The announcement by President George Weah sometime ago setting up a Special Committee to probe allegations of wrong doing by former officials tasked to fashion out the ExxonMobil oil concession agreement had taken the public by surprise. Why, because it was hardly ever imagined that President Weah after having publicly declared on several occasions that he was committed to protecting the interests of his predecessor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would have dared venture to raise the curtain on her past stewardship of the nation’s affairs.
The Committee has long since completed its assigned duties and recommended that the former officials restitute monies paid to them by ExxonMobil through the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). To date no former official has paid back a cent, notwithstanding President Weah’s declared commitment to transparency and the fight against corruption. In yet another instance, President Weah is on record for having called for the prosecution of perpetrators of human rights abuse. His call was made long before he ever became President.
However, there are now worrying signs that President Weah appears to be withdrawing his call for accountability and is instead seeking accommodation with perpetrators on grounds that there are more pressing national concerns to attend. One such individual has called attempts to ensure accountability a “fiasco”. Some of his officials have even argued that because former President Sirleaf ignored the TRC recommendations, President Weah should likewise do the same and abandon calls for accountability. In just a few days from now, President Weah, currently in China, will be headed to the UN General Assembly in New York upon completion of his visit to that Asian country.
But President Weah will be going to the UN at a time when the country’s Judiciary finds itself in rather dire straits with threats of impeachment by the House of Representatives hovering over the Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh. Without realizing it, the issue of accountability has however, taken center-stage with the impeachment process of Associate Justice Ja’neh proceeding at pace. The Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor is digging in their heels, insisting that the House Speaker appears before the Court to answer to Justice Janeh’s claim of violation of his rights to due process.
The House for its part has refused to budge, insisting that it will not appear before the Court, arguing that the power to impeach falls strictly within the purview of the Legislature. Under Article 43 of the Constitution the power to prepare a Bill of Impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives, while the power to impeach is vested solely in the Senate. When the President, Vice President or Associate Justice is to be tried, the Chief Justice shall preside.
Now that the Bill of Impeachment has been prepared and forwarded to the Senate, and with both sides digging in, it remains to be seen whether Chief Justice Francis Korkpor is going to preside over the trial of his colleague as required by the Constitution or whether he is going to refuse to do so on grounds that the House is in error and has disrespected the Court. And without uttering a word, a huge precedent is being set with far reaching implications for the growth and development of the country’s fledgling democracy.
But just what President Weah, a virtual newcomer in politics, should make of these developments which, for all purposes, are sorely testing the resilience of our nascent democracy. In the opinion of this newspaper, these problems or developments are but symptomatic of the corrosive and erosive effects of impunity on social cohesion including our national political and economic well-being. It is impunity for example which has seen government officials including legislators and judicial officials place themselves above the law.
As noted in US State Department Human Rights reports, justice is on sale to the highest bidder and in ways more than one, Judges and Justices as well have interfered in court cases in which they have vested interests. Likewise also are members of the Legislature who, from all intents and purposes have placed themselves above the law. They have without any degree of conscience passed into existence very bad concession agreements that have placed the future of the country in jeopardy. They have also refused to submit to audits by the General Auditing Commission.
As for the Executive, what more can be said? It has over the years exercised unbridled powers and bent its coequal branches to its will. These developments have taken on appearances of a tragic comedy — the Legislature up against the Judiciary with the Executive looking on with bemused interest. The towering figure in this drama is President Weah who came to the job with almost impeccable credentials — having no part in the violence of war, corruption free and self-made. He now has a charge to steer the nation from the path of endemic corruption, impunity and recurrent conflict to a path of peace and development.
How he intends to go about this will of course continue to remain a subject of intense concern. He has to tackle impunity head-on. As a first step in this direction, President Weah should implement the recommendations of the Special Presidential Committee (SPC) calling for restitution. His is indeed a tall order to which he has to measure up.
His colleague and former team mate James Salinsa Debah summed it up in these words:
“George has achieved a lot in football and the people love him for it. But should he become president of Liberia, the public will forget his performances on the football pitch and judge him by what he achieves in office. People in the country are yearning for change and want it very quickly. If he doesn’t deliver it, the people could turn on him. It is a big risk he is taking and I wish him well.”
This is indeed President Weah’s “Greatest Challenge”.