Disagreeing With Speaker Chambers

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The attention of the Daily Observer is drawn to a story carried in its October 19, 2018 online edition (and published in today’s print edition) headlined, “Legislature Will Not Tolerate Invitation from any Investigating Team over Missing Money”. The story is about Speaker Chambers, whose utterances appear at variance with President Weah’s stance on the matter, addressed journalists on the current investigation of the missing billions at the Capitol Building on Thursday, October 18, 2018.

The Speaker, in what appears to be a statement of non-cooperation with the investigating team flatly said, “This body can never be invited by any group or institution. You can make request and the body will decide as to what approach to take”. His declaration on this matter is being widely interpreted as a statement of flat rejection of the foreign agents, presumably from the United States of America, who have been invited by the Justice Ministry to assist in the criminal investigation of the missing billions.

The invitation of these foreign agents to assist the investigation was sanctioned by President George Weah who has also expressed deep concern over these developments that have since caused the New York State Federal Reserve to sever its ties, at least temporarily, with the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). Public concern over the missing billions have since been heightened in the wake of conflicting accounts of the missing money by various government functionaries including the treasurer for the Government of Liberia, Finance Minister, Samuel Tweh and the chief spokesperson of the Government of Liberia, Information Minister, Eugene Nagbe.

President Weah, upon his return to the country following his maiden address to the UN General Assembly, openly told Liberians and the world that he felt embarrassed by the avalanche of questions from his colleagues over the missing money and he therefore pledged to get to the bottom of this entire affair. But what many Liberians appeared not to have realized was the fact that President Weah, according to sources, had already sought the assistance of the US Government before the announcement went public.

Strangely, House Speaker Bhofal Chambers has expressed opposition to being called to answer questions in a criminal investigation which no law under the Constitution grants him such immunity. On the question of immunity from prosecution, only the President of the Republic of Liberia enjoys such privilege but only for as long as he/she is serving as President. Upon leaving office the individual may be prosecuted for acts committed during his/her tenure of office. This provision (Article 61) does not however provide immunity against impeachment, (Article 62).

Article 61 of the Constitution says: The President shall be immune from any suits, actions or proceedings, judicial or otherwise and from arrest and detention or other actions on account of any act done by him while President of Liberia pursuant to any provision of this Constitution or any other laws of the Republic. The President shall not, however, be immune from prosecution upon removal from office for the commission of any criminal act while President.”

Speaker Chambers’ contention that he cannot be invited but rather requested to submit to a criminal investigation which can be left to his discretion to attend or not, is wrong and completely out of step with the law, simply because Legislators do not enjoy such immunity under Article 42 of the Constitution.

Legislators, under Article 42 of the Constitution shall not be subject to arrest, detention, prosecution or trial for opinions expressed or votes cast in the exercise of the functions of his/her office and they shall be privileged from arrest while going to, attending or returning from sessions of the Legislature except in cases of treason, felony or breach of the peace.

The ongoing criminal investigation is, without question, an investigation into a felonious matter so whether Speaker Chambers is going to or returning from session, he may be subject to arrest, detention, prosecution or trial for acts of a criminal nature.

This newspaper should however make it clear that it does not believe that members of the Legislature should be held to account for how they voted on the printing of the new currency notes. But some members of the Legislature are suspected of involvement in the disappearance of the banknotes and should therefore be questioned.

Amidst all the hauling and pulling over the matter, Representative Solomon George virtually threw a spanner into the works when he called for a physical inspection of the CBL’s vault to ascertain whether the money, as reported, was in the vault. According to reports, the money was simply not there in the amounts reported. So where is the money or where did it go, are questions demanding answers.

While some mischievously attempt to inject into the current discourse, infantile suggestions that the case of the missing billions is all hype made up with the intent to undermine the George Weah government, the hard truth is, it was the Minister of Information, Lenn Eugene Nagbe who informed Liberians that media reports of money gone missing was factual.

And then came others with conflicting accounts, including the Finance Minister, as well as CDC party chairman, Mulbah Morlu, who declared on radio that he had reports of pickups being loaded with money at the CBL’s Waterside vault and taken to the home of former President Sirleaf. All this hullabaloo would not escape the attention of the New York State Federal Reserve simply because it borders on fraud and money laundering and it involves our major currency of transaction, the United States dollar.

But Speaker Chambers has emphatically stated his opposition to the investigation and by doing so has apparently placed himself above the Constitution and laws of the Republic, seeking reliance on Article 42 of the Constitution. Under Article 42, treason, felony or breach of the peace are spelt out as acts for which a legislator may be arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried. In the opinion of the Daily Observer the foreign investigators are here officially, at the behest of this government to help investigate felonious issues and, as part of the investigating team, it has a right to be privy to all relevant and pertinent information even if it means seeking it directly from government officials.

11 COMMENTS

  1. If speaker Chambers has nothing to hide, then he should cooperate with the investigation. Article 42 is clear that he is not exempt from prosecution.

  2. Concocting disappearance of a $16 billion container and then using inconsistencies of confused officials as evidence just to mobilize public anger against government is the kind of incitement that can only be pulled-off in an unregulated media space. A fragile and contentiously-polarized political environment such as Liberia deserves an impartial, independent, and ethical press, not the current copy of US Cable News partisan journalism we see at home. Yet some members of the Fourth Estate throw tantrums and retreat into shrilly defensive modes when confronted with that unavoidable truth. Anyway, those of us that care for press freedom and stability, and believe they can coexist without daily friction shouldn’t give up.

    Reportedly, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary has been evaluating a bill from President Weah to decriminalize ancient anti-freedom of expression laws. EJS who was continuously wooing major partners wanted their support so much that despite qualms went out of her way to embrace the Table Mountain Accords guaranteeing freedom of press. She stopped short of proposing that bill because of reluctance of PUL to regulate media outlets. It is the hope Senator Sherman’s Committee would request ethical guidelines for that purpose. Truth be told, if media outlets continue partisan journalism of the American variety, they might end up stoking instability in Liberia before October 2001. It is disappointing that journalists who scream solemn rights to hold the feet of others to the fire, don’t want anyone to hold them to account. Let’s be real, folks, selective change won’t cut it.

  3. Mr. Sylvester Gbayahforh Moses,

    This is your statement: “Concocting disappearance of a $16 billion container and then using inconsistencies of confused officials as evidence just to mobilize public anger against the government is the kind of incitement that can only be pulled off in an unregulated media space.”

    Sir, here is your problem. Notes 2.17 (Currency in Circulation) within the 2017 audited financial statements states “…currency issued by Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) represents claims on the Central bank in favor of the holder. The liability in respect of notes and coins in issue at the reporting date is stated at the nominal of the currency. Liberian dollars notes held by CBL that are not in circulation are not liabilities or assets of the bank.”

    If the bank notes, not in circulation, are not liabilities or assets of CBL, who were/are the owners? I guess it is difficult to trace the bank notes that the personnel did not record. I have asked you to inform our President, Dr. George Weah to get information from former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but you claim that it is not possible.

    In short, former and current personnel at CBL, under the directive of senior officials or the former President, decided and did not record the bank notes. Neither did the personnel write any notes about the bank notes within the 2016 and 2017 audited financial statements. So, sir, stop looking at people who are asking questions and appeal to the appropriate authorities to investigate why CBL’s personnel failed to record the bank notes circulated or not circulated during 2016 and 2017.

  4. By now many discerning readers suspect that leading journalists in Liberia have been resisting any idea of self-regulating the media space. That’s why former PUL President Peter Quaqua, co-guest with President Sirleaf to the Table Mountain conference, balked, which left her with no alternative but refusal to propose a bill decriminalizing old press laws. Curiously, Liberian journalists would rather have punitive press laws hanging over them than agreeing to self-regulate.

    Supposedly, one argument is that allowing government “to regulate” the press might very well be like regulating religious institutions such as “churches and mosques” that are exempt from government control, just as the press must be independent to hold government accountable. Well, unsurprisingly, the wordsmiths in the Fourth Estate conveniently changed “self-regulate” on it belly: “government to regulate”. Not to mention that lack of a self-regulating regime enabled another partisan press in Rwanda to stoke an internecine war resulting in “hate press” being included as an offense in war crimes court jurisprudence.

    In as much a we support freedom of expression, press practitioners must not only recognize that it has limitations and responsibilities, but understand only an ethical media space can simultaneously help the cause of democracy and stability. Indeed, it is an open secret that the press and some members of the powers-that-be around Africa have been in quid pro quo relationships, however, the reformation collectively called for by most of our citizens should superimpose these relationships. Liberia should start anew to inspire awareness of responsibility for the many less fortunate, and probably that compassion would accelerate reconciliation and peace faster than needless tug-of-words and war.

    May be, in spite of religion, as we sense our insignificance in the natural order of things in an increasingly unpredictable universe, our concern for the safety, protection, and survival of the next generation of travelers opens a vista of insights: Worth thinking about when airborne on the wings of arrogance. As Englishman Thomas Hobbes famously put it, life outside society “would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Stop the self-interest excuses, it’s time we move our suffering masses from the margins of society.

  5. Mr. Yanqui Zaza, I never doubted probability that, at some time, part of referenced amount could’ve been embezzled; rather, am quarreling with the notion that a container carrying $16 billion got missing. It is that misleading information which FPA’s Rodney Sieh passed on to BBC fueling public anger and demonstrations. He isn’t a new journalist and had a purpose for fanning hearsay “tip. This is the problem some sense with the Liberian press, the obsession to be seen as holding government accountable makes most journalists throw caution to the wind. And for a partisan press that’s been grasping for excuses from murdering of a journalist to bad loans, no wonder, then, ethical guidelines are urgently needed for our media space.

  6. Bra, any seasoned investigator will search for leads any and everywhere and he/she will follow every lead. And it goes without saying that questions will be asked.

    Whatever the argument, the core facts remain the same, new banknotes were printed but some remain unaccounted for or simply put some went missing or got lost.

    The GoL through its chief spokesperson, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe confirms new banknotes were indeed printed but some got missing.

    Justice Minister Musa Dean publicly announced that money was missing as well as Finance Minister Tweh who also claims money got missing but expressed doubts about Minister Nagbe’s account of the figures.

    This is the fact and not a concocted story by any stretch of the imagination and the media has reported it from various angles. To suggest that the media self regulates is to ignore the fact that the media, having operated under repressive regimes adopted and exercised strong self-censorship.

    Such was the case under Tubman, Doe and Taylor and even now. Successive governments have all used tactics of intimidation and outright blackmail to wheel the media into line.

    Even then, there have been critical voices throughout. Even if President Weah were to ban the media, he will still not succeed in muffling dissent, not in this age of high speed wireless inter connectivity and the rise of citizen journalism.

    As long as the money remains unaccounted for, people will continue to talk about it any and everywhere. And this has nothing to do with hatred for the Weah government or anything about ethnicity.

    This is a government that came to power riding a crest wave of mass popular support. It should therefore not be afraid of its own people asking hard questions about the missing money.

    The Constitution of Liberia provides for free expression with responsibility. Public officials are accountable to the people and in this regard, their conduct both in private and public stand open to scrutiny.

    If they desire otherwise, they then become obliged to step out of the public space So there is no need to lose sleep over this.

  7. The missing money deal is disconcerting because of a host of reasons. Many people within the annals of government are talking. They’re saying all kinds of things. Some government officials say money got missing while others tell us nothing got missing. Who’s telling the truth?

    The FBI:
    The FBI is undoubtedly the best in the business! As long as the FBI is involved in uncovering the truth, there’s no reason on earth why some Liberians should get into arguments or the use of harsh words. Let’s all kool off a little bit. The truth will eventually emerge.

    Lastly, as the investigation heats up, the FBI should be given broad powers to investigate any individual or a body of people irrespective clout or political power. For once, let’s do what is right.

  8. Great thoughts from both John and J. Yanqui on your roles in the media space. I am encouraged every time I read published articles of events in Liberia and opinions that tend to bring to the larger audience the thoughts and concerns of average Liberians. I cherished this, as I’ve lived most of my life in the U.S and often heard of the weight of government pressures upon the press in the past. While I may have had questions on any number of stories you had published and at times had raised questions, I certainly never considered your intent to be malicious, slanderous or libelous, which would give critics of yours a reason for legal sanction.

    On the question of whether there is any member of the Legislature who could be exempt from a criminal probe conducted by the government of Liberia, there is just no constitutional protection granted to any such public official, except in the case of the President, he cannot be indicted for crimes committed, while in office, excluding those acts for which the constitution considered as impeachable offenses. Public officials are subject to pubic scrutiny for acts in both private and public settings that generate public interest into whether their actions impact their ability to carry out the duties of their offices. Absent, libelous and slanderous intent, the media is free to express opinions, publish public sentiments and thoughts about public officials. The responsibility falls on the Public Officials to clarify any inaccuracies.

    Because the investigation is being conducted by the government of Liberia through its Justice Department, if the probe is a criminal probe, anyone considered as person of interest who is subjected for questioning can be required through a Court’s order. As such, individual members of the House or Senate who the Justice Department deems material cannot claim exemption from answering to a court authorized summon to answer questions posed by the investigators. The government is not restricted as to the investigative agencies it uses. In the U.S., the U.S Government works with Foreign Intelligence and Investigative Agencies in the U.K, France and other countries when probing financial crimes and other crimes committed in the U.S. As such, the fact that the Liberian Government may use the FBI does not delegate the investigation to the FBI. This is still a Liberian Government’s investigation and all Liberians, except anyone specifically exempted by the Constitution, is subject to the jurisdiction of the government when required and properly served. Article 42 of the Constitution does not exempt the individual members of the Legislature from criminal probes. The Speaker’s statement of the Constitution is one that only the Court can make in determining whether Article 42 intent is to exempt the members of the Legislature.

  9. It is interesting to note that Mr. Moses has all of a sudden become a proselyte for bridling free speech because according to him it will finally lead to a dismantling of the present administration.
    However, is this not the same individual who was restlessly an advocate for overthrowing the Ellen government because he felt that it was ruthlessly corrupt and that it was intolerable of the “Fourth Estate”? What a glaring contradiction. Does he not realize that, “What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander?”

    Ellen was not a saint when it came with dealing with the press; however, if one was to make a comparative analysis between past administrations to that of hers, it is safe to conclude that she demonstrated some remarkable restraints that other past governments did not.

    A commenter noted that during Mr. Moses’ tenure as a minister of defense under the Doe administration, He conducted Gestapo-like and sanguineous (bloody) operations against L.U. students and other perceived political arch-rivals of the late Doe.

    Mr. Moses’ bio-data would certainly meet the criteria of a good henchman, if the present administration was to be in need search of a sadistic and maniacal individual whose area of specialty is trampling free speech.

  10. If I were to craft a degree for Mr. Moses it will be one that I would entitle “Ph.D” in Professional Circumlocution, Archaic Education, and the Dark Science. Why? His dazzling abilities to go around the crux of the issues when he is challenged, his applications of Shakespearean quotations where not necessary, and his horrific prescriptions to the Weah administration in solving Liberia’s social issues particularly the freedom of expression makes him the ideal candidate for this degree.

    Mr. Stewart has plainly made the case of why “the missing container episode” has gained so much momentum among political advocates and the reasons that it has sparked hysteria in the citizenry.

    One would imagine then that Mr. Moses’ responses would center on Mr. Stewart’s responses so that the readers can understand the pros and cons of the argument; notwithstanding, he goes on a tangent and thus begins to quote from Englishman Thomas Hobbes.

    What his seemingly understanding of antiquated literature has to do with the bread and butter issues that affect our dirt poor population?

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