Supreme Court Cites House, Senate Today

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The controversial passage by the Liberian Senate of a bill amending the March 18, 1999 Act that established the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), and its fast-track concurrence by the House of Representatives, appears to have been brought before the country’s highest legal authority, the Supreme Court.

The bill limits any present and future involvement of the CBL Governor and deputies in politics while in the employ of the Bank and for three consecutive years thereafter.

Since it sailed through the Senate and the House of Representatives with unanimous consent, public sentiments and reactions have run high, with the majority of Liberians being against the decision of the Legislature.

Every effort to ascertain whether the bill has already been sent to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for her signature has proved futile, as lawmakers have remained tightlipped on the issue.

Speaking off the agenda of the twelfth-day sitting of the third session of the Senate Tuesday, however, Senate Pro Tempore Gbehzohngar Findley informed his colleagues that the Justice in Chambers, Jamesetta Wolokollie, had cited both the House of Representatives and Senate to a conference concerning a Bill that was recently passed and concurred by the two bodies respectively.

The Grand Bassa Senator did not elaborate on the content of the citation from Justice Wolokollie, but authorized the Secretary of the Senate, J. Nanborlor F. Singbeh, to circulate the citation among all Senators.

Senator Findley then announced that outgoing River Gee Senior Senator (Cllr.) Fredrick Cherue would represent the Senate along with that body’s legal counsel at today’s conference; while the House of Representatives is expected to be represented by its legal counsel, Bomi County Representative Samuel Gayah Karmo.

Sponsored by Senators Armah Z. Jallah, Peter Coleman and Sumo Kupee, the bill first surfaced during the second session of the 53rd Legislature, and at a time when the CBL had just commenced its program of lending money to small and medium Liberian owned businesses through the Liberian Business Association (LIBA).

Section 13 of the approved 1999 Act creating the CBL deals with resignation and removal of Governors, Executive Governors and deputy Governors:

“A member of the Board of Governors can be removed from office upon a bill of impeachment by the House of Representatives upon finding by a majority of the Board of Governors and the recommendation of the President for gross breach of duty, misconduct of office, conviction of a felony, being declared bankrupt”, etc.

The amended version of the above section now reads: “The Legislature shall determine whether or not an impeachable offense has been committed by the Executive Governor or a member of the Board of Governors at the Central Bank of Liberia and the Legislature shall take the necessary action of impeachment in keeping with the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.”

The Senate amended Section 44 that deals with Prohibited Operations of the Central Bank of Liberia. This section had originally read:

“The CBL shall not engage in trade or participate directly or indirectly in the ownership of any financial institution, commercial, industrial, or other enterprises.”

The amendment to this section now adds that: “…the Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia and members of the Board of Governors shall be prohibited to contest political office(s) while serving in their respective offices and shall not be qualified to contest any electable office within three years consecutively after the expiration of their tenure with the Central Bank of Liberia.”

Legal experts have informed the Daily Observer that the Supreme Court cannot act preemptively. Therefore, its summoning the House and Senate to a conference indicates that an aggrieved party has filed a complaint to the Supreme Court against some action taken by the Legislature.

Upon receiving the complaint, the chamber justice then most likely sent a citation to both parties, inviting them for a conference to determine whether the petition should be granted or denied. After today’s conference, an alternative writ will most likely be issued for the hearing of the petition.

After the hearing, if the petition is granted, then the writ prayed for will be issued. A formal hearing will then take place before the justice in chambers. If unsatisfied, the losing party will have to option to take an appeal to the full bench of the Supreme Court.

Where a petition for a remedial writ filed with the chamber justice raises constitutional issues, however, the chamber justice automatically loses jurisdiction, and the matter is transferred to the full bench of the Supreme Court for determination of the petition.

In today’s preliminary conference, a major question that is expected to arise (before a writ of prohibition can be issued) is: When does a bill become law?

Legal experts have confided in the Observer that technically, a bill does not become law until it is signed into law by the President and printed into handbills by the government printing press. If the President vetoes the bill, her veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority of both houses.

Since, as far as is clear, the President has neither signed the bill into law nor vetoed it, nor her veto overridden, lawyers reason that to file a suit challenging the bill could therefore be considered premature under the doctrine of “ripeness.”

While it is not yet clear who filed the complaint with the Supreme Court, a group called the Citizens Solidarity Council, represented by Cllrs. Theophilus Gould and Lavala Supuwood, threatened legal action after the bill was passed.

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