Reflecting on violent protests that have led to millions of United States dollars’ worth of property damage against international companies operating in Liberia, as was in the case of oil palm producer Golden Veroleum (GVL) and iron ore giant ArcelorMittal, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court has shifted the blame on the government’s failure to get the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) involved into the ratification of concession agreements signed with those companies.
Associate Justice Philip A. Z. Banks said most of the agreements signed between the government and the companies have both economic and legal implications. However, according to him, the government has been interested more in the economic implications, thereby leaving the legal portion with only the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).
“One of my worries is that whenever our leaders go and negotiate these concession agreements – many of them with economic and legal implications – they do not involve the LNBA to study the legal component of that agreement. They are only concerned about the economic implications,” Justice Banks noted, openly expressing his dissatisfaction about protests against concession companies.
“Our leaders need to understand that most of their contracts or agreements with companies were signed without the knowledge or input of the private legal community like the LNBA, which they should have been a part of the negotiation,” Justice Banks told the just-ended Convention of the LNBA held in Ganta City, Nimba County.
He stressed that there must be lawyers who would be able to know the legal wording that are placed into those documents, “because it is the interpretation of those wordings that are responsible for most of our violent protests, because it serves at the disadvantage of the citizenry,” the Supreme Court justice noted.
According to Justice Banks, if the government were to have private lawyers involved and not just those from the MOJ, he believed they would adequately inform the communities about the benefits they would receive from the agreement.
“I am going to advocate for the Bar to fully participate into any treaty or agreement that would be signed by the government,” They have to speak out more loudly about issues that are affecting our communities. If they do not, then we would be likely to experience those unfortunate situations,” Justice Banks warned.
Making reference to the United States of America, Justice Banks said,’ In the US, whenever the government is entering into a treaty or agreement, they would involve their best professors from their best law schools and the legal community to participate into the process, because they are the ones that explain the legal component of the agreement to the people, so, we should get our bar involved to play leading role,” the Supreme Court justice emphasized.
“We have entered into several agreements that involved legal implication, but that do not serve the best interest of our people,” said Justice Banks, adding, “I am going to advocate on behalf of the Bar to play a leading role in any agreement so that the contracts would benefit our communities.”
Making specific to the National Code of Conduct, Justice Banks said, it raises several legal questions but some people may think that is only political issue “That is not so, the bar has to speak on those legal components right now, they should not sit, because government does not understand the legal implication.”