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.