A surreal calm has returned to the Temple of Justice two days after the dramatic incident at the Temple of Justice Courtyard where a bailiff, Archie Ponpon, set himself ablaze.
He did so in protest against threats of arrest and incarceration after having been previously suspended indefinitely and then dismissed for leading the Temple of Justice workers’ public protest action.
But this calm appears deceptive and could very well be the proverbial calm before the storm. The plight of the aggrieved workers have not yet been addressed according to informed sources and, although the situation is calm for now, it remains uncertain if this is just the beginning or whether this is the end of story.
To be sure this appears to be a matter that will not go away anytime soon and the fallout of the events of last Monday incident may yet be too early to determine. Since Archie Ponpon’s self-immolation attempt, there have been a flurry of expressed concerns from several lawyers about the issue.
Some lawyers, for instance, contend that Ponpon should have catalogued his complaints against the Chief Justice but failed to do so. Others contend that he should have joined his other colleagues in protest but instead elected to douse himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze in order to avert arrest by Court officials to answer charges brought against him by the Chief Justice.
Such justifications, according to a retired official and lawyer (name withheld), are nothing but empty and lazy excuses to justify their pusillanimous behavior for fear of inviting the wrath of Chief Justice Korkpor who, according to the retired official, is known to possess a very vindictive streak.
According to the retired official, both he and the Chief Justice once served at the Justice Ministry where he served as an investigator under the office of the Solicitor-General while Justice Korkpor served as Chief Warden at the Monrovia Central Prison in 1979.
A former political activist (name withheld), now resident in the US, who was arrested and detained on charges of treason at the Monrovia Central Prison following the Rice Riots in 1979, told the Daily Observer that the former Chief Prison Warden and now Chief Justice was especially difficult and hard on with political prisoners, ordering their lock-up at least 20 minutes before the end of the official daily 2-hours visiting period.
Truth be told, the nation is in crisis and the Judiciary is a leading contributor to the erosion of the rule of law in Liberia.
Corruption is rife in the judiciary according to most international human rights reports.
A lawyer (name withheld) has told the Daily Observer that aside from their official salaries and benefits, judicial officials benefit from a lot of illegal inflows, especially from corporate clients.
The case involving Amos Brosius whose complaint against Judge Eva Mappy to the Judicial Inquiry Committee accusing her of illegally withdrawing money from his account is, for unexplained reasons, yet to be decided although it has now been months.
Make no mistake about it, judicial workers know it all. They know which Justice or Judge is upright, or corrupt. They know the calling price of each judicial official for they are the ones who do often do their dirty footwork.
They go or are sent to places where judicial officials dare not risk being seen and they are the ones who usually collect or handle the “gbeto-gbeto” for onward transmission to their bosses.
And above all, they know the Temple of Justice generates money which they claim is substantial. They have told the Daily Observer that thousands of Liberian dollars are earned daily from parking fees alone.
And there are other fees paid in the various courts daily from which they claim the Temple of Justice generates money that they believe is not accounted for.
Whatever the actual situation maybe, the event on Monday have since sent tongues wagging about what the public perceives as a display of callous indifference and lack of empathy on the part of the Chief Justice and his colleagues. What would it have taken of or from them to have given the aggrieved workers a sympathetic ear?
Had the Chief Justice been engaging, the protest action would have probably been avoided. These are people with families who have to be taken care of. In these very difficult economic times, going without pay for five months can be a very excruciating experience.
Prices rising by the day amid an unexplained and acute shortage of Liberian dollar banknotes is frustrating to the people. Billions of Liberian dollar banknotes have been printed but have not been put in circulation by the Central Bank. Instead, mutilated notes are being recycled.
Further, many ordinary people rely on remittances from relatives abroad. They are forced to accept a lower exchange rate because of the artificial shortage of Liberian dollars, while at the same time prices of commodities continue to rise.
Therefore, when those aggrieved Temple of Justice workers went out there in protest against the non-payment of their salaries they did so with pain and anguish in their hearts. And they did so out of desperation.
But they were instead met with Police batons and sticks leaving many of them badly hurt. And as if to add insult to injury, they were served with summary dismissals and unilateral transfers and a Writ of Arrest served on its leader, Archie Ponpon.
This is indeed a gross travesty of Justice that should never have happened – yet, it did. And the Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor has so far appeared unruffled and unmoved in the face of this fiasco. This is a shame, a downright disgrace and a blot on the already soiled public image of the Judiciary under the leadership of Chief Justice Korkpor.