The former Vice Chairman of the Transitional Legislative Assembly Government (TLA), now an elected member of the House of Representatives from Grand Gedeh County, Dr. George S. Boley, has sued the Government of Liberia (GoL) at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria. According to sources in Abuja, the lawsuit was filed before the ECOWAS Court towards the close of the year 2017.
Further, according to sources, the suit was filed following several alleged futile attempts by the former vice chairman of the TLA to have GoL honor its obligation to pay his pension benefits covering the period served as Vice Chairman of the Transitional Legislative Assembly Government. The lawsuit-SUIT NO: ECW/CCL/APP/46/17 names, in addition to the Republic of Liberia, several institutions as defendants. These include the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), and the Civil Service Agency (CSA) of Liberia.
It has since been pending. However, documents in possession of this newspaper show that GOL, in response to the Boley lawsuit, filed its returns on 26 January 2013, pleading with the Court for an “extension of time to permit the filing of an informed defense on its behalf in the above referenced suit”. The GoL argued that its request for an extension of time was/is pursuant to Article 35(2) of the Rules of Procedure of the ECOWAS Court, which provides that “the time limit laid down in Paragraph 1 of the Article may be extended by the President on reasoned Application by the Defendant”.
According to the GoL response, under the signature of Cllr. Augustine Fayiah, then Assistant Justice Minister for Litigation, “Article 35(2) requires that within one(1) month of service of an application, the Defendant/Respondent shall judge a defense to the Action. The Defendant/Applicant herein is however unable to file its defense within the above time limit made and provided by the Rules and Procedures of this Court due to the reasons stated infra”.
In a three (3) count position, the response in its first count stated that Defendant, the Republic of Liberia, in the said Action was at the time engaged with the electoral and subsequent inaugural activities in which the 4th Defendant, the Ministry of Justice, was engaged in activities aimed at sustaining the Peace which, according to the GOL, had been achieved through sub-regional efforts. The response furthered that a significant number of lawyers representing the Defendant had requested and were granted compulsory leave of three months’ absence to contest electoral posts.
According to the Justice Ministry, such challenges made it difficult to properly file returns; it was therefore obliged to request an extension of time. The Justice Ministry also argued that as a consequence of these developments, the ministry was constrained to assign additional lawyers to review the case file and provide defense thereto. Additionally, the Ministry maintained that such request for an extension of time was done in good faith with what it claimed was the genuine intent to promote “Due Process” of law.
However, former Assistant Justice Minister for Litigation, Augustine Fayiah, in a telephone interview with the Daily Observer, noted that the Plaintiff in this matter, former Vice Chairman of the Transitional Legislative Assembly, George Boley, had raised issues of law in his suit which, in his opinion, are genuine. He added that the Ministry of Justice was at the time drafting appropriate legislation to address this issue of pension benefits for former officials and it was being done under his watch.
He however added that drafting of the legislation was interrupted by the change in government from then President Sirleaf to now President George Weah, which saw the replacement of officials by new appointees. He could not, however, say whether the process was still on course as he was no longer serving at the Justice Ministry. When contacted to provide update on developments in the case, a key staffer at the Ministry confirmed knowledge of the case but said there was a need to refer to the Solicitor-General, who is actually in charge of the matter as the chief prosecutor of the Republic of Liberia.
But observers, commenting on the case, told the Daily Observer that the lawsuit has brought into perspective the issue of pension benefits for former government officials. A well-known lawyer (name withheld) told the Daily Observer that the absence or lack of what he called a National Claims Court, where individuals feeling aggrieved by government can take their case for redress, is one of the main reasons why such cases have gained a broad view. He noted that the Government of Liberia, particularly the past government led by President Sirleaf, was woefully remiss on this issue.
He added that rather than providing attractive salaries for GoL employees within the framework of appropriate legislation, GoL instead provided attractive US dollar benefits, which immediately comes to a halt when an individual leaves government service. In that case, according to the lawyer, the individual has to fall back on a portion of his net salary denominated in Liberian dollars, which is more than inadequate or incomparable to what was received previously in the form of benefits. He cited several cases as examples, including those of retired Justices Phillip Banks and especially Gladys Johnson, who have since retired without pension benefits.
Others, according to him, include former legislators who served under the various transitional governments and other past officials including former Commissioners of the erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Moreover, according to the lawyer, the Boley lawsuit could very well be a precursor to similar suits in the future. According to him, member states are obliged to provide local avenues of redress for people with grievances against the state and their failure to do so may lead to more of such suits, adding that the current lawsuit may just be a dress rehearsal for citizens’ legal action against their government at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.
He cited the case of a Nigerian national whose money was seized by officials after it was discovered that he was attempting to smuggle large amounts of undeclared foreign currency, wrapped around his body, into the country. The money was not returned to the individual after investigations showed that the money was legally his. But the individual, now an elected member of parliament in his home country, Nigeria, sued and won judgment requiring the GoL to restitute the money.
A similar case is that of the money seized from some Korean businessmen by agents of the National Security Agency (NSA), who claimed that the businessmen were involved in illegal activities. Investigations however showed that the money was illegally confiscated by NSA agents under the watch of a son of President Sirleaf, although to date, the money has still not been restituted.
Meanwhile, it can be recalled that in the dying moments of her tenure, President Sirleaf, at rather the eleventh hour, submitted to the legislature what was dubbed a pension bill for former government employees. But it was limited to her and a few individuals only. The legislature however did not pass the proposed bill into law, thus leaving former President Sirleaf for once in the cold.