Our Diplomatic Correspondent Joachim Sendolo last Tuesday departed from his diplomatic beat to deal with the critical relationship between justice and peace.
He interviewed several Liberians, some from the University of Liberia, where he is pursuing a second degree, who told him that the basis of Liberia’s peace and security lies in its system of justice.
If the people see and believe that justice is freely and expeditiously dispensed, then we have no need to be apprehensive and fearful about the scheduled draw down of the United Nations Military Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
But many of those interviewed fear that the justice system in Liberia is weak and, worse yet, corrupt.
This was the charge of a recently published United States Report on Liberia. The Report bluntly asserted that Liberia’s judicial system is corrupt. Judges and juries are frequently bribed and this seriously undermines the country’s justice system.
In a recent address to the Independent National Human Rights Commission, the eminent Liberian lawyer, Tiawan Gongloe, who has served this government in several capacities, including the Cabinet and as Solicitor General of the Ministry of Justice, stated that bribery and other forms of corruption are the order of the day in the country’s court system.
Another prominent lawyer last week made an alarming revelation to the Daily Observer: “Today, lawyers are afraid to go to court because there is too much corruption there. Even to get an assignment of a case takes months or forever, unless the lawyers and their clients pay money to the judge.” And after the case is finally heard, this lawyer added, “Heaven knows when or whether an impartial verdict will be forthcoming.”
Another senior Liberian lawyer confirmed everything in the foregoing. “The situation is indeed very bad,” the soft spoken, highly experienced counselor told the Observer.
It is at this point that we lay the case at the feet of the Chief Justice of Liberia, His Honor Francis Korkpor. So far he has not responded to the United States government’s scathing criticism of the Liberian judiciary. Is he acquiescing to the common perception that “Silence makes consent?”or is he awaiting an appropriate time, probably during the closing of the March Term of Court, to speak out on these serious allegations against the third branch of government? There are many, many cases which have been heard or argued but their verdicts are yet to come.
Among these is one that the Liberian people are anxiously awaiting, most especially as they approach the momentous presidential election year 2017, when the future of their country is to be decided. That case concerns the Code of Conduct enacted in 2014 by the Legislature. The Code stipulates that any sitting Liberian official considering running for public office in 2017 should resign two years before the election. Several Liberians challenged that law as unconstitutional, and took appeal against it before the Full Bench of Supreme Court of Liberia. But for reasons no one can understand, the verdict in that case is yet to be handed down. In the eyes of the High Court, is 2017 an important year, or is it not?
But in all fairness, we lay the case of judicial corruption and ineptitude not only at the feet of the Chief Justice, but at those of the entire Supreme Court Bench, and the whole judiciary, including the judges, magistrates and even the justices of the peace; and of course, the lawyers.
But it is a historic and enduring fact that, as “Oldman King” our former President (1920-1930) used to say, “Fish starts rotting from the head.”
In writing this Editorial, we do so with absolutely no fear of a contempt charge. But the High Court would first have to hold in contempt the U.S. State Department, which issued the report seriously indicting the Liberian judiciary. But if the State Department is “a bridge too far,” we, the
Daily Observer, who are right here on the ground, fear not the proximity. As a young Liberian journalist said in June 1977 in a speech highly critical of the Tolbert government, delivered at the installation of the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU), “I prefer to speak out today and go to jail, rather than to be shipped out of here tomorrow as a refugee, or to have my brains scattered by the stray bullets of an unknown soldier.”
Alas! Just as successive Liberian governments ignored the warnings of Albert Porte, in his nearly 60 years of writing, so did the Tolbert government ignore several warnings, including those of the young journalist in June 1977. And what happened two and a half years later? The 1980 coup, followed by the civil war, both of which saw hundreds of thousands gunned down by stray and pointed bullets; over a million shipped or scrambled out, including that young journalist himself, and his family, as refugees; and the nation devastated.
We close this Editorial with a quote from literature:
“Then said brave Horatius, the Captain at the gate:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late
And how can man die better
Than by facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods?”