Once again the Liberian Judiciary has been drawn into the crosshairs of very adverse public opinion and all for the wrong reasons too. It all has to do with the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the decision of the lower court convicting former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai of misuse of public funds.
The former Defense Minister and two others, including the former Defense Ministry Comptroller, were charged for misusing public funds intended for the welfare of soldiers of the AFL. This charge was levied against Samukai and co after President Sirleaf left office.
But the history of the case shows that Brownie Samukai, then Minister of Defense, former AFL Chief of Staff, Daniel Ziahnkan, former President Ellen Sirleaf and then President elect, George Weah, held a meeting on the same issue prior to her leaving office.
To the best of publicly available information, President Sirleaf, in that meeting had agreed that Samukai acted based on her approval although such approval was not written. But, according to sources, this was not unusual under President Sirleaf.
Truth be told, President Sirleaf ran a very corrupt administration. Millions of dollars remain unaccounted for. She acknowledged that under her son, NOCAL went bankrupt with millions remaining unaccounted for.
When confronted by journalists on the issue, she replied “I take responsibility”. Although she accepted personal responsibility, she has never since made restitution. But President Weah has failed to hold her to account in keeping with his promise to protect her.
Also, take the case of the ExxonMobil Concession Agreement which was illegally concluded outside the framework of the 2002 Petroleum law in 2014. The Concession Agreement was passed in 2014 but the 2002 Petroleum Law was not amended and passed into law until 2016. If this is not corruption, what on earth could it be?
Later ExxonMobil was to pay handsome rewards to all those who had participated in the drafting of the agreement which effectively stripped Liberia of national ownership of its oil resources and even scrapped the 10 percent local participation requirement all in exchange allegedly for kickbacks.
Former Justice Minister Christiana Harmon Tah, responding to public criticism of the deal told the public on a local radio talk-show that Robert Sirleaf, the son of the President was the sole individual in direct negotiations between ExxonMobil and government.
She charged that when she raised concern with President Sirleaf about the removal of the local content requirement from the Agreement especially when the 2002 Petroleum law had not been repealed or amended, President Sirleaf angrily retorted, “You have your marching orders”, meaning I have instructed you so act accordingly even if illegally.
Another instance cited was that of the case of the alleged missing L$16 billion banknotes. It was revealed from investigative audits that officials of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) were deliberately not recording official transactions constituting lapses neither they nor President Sirleaf could explain.
Through it all, President Sirleaf, according to a retired banker feigned ignorance of all what was happening at the CBL. According to him, this is because there is no way that President Sirleaf could not have known what was going on with her son sitting as deputy head of that institution.
At the close of the day, several persons including her son were criminally charged, arrested, handcuffed and paraded around the city in an open pick-up truck. Clearly, according to the retired banker, such was intended to get at President Sirleaf.
But the charges were not to stick. After what was virtually a sham trial, everyone was let off the hook. Back to the Samukai issue, it appears that the decision taken by the Supreme Court upholding the verdict from a sham trial presided over by a Judge alleged to be very corrupt, is politically motivated,
And this decision has come on the heels of the rather public excoriation of Senator Varney Sherman by the US Department of Treasury which slammed him with sanctions for alleged corrupt influence brought to bear on Judges to render decisions in his favor as well as Justices of the Supreme Court for impeaching Justice Kabineh J’aneh.
Chief Justice Korkpor, has responded by in effect charging that no evidence was adduced against any of the accused judicial officials that would serve as a basis on which they can be sanctioned. According to a retired judicial official, the Chief Justice’s response is lame.
This, according to him, is because the public is fully aware that corruption is rife in the judiciary and under the leadership of Chief Justice Korkpor respect for the rule of law as well as the rule of law itself has eroded significantly, and that this latest decision simply affirms the non-independence of the nation’s judiciary.
Samukai has won the senatorial elections hands down and his victory has been confirmed by the National Elections Commission (NEC). He was challenged by defeated contestants charging fraud but the NEC having examined the evidence has affirmed Samukai’s victory.
But, by this recent and strange twist of things, it appears that this government, for all intent and purpose, appears poised to imprison a man popularly elected by his people, a Senator of Lofa County.
From a political perspective and the history of the contentious 2017 elections, such a move by the government at this time could prove counterproductive for a President mulling a second-term run for office.
The question is, what does Chief Justice Korkpor and his colleagues on the Bench, save the sole female dissenter, hope to achieve by creating a hero of Samukai and planting seeds of enmity between this government and the people of Lofa?
Further, just how has Chief Justice Korkpor helped his case defending against corruption charges levied by the US Department of Treasury is something to ponder. Shame and Scorn he has invited into the chambers of justice. Now it appears justice has been thrown to the dogs!
The FrontPage Africa newspaper in its reportage of this development questioned. “How will Justice Korkpor’s Bench explain itself for bringing forth by 5-G kinetic speed a non-electoral appeal case at this time”?