The Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Lewis G. Brown, has described former Justice Minister Christiana Tah as being “bitter with the Supreme Court and angry with the President”, when she resigned as Justice Minister from the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration on Monday, October 6.
“How else are we to characterize assertions by the former Minister of Justice and Dean of the Supreme Court that the decision of the Supreme Court to suspend her license was a ‘parody of justice’,” Minister Brown argued, “claiming that her counsels were ‘browbeaten into offering an apology to appease the judiciary’? How else are we to characterize the former Minister’s allegation that at least four months after she tabled her prerogative to resign, the Minister of Information, who was unaware of such action was preempting the resignation or retaliating for same?
“All I sought to do conscientiously was draw public attention to the dissimilar exercise of presidential powers in which, for suspending the license to practice law in the country, a former President immediately returned his Justice Minister to office and removed members of the Supreme Court Bench…” Here, Minister Brown was referencing the military regime of the late President Samuel K. Doe, whose Justice Minister, Jenkins Scott, was suspended by the Supreme Court. Doe overruled the Supreme Court and reinstated Scott. “…while, in this case, the current President permitted the decision of the Highest Court in the land to stand after, as the former Minister admitted, the available appeal process was exhausted.”
He stressed that, while one action effectively undermined the authority of the courts and mistakenly reaffirmed the presidency as the singular source of power and authority in the country, the other unapologetically reversed this precedence, and may have informed a new sense of equality before the law, as well as reestablished the respect, integrity and independence of the courts, as our system of governance intended it to be.
While the Information Minister may be on point in principle, Cllr. Tah’s earlier statement poses a challenge where she called into question the President’s “rhetoric of commitment to the rule of law”.
Hear Cllr. Tah: “What is ‘the rule of law’ if the President asserts that she does not trust the Ministry of Justice to independently investigate allegations of fraud against the National Security Agency?” She was essentially saying that if the President was really committed to the rule of law, then the rule of law should be consistent at all levels of government, including where the Justice Ministry saw it necessary to investigate the NSA for fraud, regardless of the fact that the Agency is headed by the President’s son.
This is Minister Brown’s response: “This is why for the Liberian Government, adherence to the rule of law is more than rhetoric – it lies at the heart of the value of our stewardship. It represents so much more than singular concerns for just public officials and or former officials. For the government, it also means showing concerns for those who have as well as enabling those who don’t. It is that all, in peace and safety, will pursue their dreams, will care for their families, and will exercise the right to think and speak freely. It is affording unto each Liberian the true value of their citizenship by which we punish justly and reward equitably. These remain the true measure of our commitment to the rule of law.
“This, then, is why, where serious doubts are expressed by contending parties either because of the nature of the case or the predisposition of the Ministry of Justice, upon consultations, the President has always felt obligated by dictates of conscience as well as demands of the rule of law to call on the services of reputable citizens to assist. The same is true in the ongoing investigation of alleged fraud involving the National Security Agency.
“Here again, this policy and practice is not about trust for the Minister or Ministry of Justice. Having served for nearly six years as Minister of Justice, and on countless occasions as Acting Chairman of the Liberian cabinet, it is hard to make a reasonable case for the lack of trust by the President in the former Minister or the Justice Ministry.
“And so, the real point to be made is that in the interest of upholding the rule of law, it is not good enough that the President simply trusts the Minister and the Ministry of Justice to conduct independent investigations. But that the contending parties whose interests are at risk trust that the investigation will be independently conducted, as well as seen to be fair to all sides.”
The debate could go on.
In Cllr. Tah’s own words, this is really that “amid the prevailing interpretation of the doctrine of separation of powers and the ensuing blurring of the rules and roles of engagement, even within the executive arm of government itself, the investments of national and international stakeholders promoting the rule of law is being eroded by actions that contradict the values that underpin the fabric of our society.
However, Minister Brown agrees with Cllr. Tah that, the interest of our nation is bigger and paramount over any personal or partisan concern(s). “But sadly,” he says, “sometimes when personally involved, this can be easier said than done.”
“It really easy to ask others to show respect for the decisions of the courts when they fall to the sword of its judgments; but as leaders, determined to teach by good examples, we, too, must also demonstrate public respect for the decisions of the courts when we fall to its judgments.”
He continued, “Even though, the former Minister may be deeply beholden to the human emotions of bitterness and anger, and will obviously disagree, for many who have borne the marks for change from practices of executive interference to equality of all citizens before the law, the collective good was best served in preserving the sanctity of the Supreme Court from presidential interference. It may still prove to be amongst the finest moments of this administration, and a proud legacy for the institutionalization of rule of law.”