For months on end, judicial workers at the Temple of Justice had endured hardships occasioned by prolonged delay in the payment of their salaries. On more than one occasion they protested publicly. But their protests were met by feigned indifference of Police batons and whips.
On another occasion, the leader of the protest action threw himself on the ground before the vehicle of the Chief Justice but was again removed by security officers. And their protest action was yet again treated with gross indifference according to legal analysts spoken to.
It was as if their concerns did not matter as their plea for relief again fell on deaf ears. The Finance Minister was at one point invited to provide clarifications on why judicial workers had gone unpaid for such prolonged periods.
Out of desperation and being threatened with a Writ of Arrest form the office of the Chief Justice, protest leader and rights activist Archie Ponpon set himself ablaze on the grounds of the Temple of Justice to the consternation of by standers, including judicial workers. Their timely intervention is what probably saved his life on that day, according to eyewitness accounts.
Eyewitnesses spoken to at the time said they were shocked that not a single government ambulance was called in to evacuate Archie Ponpon to hospital. Instead it was a motorcyclist who carted him away to hospital aboard his motorbike with crowds of people looking on in shocking amazement.
Rather than accepting responsibility and taking appropriate and timely remedial action, the rather cool reaction of the Chief Justice and his colleagues to what was clearly a crisis created by the non-payment of judicial workers for prolonged periods.
Legal analysts say that Chief Justice Korkpor must have known that his corps of workers were experiencing immense difficulties in making ends meet daily and that their protest action was not done out of spite or disrespect to his high office but was done out of necessity — the need to survive. And he may have probably forgotten the axiom that survival is the first law of nature.
Family sources have told the Daily Observer that on one occasion following Ponpon’s self-immolation, Chief Justice Korkpor allegedly visited the hospital to see him. But according to family, sources Ponpon refused to see him and had threatened to jump out of an open 3rd floor window had the Chief Justice been allowed into his room.
But whatever the truth may be in this matter, granted that the incident actually occurred and granted that the Chief Justice may have felt slighted by Ponpon’s action, it still does not in a moral sense absolve the Chief Justice from making best efforts to mitigate the harm to Ponpon by his self-immolation attempt by underwriting the cost of specialized medical treatment here or abroad.
Were the Chief Justice or any of his colleagues to fall ill today and required medical treatment abroad, would they be languishing at the John F. Kennedy Hospital, uncertain of how their medical bills would be paid? As a matter of fact, just how many officials have not flown or been flown out of Liberia to seek medical treatment since the requisite facilities are not available here?
Has this not been the trend for years even under President Sirleaf? With the exception of President Tolbert who underwent medical examinations at the John F. Kennedy Hospital, which Liberian President since Tubman has not undergone medical checks abroad?
Is it because Archie Ponpon is poor and whose family lives in the Monrovia slum of West Point that he should be denied justice? Archie Ponpon is indeed suffering and, in the eyes of the public, it is only because he dared protest against injustice.
It thus prompts the question just where is the humanity of our Liberian officials? Justices of the Supreme Court, as the public is aware, are well and highly paid in addition to monthly perks they receive such as gasoline, housing and entertainment allowances.
To the best of publicly available information, Supreme Court Justices have not gone unpaid for months, neither have their benefits and allowances been withheld for months.
Therefore, Chief Justice Korkpor and his colleagues should, according to political observers, be aware of the political implications of keeping workers unpaid for months on end. And they should also be aware, according to them, of the danger of creating or allowing situations to fester that will drive people into extreme behavior such as that witnessed by Ponpon’s self-immolation attempt.
Truth be told, Archie Ponpon was driven to desperation and his action should be understood within that context. He is a victim of injustice in the view of local and international opinion and he should accordingly be treated as such.
The Daily Observer holds that, had the salaries of judicial workers not been withheld for such prolonged periods, it is doubtful and most improbable that Ponpon would have been driven to such extreme lengths to attempt to take his own life.
In view of this, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as head of that noble and sacred institution, the Judiciary, has a MORAL OBLIGATION to ensure that Archie Ponpon receives the best medical attention here or abroad in order to restore his health.
Should our plea however fall on deaf ears, and Ponpon’s condition worsens, we, the public, shall be constrained to ask: Just were is your humanity, Justice Korkpor?
SAVE THE LIFE OF ARCHIE PONPON: This is an SOS call!