Opinion: The Liberian Legislature is notorious for sending officials to jail

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By: Peter Quaqua

In 2006, the Liberian Senate sentenced Morris Saytumah, then Minister without Portfolio and then Deputy Finance Minister, Francis Karpeh to 72-hour in jail at the Monrovia Central Prison for fiscal management issues. Saytumah is now Senator.

In 2008, the House of Representatives held Darius Dillion, then assistant to Senator Jewel Taylor in contempt and sentenced him to jail for six months for expressing his views. Dillon is now a Senator.

In 2013, the House of Representatives voted to send Montserrado County Superintendent Grace T. Kpaan to jail for contempt. It took Monrovia City Mayor, Mary Broh and a group of women to obstruct Kpaan’s imprisonment. 

In 2013, the House of Representative sent Sinoe County Superintendent Milton Teahjay to jail for 48 hours at the Monrovia Prison for reportedly assaulting Representative Matthew Zarzar at a community radio station in Greenville Sinoe County. Teahjay is now a Senator.

In 2014, then Finance Minister Amara Konneh had to run to the Supreme Court to stop his imprisonment after the Liberia Senate voted to jail him for attempting to reduce their budget.

In 2018, Deputy Information Minister for Press and Public Affairs, Eugene Fahngon would be jailed for contempt, after a heated argument with then Bomi County Representative Edwin M. Snowe. Snowe is now a Senator. Mr. Fahngon was sent to jail by the House against Article 44 of the Constitution, which says in part “…Disputes between legislators and non-members which are properly cognizable in the courts shall not be entertained or heard in the Legislature.”

Now, I heard the Liberian Senate is considering sending to jail the entire [five] Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission for not resolving elections dispute cases in time? And freshman Senator of River Gee County, Senator Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie, should already be considered a ‘tough’ Senator as he’s the movant for the jail sentence. He must be learning fast. You want to jail the whole elections management body for not working within the constitutional timeframe? Really?

You see, these are just a few of the instances where our lawmakers have been keen on locking people up to show their power. I am afraid, if these people had the power, they would probably jail the President of the Republic for contempt. But how many of them have gone to jail for nonperformance? Just concern!

Let me submit quickly that I am not against the powers of contempt in so as it is exercise in a measured way to preserve the dignity of our institutions and not left at the discretion of an obsessive  and influential few. When contempt becomes frequent and marred by ferocious jail sentences, then you all should be accused of weaponizing it.

I refer you to Article 74 of the Liberian Constitution, which says: “In all matters of contempt of court, whether in the Supreme Court or in other courts, the penalties to be imposed shall be fixed by the Legislature and shall conform to the provision on Fundamental Rights laid down in this Constitution.” Has the Legislature given effect to this very important clause of the Constitution? Don’t forget, we are talking about an issue that borders on fundamental rights that should never be left to the discretion of a compromised judge or a group of partisan lawmakers.

Maybe Davidetta Brown-Lansanah and her team of Commissioners should start thinking about challenging at the Supreme Court any attempt to send them to prison.    

3 COMMENTS

  1. Well, this is what Liberia receives for the core of people its citizens often elect as their lawmakers. In turn, the so-called legislators are delivering to the people the value for their energy wasted in time, emotion, and resources towards a fruitless cause.

    The legislators are triggered-happy and this dysfunction emanates from their being elected to play the roles of the “round pegs” in the “square holes”. What do I mean about this? When an architect is building a house, one of the fundamental mistakes he is careful not to make is putting the “round pegs in the square holes” when laying the foundation because the firmness of that structure will depend on it.

    Placing unreserved power in the hands of people who do not deserve it is like putting a pistol in care of an underage child or a mentally insane and triggered-happy individual. Consequently, the result will be catastrophic since he or she would be mentally incapable to fathom the dangers of erratically pressing the trigger.

    This statement is not meant to cast aspersion on the good character of some of our well meaning and qualified senators who are doing their level best to maintain the dignity and integrity of the senate. However, many of these senators in the institution are “just round pegs” in the “square holes”. Their level of experience and performance is disappointing, and they are only there in pursuit of a pay check.

    A late prolific West African author once asked a question by way of a parable about what happens when one puts the round pegs in the square holes and he answered it as saying, “Things fall apart.”

    Given the situation unfolding in Liberia, I sometimes wonder what happened to the framers of the revised Liberian constitution? Why are they not talking? I thought the constitution gives a pathway for what the citizens living in a democracy should do in case their leaders fail to deliver on their promises including the flagrant abuse of the very constitution they swore to uphold?

    I am flabbergasted over why the framers have not by now considered calling for debates and constitutional hearings on how to amend or close all loopholes, which the lawmakers and other government officials are using to abuse the constitution with impunity?

  2. PETER QUAQUA, we concur with the spirit of the individual comments from you and Blama Zoebohn Price. But we must also point out that taking into account the fact that THE PRESS SHOULD BE THE PRISM OF A JUST SOCIETY OR A JUST WORLD, THE LACK OF INTEGRITY ON THE PART OF YOU JOURNALISTS, renders the corrupt politicking, and ignorance, of these so called legislators only good at jailing appointed officials, insignificant.

    Thus, Leymah Gbowee is right when she indicts you in these words… “The media again has become a guard dog for the highest bidder, in most instances politicians will pay them to distort the truth, leading desperate citizens astray.”

    Take for instance the case of Brownie Samukai and the EX CBL Governors….notoriously corrupt criminals for you journalists, instead of exposing these thieves, you are in unison, or to be blunt, in a cartel with these corrupt people and covicted felons, indicating to government and the public that Samukais senatorial election is ipso facto an immunity from the law which renders a convicted felon disqualified for certification by NEC.

    FOR EXAMPLE….

    Solicitor General and Chief Prosecutor of Liberia Cllr. Syrenius Cephus wrote the NEC..

    ”The recent judgement by the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia is not a novelty and did not depart from the holding of the lower court’s judgement; instead, it confirmed the lower court’s judgement, which means Mr. Samukai together with his co-conspirators has been a convicted felon from the date the lower court rendered its judgement in 2020.”

    “Accordingly, since the guilty judgement is the law controlling, and constitutes a finality of the matter, and by law is not appealable in this jurisdiction, it is considered my opinion that it will be inarguable allay any and all concerns that may arise, and you will therefore proceed not to certificate him.”

    ”On Tuesday, February 23, 2021, Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean, at his Senate appearance, told the senators that he hasn’t seen the communication written by the Solicitor General but was informed about it on Facebook and has no idea about why the decision was made to write the Senate.”

    ”He opted not to comment on the matter when asked by Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon about whether he was aware of such letter, but rather referred the Senate to the Solicitor General, who he said could better respond to such inquiry.”

    ”In his own defense, Cllr. Cephus told the Senate that he did what he did out of expediency and while the Minister was out of town. “I acted in pursuant to the Liberia Code of Law Revise penal code title 26: chapter 50.1.2.”

    ”However, River Gee County Senator, Conmany B. Wesseh, said the Coalition for Democratic Change’s (CDC) action is “deliberate and it is a targetted political action against Samukai and the people of Lofa.”

    .”Proferring the motion after almost two hours of interventions by Senators, Grand Bassa County ranking Senator, Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence declared that “In the spirit of coordination, I like to move that the Minister of Justice write a communication to the National Elections Commission, withdrawing the communication written by his Solicitor General, and a copy be sent to the Liberian Senate tomorrow ( today Friday).”

    ”However, Senators informed the Solicitor General that the provision quoted by him didn’t give him the authority to implement and that power is only vested in the Supreme Court. And that chapter 3 of the same law gives the Justice Minister the power to inform the NEC every December the list of people of indicted and charged and not the Solicitor General.”

    ”Cllr Dean, in a letter addressed to NEC’s chairperson Davidetta Brown-Lasanah, said any person convicted of a felony, committed in connection with his employment as a public servant is disqualified from holding public office until the sentence is served.”

    “Herewith, inform you of the attached final Judgment of the Supreme Court Of Liberia, affirming the judgment of guilty against Messer Brownie Samukai , Joseph J. Johnson , Myumah , Dorko for the commission of the crimes of Theft Property, misuse public money, and criminal conspiracy,” Cllr. Dean said in a letter.”

    ”Dean’s letter comes exactly a week after he told the Senate plenary that he knew nothing about a letter written by Solicitor General, Cllr. Syrenius Cephas in which he mandated NEC to halt the certification of Samukai until he restitutes the amount of US$1.4 million.”

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