The Constitution Cannot Place Anyone above the Law

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The Constitution, which is the final arbiter of jurisprudence in the Liberian Republic, can never place anyone above the law.

Our Constitution, remember, was patterned after that of the United States of America. The American Constitution is so strong and so very highly respected by everyone in that country that NO one takes it for granted, not even the country’s highest political figure—the President of the United States.

That is why when in August 1974, during the peak of the Watergate scandal, it became clear to the Republican Party that there was tangible evidence that President Richard M. Nixon had committed certain acts that bordered on crime, they—the Republican Party, led by the respectable Senator Barry
Goldwater—went to the White House and told President Nixon point blank that they would not be able to defend him in an impeachment trial brought against him in the House of Representatives.

It was at that point, August 9, 1974, that President Nixon resigned and the following day boarded Air Force One for the final flight to his home in California.

The United Kingdom-based environmental and transparency watchdog, Global Witness, has long been unearthing corrupt and unethical practices in Liberia.

A few years ago they issued a scathing report revealing very serious malpractices in Liberia’s forestry sector that led to the dismissal and prosecution of several officials of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA). These included FDA Managing Director Moses Wogbeh, who was convicted of crime and
imprisoned.

But Global Witness’ latest revelation of the bribery scandal involving several senior members of Liberia’s Legislative and Executive branches is far more alarming and serious than it has ever been.

The GW report has implicated the very head of the Liberian Legislature, House Speaker Alex Tyler, and one of the Liberian Senate’s most senior members, Senator Varney Sherman, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That is one of the most powerful Legislative positions. The Judicial Committee has oversight on all government business, especially those with legal implications. No agreement, concession or treaty can be ratified without the approval of the Senate Judicial Committee.

For its Chairman, Senator Varney Sherman, and his law firm, Sherman and Sherman, Liberia’s leading law office, to be implicated in a US$950,000 bribery scandal is no small matter. It is, on the contrary, a very serious, earthshaking development that demands that all involved take it as such—very, very seriously.

We dare not assume that by refusing to respond to Global Witness’ queries and also by refusing to submit to the investigation of the Task Force appointed by the President of Liberia, Speaker Tyler and Senator Sherman are trying to bluff their way through.

Speaker Tyler has taken issue with the Head of the Task Force, Fonati Koffa, saying that he “lacks the authority to investigate the President and other officials.” Koffa, a Minister of State Without Portfolio, “is a presidential appointee under the supervision of the President and, therefore, cannot be trusted with carrying out an impartial investigation [into] the allegations.” The Speaker rather suggested that in order to lend credibility to the process, an impartial panel outside of government be appointed to undertake the investigation.

Senator Sherman and his law firm, too, citing confidentiality issues, have refused to cooperate with the Task Force or any other investigating body, such as the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission. The law, Sherman and his law firm contend, provides that in publishing information obtained from commercial banks pursuant to its regulatory authority, “the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) shall not publish any information which would disclose the affairs of any person who is a customer or a financial institution, unless the consent of such interested party has been obtained in writing.”

Speaker Tyler and Senator Sherman are NOT above the law, and must be subjected to it.

But the issues they raise are serious and tangible—the issue of the Koffa Commission’s authority given that it is government investigating government; and the legal issues submitted by Sherman and Sherman—and should be dealt with.

There is a legal dictum (truism, dictate) that says “What is not done legally is not done at all.” So the court that issued the subpoena for the bank statements will have to address the legal issues raised by Sherman and Sherman.

But even more fundamentally, whatsoever one thinks of the Speaker—and there are many who have very serious misgivings of him—he is Head of the first branch of government. His position must be listened to. And he and other House members, including the House Chair on Defense, Maryland Representative Bhophal Chambers, and Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue, are calling for an impartial investigation into the Global Witness allegations.

We strongly feel that the views expressed in the foregoing need to be listened to and acted upon, so that whatever comes out the investigation may be seen to be legal, impartial and fair.

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