 14, 2022 to November 14, 2023.

“Madam Chief Justice, you are from within the Supreme Court Bench and you are aware of the issues, problems, and challenges confronting the employees of the Judicial Branch of the Government of Liberia. Our expectations are not high; because we are convinced you will resolve some of the challenges in the future.”

Dixon's outburst came after the justices of the Supreme Court on November 8, purged the contempt charges against Tweah after he had issued an apology, saying he erred in withholding the funding of the judiciary as he blamed the decision on a recommendation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

While accepting Tweah's apology, the Court warned the Minister that he runs the risk of being punished harshly if the salaries of judges and justices, as well as judicial personnel, are delayed again under his watch.

Tweah sin then has to do with the withholding of their two months' salaries — covering the months of September and October — in violation of chapter six of the Judicial Canons, which required judges to be paid “adequately as they hold an exalted position preventing them from engaging in any business endeavors.” 

“Minister Tweah, this is our last warning to you, But, if this is repeated, next time, we will take harsher punishment against you, according to the law,” Chief Justice, Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh said to the Minister of Finance.  “We purged the contempt charge and you are now free and you can now go about your normal business.”

And Tweah, while responding to the contempt charges, said the delay in salaries payment came as a result of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL)not accounting for the US$23,000 that the IMF placed in the bank’s vault for reserve purposes.

“Your Honors, a staffer of the CBL mistakenly transferred into the government revenue account the amount of US$23,000 that the IMF placed there as its reserve, instead of the IMF reserve account,” Tweah said while justifying the delay in paying salaries of judiciary officials and workers on Nov. 8.

 “Right now, we have released the checks for September, and the [checks for] October will be released before the end of this week [Nov. 12].”

But the Chief Justice in response to Dixon's criticism of the minister questioned the judge's decision to address what she referred to as “washing our news in the public.” According to the Chief Justice, her bench and the judges had an agreement to work together to resolve some of the concerns being raised by the judges.

“I expect your organization to adhere to what we agreed on. You know there are a lot of charges in a new administration, a lot of expectations,” the Chief Justice said. “But for us, judges, we have one primary duty to dispense justice to the citizenry, whether or not there is remuneration. This is what we sign to and we continue to perform by dispensing justice.”

According to Yuoh, she is not quiet about her commitment and will remain to dispense justice without fear and favor.

Meanwhile, Dixon reminded the  Chief Justice of commitment during her senate confirmation hearing, when she promised to improve the working and image of the judiciary.

“On those occasions,” Dixon reminded Yuoh, “Your Honor assured the Liberian people and the world of judicial independence, rule of law, due process of law, uprightness, human rights, due diligence, and women empowerment. 

“You pledged cooperation to the other two Branches of the Government, the Liberia National Bar Association, the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia, partners, and stakeholders. You promised to build the capacity of the Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC) and the Grievance and Ethics Committee (GEC) of the Supreme Court. We are sure that you will succeed.”

“We are not afraid of bomb shells from the press or anyone else, because we are capable to defend our decisions. What we have to do is to build the capacity of our public defenders department to be more proactive, in order to give clarity on the trending issues.”