-Impeachment hangs over Justice Ja’neh
On Tuesday, July 10, during the 44th day sitting, Members of the House of Representatives expressed profound fear over the US$30m Road Fund Case, which is in the Supreme Court and before his honor Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh.
The lawmakers argued that if the Government of Liberia (GoL) loses the case in the Supreme Court, there will be a “budget shortfall.” Also, the GoL will lose US$15 million from the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC).
After about 30 minutes of argument in yesterday’s session, Montserrado County District #5 Representative Thomas Fallah proffered a motion to have the Leadership of the House of Representatives liaise with the Supreme Court ahead of the US$30 million Road Fund hearing.
It may be recalled that last year, the ministries of Finance & Development Planning and Public Works prayed the House of Representatives’ intervention in the unblocking of the National Road Fund in order to allow the Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee (IMSC) to function, use and collect US$30 million from petroleum importers to support the 2017/2018 Budget.
In order to contribute to the support of the budget, the IMSC set a US$0.25 road user charge on every gallon of petroleum product brought into the country – and the cumulative sum from these charges is projected to be US$30 million for 2017. Conventionally, the IMSC authorized the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) to collect the fees on behalf of the fund.
Unfortunately, in an attempt to collect the charges from petroleum importers, Srimex Oil & Gas sought a stay order on the action from the Supreme Court, arguing that the IMSC is acting in contravention of the law.
In a communication to the House, the then Acting Finance Minister Alvin. E. Attah, said: “The Justice in Chambers (Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh) granted the petitioner’s request, staying the action and ordering all parties to return to the status quo…”
Minister Attah further said: “In view of this, the Road Fund is stalled. We run the possibility of a budget shortfall if this situation persists. It affects our ability to receive the matching fund from the MCC Compact, which would impede on the World Bank’s ability to work with the Liberian government and secure private financing to pave the 215 kilometers road from Ganta to Zwedru as well as the 10km road from Zwedru to Toe Town.”
As a way forward, the Acting Finance Minister, at the time, argued that the levels and sources of the road user charges were subject to legislative approval because the Legislature passed the law establishing the National Road Fund on December 12, 2016; and among other things, the law authorized the IMSC to raise money for the fund through road user charges.
“It was our assumption that the negotiations and hearings of the budget process between the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and the Joint Finance, Ways, and Means Committee of the Legislature in determining US$30 million as contribution from the Road Fund to the National Budget satisfied the requirement of the law regarding approval from the Legislature,” Minister Attah wrote.
“In view of the above, I am writing to request communication to the following effect: that the leadership recognizes the Ministry of Finance as the IMSC member which shall consult with the leadership of the Legislature. That the budget negotiation process will satisfy the condition of consultation with and approval from the National Legislature and that the Joint Ways, Means, and Finance Committee in setting and agreeing on projections from the Road Fund to the National Budget would convey the Legislature’s approval. This action would allow us to remove the stay order and make the National Road Fund functional and viable.”
Furthermore, for his part, Gyude Moore, then Public Works Minister, also wrote the House of Representatives, saying the IMSC had agreed that of the US$0.50 previously collected as storage fee by the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), US$0.25 was set aside as a “road user charge.”
Besides Srimex Oil & Gas, Aminata had also challenged the US$0.25 charge from every gallon to support the National Budget.
“I am therefore requesting a communication from you [then Speaker J. Emmanuel Nuquay] acknowledging that there was a procedural lapse, that the IMSC should have formally sought approval for the US$0.25 levy and that nevertheless, this action was anticipated and accounted for in the budgeting process. Any future levy, increase or decrease in the existing levy will have to be formally approved before going into effect,” said Minister Moore.
“This would resolve the legal question around the fund and make it functional. It will also allow us to complete our negotiation with the World Bank for the private sector to invest up to US$200 million in our road sector and bring much-needed relief to our people. It will also allow the MCC to match our road fund up to US$15 million as part of the compact.”
Earlier, members of the House of Representative on Tuesday, July 10, threatened to draw-out an impeachment bill against Supreme Court Justice Kabineh Ja’neh if the Government of Liberia loses the Road Fund Case.
Montserrado County District #16 Representative Dixon Seboe indicated that losing the Road Fund Case means the country will not benefit through the Budget and the MCC.
It may be recalled Montserrado County District #8 Representative Acarous Moses Gray said his colleagues in the 54th Legislature are soliciting signatures for an impeachment bill against Supreme Court Justice Kabineh Ja’neh. Rep. Gray is a staunch member of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).
LACC Not A Political Institution
Also during the interview, Representative Gray cautioned the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to remain apolitical and professional. He promised that officials of the Executive and Legislature will make asset declaration before the deadline.
UP Reacts To Impeachment News
Meanwhile, the Unity Party (UP) has reacted to news that some members of the House of Representatives are preparing an impeachment bill against Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh.
“The Unity Party is very seriously troubled by calls emanating from within the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) for the impeachment and subsequent removal of Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh. In his statement on Okay FM calling for the impeachment of Associate Justice Ja’neh, CDC Representative Acarous M. Gray did not give or suggest any reason(s) but would rather vaguely told the journalist that the call for impeachment is based on integrity issues,” UP said through its National Assistant Secretary General for Press, Publicity and Outreach, Mohammed Ali.
Ali and the UP blame President George Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor of also being behind the plot; adding: “If this impeachment and removal were to ever be done, it will put the entire Supreme Court Bench at the mercy of the Executive and will mean a total collapse of our democracy as the independence of the Judiciary will be inevitably compromised. This will be at the taste and satisfaction of the President.”
“Second, the call is made because Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh was the only one on the Supreme Court Bench that voted for the nullification of the October 10, 2017 Presidential Election,” Ali also emphasized.