-Court has not heard a case since 2016
Since 2016, the Tax Court at the Temple of Justice last heard cases, which has rendered the court dormant. It means that the court has not received any tax-related complaints against businesses from the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), the only public entity that, by law, is the user of the court, even though the court’s judicial power does extend to review final administrative determinations of assessments of taxes, license fees, and others.
It also includes valuations made for tax purposes and denials of claims for refund by the Republic of Liberia and its political sub-divisions or agencies in keeping with the revenue and Finance Law.
The court’s powers also give it exclusive jurisdiction over civil penalties and admiralty jurisdiction as necessary to carry out the functions. Except it is expressly provided by other statutes, the Tax Court’s procedures and enforcement of judgments are the same as those of the circuit court in civil matters.
Since the beginning of 2016, the doors to the Tax Court have not opened for normal activities as is the case with the Debt and Commercial Court, and it has not heard a case, according to court documents, since 2016.
During a visit by the Daily Observer, staff members of the Tax Court were seen loitering around, with others sitting idle in their offices most of the day.
“Some of them,” according to a staff member who asked not to be named, “sit in their offices just watching videos on their laptops, while others play games on the court’s computers.”
“We want to learn and do the job for which we are being paid, but that is not the case now,” another staff member said. “These days the LRA cannot bring cases here anymore and we don’t know what is responsible for that.”
In the past years, when Judge Eva Mappy Morgan presided over the court, she was instrumental in raising millions of United States dollars through the enforcement of rulings against several delinquent taxpayers, a female staff said.
Judge Morgan was replaced with Judge Mozart Chesson in 2013. Since then, the door to the Tax Court has remained closed.
When Judge Chesson was contacted yesterday about his staff’s concern, at his Temple of Justice offices, he admitted that the prosecution, for over two years, had not brought tax evasion cases before the court.
“Our court is not hearing cases for now and it is a specialized court responsible to deal only with tax-related cases,” he charged. “The only thing is that the Supreme Court has been telling prosecutors that the only way to decide a tax case is for them to go through a hearing. Maybe this is what they don’t want to do,” Chesson said. “Maybe the LRA and the taxpayers have resolved to different methods in resolving tax-related offenses outside of the court, and it seems to be working well for them.
“You can hear the LRA talking about an increase in its revenue collection, so things are working and that was why they are not interested to use the court system,” the Tax Court judge emphasized.
According to Chesson, by law, the court or any other court cannot compel any party especially prosecutors to bring cases before it.
“We cannot force them to bring cases to the court, they have to agree before we can hear their cases,” Chesson clarified.
When also contacted via mobile phone, D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh, LRA communications, media and public affairs said, it was welcoming news that they were not carrying taxpayers to court anymore for non-compliance.
“If the court is not receiving cases from us anymore it means that our taxpayers are doing well for our revenue generation and so, we need not go there for settlement,” Sengbeh maintained.
“If Judge Chesson is saying that his court has not received cases since 2016, he should know that there was nothing to be sent there because we are enjoying collaboration with our taxpayers,” he said. “That does not mean we have abandoned the court we will take cases there if necessary.”
However, a government lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, denied that they were intentionally delaying hearing tax cases, instead pointing at Judge Chesson as the one prolonging the hearing of tax cases.
But, a question that remains to be answered is what becomes of the Tax Court’s existence?
Even if the LRA were to refuse taking cases there then what is the relevance of using taxpayer’s money to support a court whose staff, including a judge, was not working?
Also, if what the lawyers are saying is true, then, should Chief Justice Francis Korkpor replace Chesson?