Gov’t Not Prepared to Argue Weah’s IMO Appointment Case

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Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2016 appointed Isaac Jackson (left) to the position, while President Weah on June 19 this year appointed Moses Owen Browne (right), former Civil Service Agency (CSA) Public Relations Officer, to replace Jackson.

..Solicitor General Tells Supreme Court

Justices of the Supreme Court on Friday left the courtroom feeling rather disappointed about the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) position on their ill-preparedness to go into the merit of the case regarding appointment of Deputy Commissioner Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London, United Kingdom, which position Isaac Jackson currently occupies.

Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2016 appointed Mr. Jackson to the position, while President Weah on June 19 this year appointed Moses Owen Browne, former Civil Service Agency (CSA) Public Relations Officer, to replace Jackson.

Jackson’s lead lawyer, Arthur Johnson, claimed that of his five-year tenure, Jackson has served for only one year and nine months, “but President Weah was now ignoring the law by appointing Browne to the post,” a decision Jackson had challenged. Jackson also termed the decision as an act of excessive abuse and overuse of presidential power, which fundamentally violates Article 54 and 89 of Liberia’s Constitution as well as the statutory law of Liberia.

Article 54:”The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Senate, appoint and commission cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers; ambassadors, ministers, consuls; and the Chief Justice and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts, etc.”

Article 89:”The following Autonomous Public Commissions are hereby established: Civil Service Commission; Elections Commission; and General Auditing Commission.The Legislature shall enact laws for the governance of these Commissions and create other agencies as may be necessary for the effective operation of government.”

It was that argument the Supreme Court was about to entertain when Cllr. Daku Mulbah, the solicitor general, informed the justices that they were not ready for the case, though there were several notifications for the government lawyers to appear for Friday’s hearing.

Many persons, including lawyers, gathered in the jam-packed courtroom to hear the wisdom of the Justices as to whether or not President Weah‘s appointment of Browne was a violation of the Constitution and that the action of Cllr. Mulbah was also an affront to the High Court. But Cllr. Mulbah frankly told the Justices about government lawyers’ intention to postpone the matter for two weeks.

“We are delaying the hearing of the matter, because we are not prepared to argue our case; therefore, we ask for two weeks’ extension to enable us prepare our remaining documents for the resumption of the case,” Mulbah said.

Before Mulbah’s two-week plead, Associate Justice Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie, the Justice presiding in the Supreme Court’s chamber, blocked Weah’s nomination from taking his seat and subsequently issued an Alternative Writ of Prohibition that was asked for by Cllr. Johnson.

Based on that writ, Justice Wolokolie forwarded the matter before the full bench to also entertain the final legal argument that would set the stage for the interpretation of the constitutionality of the 2010 Act of the LMA that calls for a five-year tenure of the deputy commissioner and permanent representative position.

Shortly afterward, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor informed Mulbah that, “We would have fined you for your behavior, but we are not going to do so, only because of the July 26 Independence Day celebration, which calls for all citizens participation.”

Despite Justice Korkpor’s disappointment, he and the four other justices accepted Mulbah’s two-week appeal.

Section 7 (4) of the Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA) Act of 2010 is captioned: “Tenure of the Commissioners and Deputy Commissioner of the Liberia Maritime Authority Act,” specifically states that, “The commissioners and the deputy commissioners of Maritime Authority shall have a tenure of five years in order to ensure and preserve consistency in the leadership, maintain continuity of purpose, increase the capacity in the industry, and preserve the national and international relevance and very competitive nature of the maritime program.”

That section clearly talks about the essence of the law, which is to protect those officials serving the maritime program against being operated as a revolving door.

Authors

16 COMMENTS

  1. The government is unprepared because it doesn’t have a tenable legal argument. The government will lose this case as with the Liberian National Lottery (LNA) case wherein Justice Minister, Mr. Dean informed the court that President Weah didn’t follow the law. That lady still has her job until her tenure ends. Her civil rights were protected, and God bless her for standing up for her rights. Attorney Jackson’s case inspired the LNA’s case and that was good for our democracy. A friend of mine told me that even if Mr. Jackson wins the case in court, the president’s allies in government will harass him and even deprive him of his just benefits and salary and what have you. Well, that’s a very timid view and I perceive that as cowardly. So, he’s suggesting that Mr. Jackson should allow the president to violate his constitutional rights because he’s president? That make no sense. It’s okay to challenge the President actions at the Supreme Court if he violates the law. That will make him an even better president and it will be good for our democracy.

  2. I m a bit confused when it comes to the supreme law(constitution)of the country, and Hand book(guideline)of an Act establishing the autonomous agencies.
    This is similar situation that’s being discussed bw the constitution seeking assets DECLARATION and the LACC handbook supposingly giving the executive 6 to declared assets.
    If the Act establishing the LMA says the commissioners is given a tenure position and they(commissioners) re appointed by the President who has the constitutional POWER, and we regard the constitution as the organic law, than it’s confusing.
    So, it means if the representative is misrepresenting his country or other wise, s/he shall REMAIN in that post until the tenures passes?
    I m not saying Isaac Jackson is inept. But we ll argued the interpretation and the legality of the Constitution and Act establishing an AUTOMOUS agencies.

    • No Hassay, it means that the law should be follow,there is nothing in the law that says if a person is misrepresenting his country should remain in his or her position.

  3. Did the Solicitor General actually say in court, “we are delaying the hearing…”, or was this statement made in an interview with the media? The Supreme Court is never dictated to, but rather they set the rules of proceedings under current procedures or by accepting a petition to adjourn for another date. Also, if the Court had set a calendar date for the hearing of a case, an Independence day celebration is not a reason to accept a respondent’s request for delay. The Court failed to set a precedent for lawyers to follow strict guidelines for appearing before the highest Court. As a strong advocate for a strong independent judiciary, who applauded the judicious act of the Associate Justice who stayed the Weah’s appointments, I’m a little dissapointed the court did not set a clear example here of the importance of following court’s schedule. It also sends a clear message that lawyers can be casual and lazy about timely preparation to promptly appear before the court. Notwithstanding my disappointment, there was no breach of duty in the decision, and it only prove my earlier comment on another story on this case, that Justices of the Supreme Court can practically say and do a lot of things, short of only those for which the Constitution clearly restrain them from doing. So, if the Justices’ chose to delay the case for a reason I don’t think it should be delayed, so be it. I look forward to reading the holdings of the court after the hearings.

  4. This is a controversial and complicated case. Isaac Jackson was hired by Johnson-Sirleaf in order to do the bidding of the government of Liberia and to serve a five-year term. But, the current president Mr. George Weah, has thrown an ax of termination which of course has landed in Jackson’s lap. And now Jackson is a wounded man. Jackson has no job and he is fighting back. Jackson will go to the World Court to present his case. He means it. Like Jackson, Weah is ready to go anywhere.

    Well, there are various types of competing forces or schools of thought out there. Some of the schools of thought are pro-Weah and some are of course anti-Weah. Because of the sensitivity of this case and its complication, my perspective is inconsequential. Rather, the relative positions of the schools of thought will be partially presented. Let’s take a listen.

    Pro-Weah forces:
    Weah is legally right because he did not appoint Jackson. Weah feels that Jackson is not up to the job. Weah strongly feels that his new appointee is an unflappable down-to-earth individual who comes in with foresight and energy.

    Anti-Weah forces:
    Weah is in violation of the law. The position in which Jackson served is a term-limited position. Jackson was hired to serve five years. Additionally, Jackson has been doing his job right. There’s no need for this action.

    Pro-Weah forces:
    Weah is ethical. Weah did not violate protocol or the constitution in anyway, shape or fashion. Weah terminated Jackson in order to set the record straight. It is found that many of Johnson-Sirleaf’s appointees are self-centered. Jackson was no exception.

    Anti-Weah forces:
    Did Weah read the constitution? Wasn’t Jackson appointed to a five-year term? If that’s the case, why wasn’t Jackson allowed to serve out his term. The president has overreached. We are going to court.

    Moderator (F. Hney)
    Ladies and Gentlemen:
    You were given equal time. You’ve presented some persuasive arguments and counter arguments. We will have to agree to disagree. I cannot solve this case.

    Readers/commenters:
    Take your pick.

    • Hney, you said this case is complicated, but it is not. The question the government must answer is: Does the president have the authority to dismiss a tenured official without good cause as stipulated in the LMA statute? The answer is NO, the president doesn’t have the authority to dismiss without good cause. The law is clear on that point and it stipulates the conditions under which an official could be terminated. From what I read, the government is arguing that the IMO position is not covered by the LMA tenure provision and that’s interesting because the org chart shows the position as Deputy LMA Commissioner which qualifies the position as tenured. This case being the first in our history will set a good precedent and check the president’s overreach. The president is bound by the constitution and our laws like every other citizen of the nation. One of the reasons the country is so backwards is we don’t respect our own laws and it’s dumb.

  5. F.Hney. While you give reasonable pro and con arguments, legal reasoning is much different, as the only thing that matters here is the factual predicate as defined by the law as written or case law, which in this case I doubt exists as this appears to be the first case of its kind. The fact is that the drafter of the Constitution and Code of Regulations produced a living document that established certain autonomous agencies with responsibilities to function in the interest of the country, and further defined those interests. The President and/or Board of those agencies were entrusted with certain responsibilities defined in the constitution or regulations to ensure that all decisions made are in the national interest and not because of a narrow political witch hunt or any other act that is not in the national interest of the country. This does not in any way impede the President’s authority as Head of State in directing the policies of the Liberian government concerning the nation’s participation in Maritime affairs. My understanding of this case, from the media, has not shown that Mr. Jackson has refused any directive of the President, and the fact that the Ministry of Justice was not prepared for the hearing, even though they had the ability to be prepared is more reason that the dismissal of Mr. Jackson is not related to his performance, ability to perform or patriotism to the nation. What then did the President rely on in replacing a civil servant? Was it based on some assumed alleged ex-ante actions on Mr. Jackson part the President believes would be a breach of law in Mr. Jackson exercising his job function? There are clear guidelines for the removal of specific senior level officials (e.g., Director/Commissioner and their respective Deputies) by the Statute, just as there are for the President, Vice President and the Justices of the Supreme Court and other senior government officials. The question for the government is, have any of those conditions being met for removal? Does the government concord that the Deputy Commissioner’s position is a tenure position as defined by the law? What would protect the national interest if any President can simply choose to dismiss a tenure official of an agency established to serve the national interest, with integrity and continuity in deliberations before it from politically narrowed self interest of different President? How the court interpret this law could set a precedent in other areas of national life. These are straight forward questions that require straight forward answers. The fact that the president may just like another individual, because of attributes the president likes in the individual, or his disdain for Mr. Jackson for alleged arrogance, self confidence or other matters not detrimental to his ability to perform the position, are not legal ground for dismissal. And abiding by the constitution in protecting the tenure of civil servants appointed by both current and prior administration are part of fulfilling his constitutional duty. But again, this is the Supreme Court. They are in the enviable position to narrowly interpret the constitution or broadly interpret the constitution. I would hope that the judges require the Solicitor General to provide an explanation of why the Justice Department was not prepared as required. If they don’t, Mr. Jackson lawyer should include that as a reason the government’s lawyer had no case to defend since a justifiable decision would have had all the legal facts the president relied on already available before the decision.

  6. Jackson may be interested more in the balance remuneration on his contract than any implication of any proviso appertaining to this office. Just pay the man the remainder amount on his contract and case closed.

  7. In the private sector, employment contracts are arrangements designed to protect both parties economic interest; an employee wants to protect his income for the duration of the contract and the employer wants to always secure it has the best value added employee for the cost it is paying. If the employer finds a better employee and wants to secure that person before a competitor employs him, they can pay out the current employee for the remainder of his contract. And since employment is at will, and the employee is not guaranteed employment beyond the contract and has no other rightful pecuniary interest other than higher income and career advancement, he’ll take the payout. With public sector government position that is tenured by law, it goes beyond the employee’s self interest of income. The purpose of the tenured appointment is codified in statutes to primarily protect the national interest. There is no legal provision to payout the appointee simply for his economic interest, even though he expects to be paid for going to work while employed. That then makes the case and it’s resolution a legal question that needs to be resolved. Does a President have the authority to replace a tenured official of a autonomous government agency before the end of the tenured appointment? Even if the official acted in a manner that gives legal reasons for dismissal, who is authorize to make the dismissal and what process exists in carrying out the dismissal? I abreast readers of what happened in the U.S shortly after President Trump’s election. He had been a vocal critic of the Federal Reserve Bank’s (“Fed”) Chair (a moderate economist the Democrats favored). While it’s customary for tenured chairpersons of federal agencies such as the
    Fed (same as the CBL in Liberia) to tender in their resignations to a newly elected president as a courtesy, they are not required by law. And President Trump couldn’t fire her. She decided to complete tenure. Appointments, dismissals and replacements of officials of government with statutory tenured should be followed as established by law.

  8. Phil George, I agree with your statements on this article. This case is a precedent but for someone to challenge the authority of the his removal for a tenured position has happened before. Years ago in the early ’80s, David Vinton challenged Samuel Doe, when he wanted to remove him from President of LBDI as I believed. Mr. Vinton said that Samuel Doe had no authority to remove him when he wanted to replace him with Ignatius Clay I believed. Mr. Vinton was right but of course there were some behind the scenes maneuvering and wrangling and Mr. Vinton stepped down for Mr. Clay to take over. I believe he was fully paid for his remaining years. But I after that, highly respected Mr. Vinton for standing up to a military dictator then.

  9. Phil George,
    Irrespective of how we slice the ice, the Jackson case is complicated. Let’s get that straight. You and I and others are debating this case simply because of its complication. However, despite the fact that it is complicated, it does not mean that the case unsolvable. On the other hand Phil, a resolution will come about, but that may not satisfy your taste.

    Phil, the president has the right to terminate the employment of a tenured civil servant. In fact, if the president wishes to abrogate the terms of tenure as it currently exists in the legal books you’re quoting, he can do so by an act of legislation. Besides, the pro-Weah forces are warning us about Jackson’s functionality. In other words, Jackson is being recalled or terminated because his performance was not up to expectation. That’s what I am hearing from the pro-Weah forces.

    During the Obama era and before that, most Africans had a shot at coming to America by way of the DV program. Today, that particular window of opportunity has been shut by Trump. And yet, the DV program was not codified by space aliens. Rather the lawmakers on Capitol Hill sanctioned its implementation. If Trump change things, Weah can do the same although the Liberian democracy is not Jeffersonian.

    Hilary Synder’s suggestion makes sense. Synder states that Jackson will be better served if he’s paid out in cash for the balance of his five-year tenure. If Jackson’s handlers could fight for something like that, we will all breathe a sigh of relief.

  10. Corrections made!

    Phil George,
    Irrespective of how we slice the ice, the Jackson case is complicated. Let’s get that straight. You and I and others are debating this case simply because of its complication. However, despite the fact that it is complicated, it does not mean that the case is unsolvable. On the other hand Phil, a resolution will come about, but that may not satisfy your taste.

    Phil, the president has the right to terminate the employment of a tenured civil servant. In fact, if the president wishes to abrogate the terms of tenure as it currently exists in the legal books you’re quoting, he can do so by an act of legislation. Besides, the pro-Weah forces are warning us about Jackson’s functionality. In other words, Jackson is being recalled or terminated because his performance was not up to expectation. That’s what I am hearing from the pro-Weah forces.

    During the Obama era and before that, most Africans had a shot at coming to America by way of the DV program. Today, that particular window of opportunity has been shut by Trump. And yet, the DV program was not codified by space aliens. Rather the lawmakers on Capitol Hill sanctioned its implementation. If Trump is able to change things, Weah can do the same although the Liberian democracy is not Jeffersonian.

    Hilary Synder’s suggestion makes sense. Synder states that Jackson will be better served if he’s paid out in cash for the balance of his five-year tenure. If Jackson’s handlers could fight for something like that, we will all breathe a sigh of relief.

  11. Emmerson,
    The law is the law. I agree 100%. But you have to understand that our democracy is crude, not yet purified. I hope we are marching toward a perfect union.

    I am an admirer of the late president Tolbert. Tolbert seemed to me the quintessential of all Liberian presidents. But despite my admiration of him, Tolbert blundered once when he threatened the termination of the Firestone Plantations manager. Remember, it was “Democracy” as we knew it. The question is….was Tolbert right to threaten the termination and imprisonment of a gentleman who worked for a foreign business venture?

    In the Jackson case though Emmerson, there’s a slight difference, but there are similarities. Laws can be amended. If president Weah wishes to change the laws of tenure in the LMA, it will happen regardless of how you or anyone feels. For sure it cannot be done by him solo, but he can lobby the lawmakers to see the blindspot of the LMA tenure document.

    Personally, I hope that Jackson is not the replacement for a fellow named Beyan. Maybe he is. Frankly, I don’t know any of these guys, neither do I have an inch of a grudge against them. God forbid! But, during the Johnson-Sirleaf years, it was rumored that Beyan earned $400,000 USD per year including perks for doing a similar job. Speaking for myself as president, if a similar income has been going in Jackson’s pocket per annum, I will burn the tenure document up in flames. Also if I were president, I would not terminate you and Phil George for any frivolous reason.

  12. F. Hney. After two successive democratic election, with a transfer of power from the first to the second in a peaceful and highly respected manner, the nation has the chance to demonstrate it is ready to self discipline itself and abide by the constitutional provisions, and all patriotic conscious citizens should commit this call by challenging their elected officials to follow suit regardless of party affiliation. The issues you raised about actions of President Tolbert, the hearsay about Mr. Jackson’s performance, or compensation arrangements alleged to have been made for one Beyan for similar position as Mr. Jackson in this case are all important issues. But they are immaterial to the issues of this case. As someone with both legal, risk management and compliance background, though I confess I don’t have extensive knowledge in the laws of Liberia, my comments were intended to contribute to the discussion in the country on how people look at critical issues of the day, be it legal, economic and constitutional interpretations. My concern was that folks are bringing in other facts that are usually not relevant to the particular issue being discussed and as such the conversation usually veer off into hearsay arguments and personal grievances, but no resolution based on facts and subject matter expertise . While this case arises out of a legal suit against the president for firing Mr. Jackson, the court acceptance of the case to the full bench is much more about defining and potentially setting a precedent about the Constitutional authority of the President on Tenured Official. The court could apply broad interpretation that would establish a stare decisis precedent or rule that the holding only applies to this case and not to be relied on for future case. So, in light of what I have just stated, the president or his supporters in congress can support a bill to amend the provisions in the constitution that would do away with tenured positions. But, the court would also review the constitutionality of such a bill and may declare it unconstitutional. If such was to happen, the Legislature could simply amend the constitution and draft a new law that empowers the president, but they can’t override the Supreme Court’s interpretation of an existing law. The Court has the final say on what the law means. The only way around it, is to void the law that the court is interpreting by amending the current law and coming up with a new one that clarifies what they want as law.

    My only other comment on the other valid issues you raised is, no need to revisit the errors of how prior administrations ignored the law or the absence of prior courts in asserting the power granted them by the constitution. Folks should look at where the nation is today and begin a new era of exercising there rights before a court of law. That’s why I’m excited about this case, and not because of like or dislike of any of the parties. It tests all areas of the law; its constitutionality, interpretation and enforcement as well demonstrates to the larger society, that courts exist to protect one’s rights and people don’t ever need to be afraid to take their case to court against anyone who violate their rights.

  13. Well said, Larry. Like you, I am not politically aligned in Liberia. I left Liberia as a young guy a very long time ago. I got to really know the city of Monrovia in 2013 when I went back there for a 3-month visit. I was born in Maryland county. When I came to Monrovia, I lived there just two years until I was brought to the US by African American Missionaries. I know Chicago better than Monrovia, although I don’t live in Chicago anymore. Professionally, my background is in Management and Education.

    In my earlier post, I may not have expressed myself to the fullest. If I were misunderstood, I apologize. But the truth must be told. When Presidents are elected anywhere in the world, they exert machismo in a variety of ways. Presidents do everything that’s possible to change specific things that they do not like. Trump tried to kill Obamacare beyond measure. Trump can afford to go to any hospital in the world to get treatment. Not all Americans can afford to do that. So although Trump knows mighty well that Obamacare saves millions of lives, it didn’t matter to him at all. However, as attempts were made to kill Obamacare, the US Constitution was not suspended, neither would the Constitution have been suspended if Trump and his Republican allies had succeeded in killing the Healthcare law.

    Back to Liberia:
    For the time being, let’s forget whether elections have been going on nicely. The issue of tenure is on Weah’s desk. Weah may not like the way in which legal protections were written for tenure. In that sense, Weah has the right and power to amend or kill tenure just as Trump had tried to do. I am not anyone’s mouthpiece. I am saying to my readers and you, ” hooray Weah. Kill the laws of tenure. Suck it to anyone who challenges you”. No, that’s not my style, Emmerson.

    On your second point, you’ve made a touchdown. The thief should have his or day in court. Our man Jackson should feel free to go to court. I am not against any legal channel Jackson wishes to pursue.

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