George K. Fahnbulleh

Ideas and Opinions...

In Liberia: Judicial Tyranny


The recent decision by the Supreme Court to suspend Justice Minister Christiana Tah for granting compassionate leave to journalist/publisher Rodney Sieh has created shockwaves across the length and breadth of the political landscape. The entire Judiciary, the Executive, as well as the Liberia Bar Association have been reduced to caricatures of what properly functioning, independent structures of government and their attendant professional organizations should be.

Nowhere in Liberian law is it granted that the Ministry of Justice must first seek approval of the Court in its management of people committed to prison. The Supreme Court of Liberia itself can produce no such law. Not even lawyers who have argued in support of the Court have been able to provide such a reference. Let us also remember, the Justice Ministry was not required to seek Court approval to send Mr. Sieh to the hospital. The Supreme Court never argued that. They only argued that any compassionate leave of prisoners under civil commitment must be approved by the Court.

In sanctioning Minister Tah, the Supreme Court communicated in unambiguous terms that the Justice Minister and other respondents should simply come to the Court and apologize, and the whole matter would be over. Even a layperson understands that once you apologize, you surrender your right to mount any defense of the law. You prostrate yourself before the Court and beg for mercy. Thus, in keeping with the Court’s stipulation, the Justice Minister, the Ministry’s lawyers, including a former Solicitor General, all formally "apologized" to the Court. The Court then responded to the requested apology by suspending the Justice Minister’s license for six months, in effect preventing her from practicing law.

The treachery of the Court in demanding an apology, and then suspending the Justice Minister, also extended to suspending Mr. Sieh’s lawyer for three months – for his audacity in advocating for his client! In this environment of judicial misconduct, neither the Liberian Bar Association nor any one of Liberia’s supposedly towering legal "giants," which include some perennial presidential candidates, rose to defend the law.

It appears that the Court’s behind-the-scenes machinations were designed purposefully to prevent the Justice Minister from presenting a defense to the Court’s contempt citation, because any such defense would have laid bare the Court’s actions as nothing more than a vindictive power play. Whether this was in concert with the Executive remains an open question. However, the President’s silence on the abrogation of a privilege reserved exclusively for the Executive demonstrates tacit consent.

In its ruling, the Court claimed that the Justice Ministry had formulated no rules for granting of compassionate leave, therefore the Ministry of Justice arbitrarily sought to disobey Mr. Sieh’s commitment. When the Justice Minister tried to submit a Petition for Re-Argument, the Court rejected the petition, saying, "We only want another apology." As of today, the Court is still demanding yet another apology. But if the Minister’s initial apology resulted in a six month suspension, logic should tell anyone that another apology may well result in the Minister’s disbarment. Is this the type of behavior we want for our country’s highest court?

Only the pathologically insecure can find pleasure in continuously humiliating those they exert power over in this manner. Such judicial sadism is unacceptable in a democratic country.

What is abundantly clear by law, as highlighted below, is that the custodial supervision of all prisoners is the exclusive domain of the Bureau of Corrections and the Ministry of Justice.

Under Liberia’s criminal law code

§ 34.20. Leaves from prison.
1. Compassionate leave. The Minister of Justice shall formulate rules or regulations governing compassionate leave from institutions and, in accordance with such rules and regulations, may permit any prisoner to leave his institution for short periods of time, either by himself or in the custody of an officer, to visit a close relative who is seriously ill, to attend the funeral of a close relative, to return to his home during what appears to be his own last illness, or to return to his home for other compelling reasons which strongly appeal to compassion. The rules or regulations shall provide for the manner in which compassionate leave shall be granted, for its duration, and for the custody, transportation, and care of the prisoner during his leave. They shall also provide for the manner in which the expense connected with such leave shall be borne, and may allow the prisoner, or anyone in his behalf, to reimburse the State for such expense.

§ 34.2. Segregation of persons committed to correctional institutions.
In institutions or parts of institutions supervised by the Ministry of Justice, the following groups shall be segregated from each other:

(a) Female prisoners from male prisoners;
(b) Prisoners under the age of twenty-one from older prisoners;
(c) Persons detained for hearing or trial from prisoners under sentence of imprisonment;
(d) Persons detained for hearing or trial or under sentence, from material witnesses
and other persons detained under civil commitment.

Additionally, section § 34.2.(d) of the criminal code clearly assigns the "segregation" of ALL prisoners under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice. It is difficult to believe that the unstated legislative intent of this law was for the Ministry of Justice to supervise all aspects of a prisoner’s custody, when he eats, when he sleeps, when he exercises, but only if he is a prisoner under civil commitment, must she receive court approval for compassionate leave.

There are two Supreme Court Justices who previously served as Minister of Justice:
Justice Kabina Janneh, and Justice Phillip A. Z. Banks. As Minister of Justice, Justice Janneh granted compassionate leave to a pregnant woman prisoner who did not return to prison. Justice Phillip A. Z. Banks also served as Minister at a later date. Are these two Justices asking us to believe that the rules for compassionate leave used by then Minister Janneh were non-existent or voided after he left office, or that neither of them were aware of those rules? In either case, it makes their argument specious at best. Secondly, by demanding that the Ministry of Justice simply apologize, the Ministry was not allowed to present any evidence that such rules as above do exist.

Ministry of Justice Compassionate Leave Regulations Updated (January 2013)

Liberia does have quite a number of drinking establishments called bars, but the Liberian Bar Association is supposed to be the organization which deals with things like legal misconduct and the policing of lawyers.

It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the Liberian Bar Association and the Association of Liberian Bars, though the latter boasts far more vocal advocacy for its members.

When then Justice Minister Phillip A. Z. Banks violated every protection provided by law for the Nigerian Valentine Akiya, the Bar Association did not raise its voice to that misconduct. Mr. Akiya took his case to the ECOWAS Court, which found Liberia guilty in Valentine Ayika v Republic of Liberia: "Judges who presided over the trial informed the Government of Liberia's lawyers that the Liberian Government acted illegally by seizing the then Nigerian businessman money, and as such should pay back the money in the tune of US $508,200 to Mr. Ayika" (http://allafrica.com/stories/201210150746.html ).

The actions taken by Justice Minister Phillip A. Z. Banks have brought nothing but shame to Liberia and tarnished its image, especially amongst its fellow ECOWAS countries. Liberia is now refused a place on the ECOWAS Court until the Liberian judiciary complies with ECOWAS legal standards.

In other countries, when Mr. Banks was nominated for the Supreme Court, the Bar Association would have raised alarms and sought serious debate over his appointment given his violations of Mr. Ayika’s rights. When this same Justice Phillip A. Z. Banks refused to recuse himself from Mr. Sieh’s appeal, even though Mr. Toe’s lawyer is his brother-in-law, and he had previously worked at his brother-in-law’s law firm prior to becoming an Associate Justice, the Liberian Bar Association said nothing about the breach of ethics. Although the rules of disqualification may not be present for Liberia, Justice Banks studied law at Yale University in the US and should be familiar with 28 U.S. Code § 455 pertaining to the Disqualification of justice, judge, or magistrate judge. Chief Justice Lewis was many things, but even he had the honor and dignity to recuse himself in the matter regarding Mr. Sieh, after Mr. Sieh complained that he would be partial because Mr. Sieh had previously published articles about his drinking habits and alleged judicial misdeeds. Regarding Justice Banks, we should not be surprised that a Justice Minister who violated the rules of the ECOWAS Court refuses even the appearance of bias.

The silence of the Liberian Bar Association, and that of ALL lawyers in Liberia, is a glaring indication that the freedom of speech this President is so highly praised for in reality does not exist. If the lawyers of Liberia, who are charged with defending the free speech rights of the citizens, are themselves too afraid to give candid professional opinions about Supreme Court rulings, can we seriously say that free speech exists in Liberia? Was this not the crux of Mr. Sieh’s complaint against the judicial system?

President Sirleaf should think long and hard about this: We are eight years into her presidency, and the Court she has appointed is carving a legacy worse than that of prior courts under the True Whig Party, and the Doe and Taylor regimes. The actions of the Court and the President’s silence, for whatever reasons, have exposed the entire Liberian judicial system, from the Supreme Court to the Bar Association, as incapable of functioning impartially. All of the people on the Court were chosen by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and thus their every action, and her inaction, reflects her legacy. 

US Lawyer Seeks Sirleaf’s Intervention

The letter appeared in Frontpage Africa on February 10, 2014

Dear Madam President:

I crave your indulgence and attentiveness to weigh in with some legal analysis about the punishment the Supreme Court of Liberia imposed suspending the professional license of the Minister of Justice, the Honorable Christiana Tah. I have closely followed discussions arising out of this ill-considered judgment. The court imposed this punishment against the Minister for invoking a valid legislation to act on behalf of your good self, Madam President.

“It is a gross abuse of power for the Supreme Court to punish the Minister of Justice for contempt”

This case is of great interest to me as human rights advocate and as an international legal practitioner who continues to pray that Liberia realizes its potentials as a beacon of hope for post-conflict societies in transition. Listening to the BBC broadcast about this dispute and reviewing other related feedback, I realized that some degree of misunderstanding about the law cut across the gamut of both some supporters and critics of the Court’s decision. It is primarily for this reason that I write to address the bone of contention by clarifying some key points of law.

It is indeed for the potential or actual collision of powers, as illustrated at this historic moment of dispute between the Judiciary and the Executive, that democracies venerate the values safeguarded by the principles and doctrines of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. By definition, the separation of powers delineates the content and outer limits of the respective powers of the three arms of government, namely the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. It is one thing to concede that the Judiciary may well be the arm of government best equipped to interpret the Constitution and underpinnings such as the separation of powers doctrine. It is another thing to act as if this fiduciary capacity entitles the Judiciary to truncate the values of the Constitution, let alone trump the powers of the corollary arms of government. In the realm of objective reasoning it is neither for the Judiciary to arrogate to itself the authority to circumscribe an act of the Legislature, nor is it for the Judiciary to appropriate the powers of the Executive.

More specifically, I will itemize my argument as follows:

  1. The Supreme Court Justices allege that the Honorable Minister of Justice exceeded the scope of her authority by granting compassionate leave to Rodney Sieh. In their opinion, such leave was narrowly construed to only apply to criminal prisoners and not for persons detained for civil offenses such as the libel for which Sieh was imprisoned. Yet the plain terms of the relevant laws actually substantiate, rather than undermine, the propriety of the Minister’s authority.

    All parties agree that §34.20(1) of the Liberian Criminal Procedure Code governs this dispute. It is clear that the statute vests unequivocal, exclusive, and final authority in the Minister of Justice to establish and oversee the administration of compassionate leave and other decisions for prisoners. It appears that what the parties disagree on is whether Sieh was eligible for the leave approved, and whether the Minister of Justice should have first obtained the approval of the Justices before granting the leave. The Justices claim that because the statute regarding leave is set forth in the Criminal Procedure Code it only applies to criminal prisoners, rendering it inapplicable to Sieh, who was detained for a civil offense.

    It is untenable and without concrete basis to claim that the administration of civil prisoners is governed by a body of law distinct and separate from the comprehensive guidelines provided by Chapter 34. Chapter 34, section 2, expressly applies to all individuals held in custody, including those incarcerated “under civil commitment”. It therefore stands to reason that Sieh, who was imprisoned for libel which is a civil matter, was eligible to be considered for compassionate leave. Accordingly, it was valid for that prisoner to petition the Minister of Justice. As stipulated in §34.20(1) of the Liberian Criminal Procedure Code:

    The Minister of Justice shall formulate rules or regulations governing compassionate leave from institutions and, in accordance with such rules and regulations, may permit any prisoner to leave his institution for short periods of time to return to his home for other compelling reasons which strongly appeal to compassion.

    It is not in dispute that the appropriate legislation had been set in place.

  2. The Justices asserted that Minister Tah was required to consult them prior to granting Sieh’s petition. They do not, however, provide any constitutional, statutory, or administrative basis for this prerogative which they baldly claim. The governing law remains §34.20(1), quoted above, which in no uncertain terms vests in the Minister of Justice the power to grant compassionate leave. In light of the unambiguous legislative provision, it takes no divination to appreciate that it is ultra vires the powers of the Supreme Court to impose a preconference obligation on the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia.

    Going by the Court’s exasperation with the Minister, it is almost as if she granted an outright pardon, as opposed to a temporary compassionate leave. And even if that were the case, my research indicates that the power of pardon would still inure to the Executive and not to the Judiciary.

  3. It is a gross abuse of power for the Supreme Court to punish the Minister of Justice for contempt, simply because the Court disagreed with her interpretation and application of powers which the Legislature of the sovereign state of Liberia autonomously reserved by statute to the office of the Minister of Justice. Nothing on the face of the relevant statute or the history thereof as much as hints at a legislative intent for the judiciary to share this power with the Minister.

    Censorship for subjective interpretations of the law is antithetical to the life of the law. Given that legal minds are not monolithic, the very legitimacy of the legal system is without question jeopardized if lawyers, who are the officers of the courts, would rather capitulate to an authoritarian court than follow their conscience in the fearless submission of competing interpretations of the law in the best interest of justice. As succinctly put by a former Attorney General of Liberia’s close ally, “If lawyers are imprisoned each time the courts reject their view of the law, and then it will not be long before every lawyer is in prison.”

  4. The Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction to punish the Minister of Justice for contempt in a matter independent of any actual proceeding before it. Sieh’s petition to the Minister, as a representative of the Executive, was extrajudicial to the extent that it was made independent from an active legal proceeding before the court. In the same vein, the Minister’s concession of leave was not as an adjunct of the Judiciary but as an autonomous agent of the Executive, outside the purview of the courts even if relating to an issue which arose out of an act of the Judiciary.

    By definition, contempt of court requires the willful disobedience of a direct order of the court in a matter properly before it. Again, §34.20(1) which is a legislative act, authorized the Minister independent of the Judiciary to grant compassionate leave. In this light, it cannot be overemphasized that Minister Tah neither acted in contravention to any particular Court order, nor did she encroach on an ongoing proceeding before the court. Whatever the differences of opinion, there is no shred of objective evidence indicating that the Minister was motivated by an intention to “impugn the dignity of the court”.

  5. Even if one were to concede by the farthest stretch of the imagination that there was a potential for a valid finding of contempt in this matter, of all the arms of government, none better than the courts ought to defend the cardinal principal of justice captured by the Latin phrasenemo judex in cause sua. Simply translated, this means that one cannot sit as a judge in ones own case.

    Granting this precept, therefore, a sitting court that alleges an offense against an officer of the court knows better than to be judge and jury in its own case. As an eminent commentator on this case put it in a different context, “Since the contempt alleged did not occur in the face of the court, the Supreme Court ought not to have tried the case itself. The case ought to have been heard by another court. In the instant case, the Supreme Court was a judge in its own cause.”

    Equally noteworthy are the observations of a constitutional law expert of great global renown. In his analysis, even if it is assumed as the Court alleged that the Minister of Justice violated the doctrine of separation of powers, such violation cannot amount to a ground to hold anyone in contempt; the proper recourse is to void the Executive act that constitutes the violation.  As this scholar put it, “Contempt is an important power of the judiciary and should be fully respected, but at the same time it should not be allowed to morph into an unreviewable [emphasis added] power to punish officials who take action that the judiciary ultimately concludes is ultra vires [or] to enforce the judiciary’s sense of righteousness.”

  6. There are so many other compelling points of law that one could go on to enunciate. However, for the sake of brevity I wish to conclude on this note, which is that the Supreme Court’s finding of contempt and punishment by suspending the Minister of Justice’s license to practice law makes mockery of the role of the court as the arbiter of justice, which is the linchpin of democracy. Minister Tah’s license which is her credential to practice law is her hard-earned personal asset which predated her appointment as Minister, and in fact justified her appointment as Minister. Should the Court take exception to her exercise of duties arising out of her portfolio as Minister, common decency dictates that the punishment should be confined to that portfolio and not be globalized to strike at the core of her professional credentials.

    To reinforce my support to vindicate the Minister, I will borrow again from the poignant observations of the former Attorney General quoted earlier that, “In most African nations today, the press is often the only viable opposition and nothing should be done to stifle it as was done by this windfall award of damages” [by a court which was presided by the brother-in-law of the plaintiff who sued Sieh for libel].

Madam President, in a response to the Open Letter written to you by a Susan Peyton on January 28, 2014, a comment sympathetic to you reads, “As eloquently as the writer has made her argument, I don't seem to understand what she wants Mrs. Sirleaf to do about the Supreme Court's decision. For the record, the president would be totally wrong to attempt publicly getting involved in this matter. The court has obviously erred, but the president has absolutely no right to review or criticize their decision. That should be left to public sentiment.”

I can understand the perceived dilemma from a lay person’s point of view. However, the commentator whose address ironically indicates an affiliation with a law school should know if he indeed earned a law degree, that where one branch of government exceeds the limits of its powers, it is incumbent upon the branch whose powers are infringed, to push back. There is judicial precedent in Liberia for that matter to establish that when the Supreme Court in the past attempted to suspend the license of a Justice Minister, the President intervened to safeguard the powers of the Executive in keeping with the separation of powers doctrine.

Although it may not be typical in some circles to affirm much of former President Doe’s footprints, in this context, he actually set a precedent which is relevant. Apparently, during his administration, the Court attempted to hamstring the sitting Minister of Justice, Jenkins Scott, through a sentence suspending his license to practice law for two-years as a penalty for implying in a local newspaper that only the rich had access to justice in Liberian courts. The President publicly criticized this judicial overreach and threw the full weight of Presidential Powers behind the Executive Cabinet Minister who carried on with the crucial demands of his portfolio.

Madam President, may I humbly submit that should you, as the Chief Executive of Liberia, choose the path of least resistance to placate the judiciary; you will create a slippery slope which is bound to undermine your legacy. If you elect to remain ambivalent and pass the buck, so to say, on this foundational constitutional concern, we will have the self-same separation of powers doctrine hereby compromised to thank for the possibility of a legislative redress.

Permit me to leave you with the incisive conclusion of the prolific former Attorney General, whose expert input was elicited for this analysis. Per his advice, “I am firmly but humbly of the view that the Attorney General acted within her jurisdiction. If it is felt that this is a power which she ought not to have then the law should be amended accordingly.”

Respectfully,
Kate Chang, Attorney-at-Law, California

Open Letter to President Sirleaf Regarding Justice Minister Christiana Tah’s Contempt Ruling

This letter appeared in FrontPageAfrica on January 28, 2014

Dear Madam President:

It was refreshing for me to listen to your Justice Minister, Christiana Tah’s BBC magnanimous interview on January 24, 2014 – a day after the Liberian Supreme Court Denied her petition to reconsider the punishment they imposed on her for discharging her duties as the principal legal officer of the Republic of Liberia. Apparently, the court took umbrage at the Minister for exercising her statutory power to grant compassionate leave to a journalist who had been imprisoned for blowing the whistle against an allegedly corrupt Minister.

I will defer substantive comment about the absurdity of the court’s ruling as I suspect that it could attract a tome of seasoned critiques in due course. However, embracing this development as a learning opportunity to help deepen our democratic practice, I write to address your confounding inaction and implicit abdication of authority as the Chief Executive of the sovereign State.

I have opted to write this letter under the cloak of a pen name, not for the fear of retribution, rather to illustrate the frustration that comes with trying to pierce a veil of secrecy. Your studied silence in the face of public outcry about the Liberian Supreme Court’s incoherent ruling against your Minister of Justice, Christiana Tah, seems to confirm the consensus among discerning analysts regarding your complicity in orchestrating the witch-hunt.

As the Chief Executive of the State, it is not unreasonable for you to take responsibility for an action your Minister undertakes at your behest. Equivocating or sitting on the fence is not a viable option; insofar as it suggests your endorsement of the court’s judgment, it signals your vote of no confidence in a Minister whose integrity and credibility is underscored by the action in question. If indeed the Minister has lost her principal’s confidence, it is all the more telling that you have not relieved her of a crucial portfolio the effectiveness of which you surreptitiously undermine.

Beyond the realm of speculation, I took solace in the objective BBC interview as evidence that Minister Tah found the fortitude to carry on with her responsibilities to the extent possible under the circumstances. Her relentless commitment is reminiscent of your 2011 Harvard Commencement speech in which you resoundingly extolled the virtues of hope and resilience. In that speech, you also reflected on the costs of “self-confidence, sometimes called arrogance“. Recalling “times when the burden of standing tall by one’s convictions seemed only to result in failure,” you insisted that “through it all, my experience sends a strong message that failure is just as important as success.”

As the point of departure for my present observations, Madam President, I will borrow your acclamations of the dividends of peace, your tribute to “Liberian women who fought the final battle for peace,” and your proclamation of both pride and humility “as the first woman President of my country – democratically elected” which you noted has allowed you to lead “national transformation, a change needed to address an environment characterize by such awesome challenges as dysfunctional institutions”.

What are the prospects for the rule of law which is a fundamental condition for the transformation you espouse where the highest court of the land can get away with arbitrarily suspending the license of the government’s chief legal officer under the pretext of a perceived slight?Listening to the questions that Minister Tah fielded in her BBC interview indicates that Liberians remain focused on how best she can facilitate their pursuit of justice.

While the Supreme Court’s suspension of the Minister’s license to practice is not a mere symbolic gesture, the obvious sense of obligation that impels her to persevere in going about her business in the best interest of the country is a testament of uncommon patriotism. This is especially given that you, the principal at whose behest she intervened to grant the contested compassionate leave has studiedly remained silent in the court of public opinion throughout her petty, yet humiliating, ordeal with the Supreme Court.

Madam President, what’s your story? Is it easier to blame your challenges on vested interests? What are these interests and who enabled their chieftains? Revisiting your Supreme Court appointees, what are their antecedents? Did you honestly expect that these entities would transcend their pasts sufficiently to evolve into objective custodians of justice or were the appointments a deliberate ploy to institutionalize a kangaroo court? If the Minister of Justice is denied Justice by your highest court, what hope is there for the ordinary Liberian?

Do you not appreciate the profound threat that the judiciary’s encroachment into executive powers constitute, not just to your administration, but to the rule of law which is bound to safeguard democratic consolidation in Liberia? My paramount concern is more about the collective good and less about how history will judge you for squandering a pristine opportunity to rebuild. But, I’d be remiss not to emphasize that there is yet time for you to course correct.

Madam President, we recall the length you went to endear yourself to the international community as a patriotic opposition leader committed to the essence of equity and fairness. I was one of millions ecstatic when you were elected Liberia’s President and when you received the Nobel Peace Prize for advocating women’s participation in peace-building (presumably on the assumption that women’s participation makes a qualitative difference).

However, I must confess that I have had growing cause to ponder to what avail. What happened to the ideals that you championed as an activist and in your quest for office? Will the real Ms. Sirleaf please make herself known? Will you sacrifice the best interest of the nation for personal aggrandizement? Or will you summon up the courage to redeem the remaining years in your tenure to steer Liberia back on a course that gives it a meaningful chance to endure as a viable democracy?

To refresh my memory of why you earned my support, I revisited some highlights of your profile in the public domain. In a CCTV Faces of Africa footage entitled “Ellen Sirleaf: Mother of Liberia,” you excoriated politicians to distinguished your own public service aspirations. As you put it,

What I wanted to do was be a leader – a leader motivates people, inspires them and gets them to do things and politician just talks. … It hasn’t all been easy; I have had my share of failures, but I am so glad that the success has exceeded the failures and that is why I am where I am today; I was able to rise above the failures and rise above the difficulties. I hope I could send that message to every other woman or every other person that it takes perseverance and commitment and dedication and hard-work and honesty – a combination of those values can get you there.

Ironically, that video report was posted on the web on October 22, 2013, exactly a week after the Supreme Court heard proceedings indicting your Minister of Justice for contempt. In conclusion, the narrator clarified that your leadership has not escaped controversy, noting for example that you came “under fire for promoting 3 of [your] 4 sons into high positions”. A cursory review of official dispatches and popular testimonials on Liberia reveal sordid details of pervasive corruption and abuse of power throughout your government.

The 2012 Human Rights Report on Liberia which corroborates that officials engage in corrupt practices with impunity, relates the most serious human rights abuses to a lack of justice which stems from judicial inefficiency and corruption, etc. In delivering the 166th Independence Day National Oration on July 26, 2013, your own ruling Party chair, Varney Sherman, lamented that nearly ten years after the civil war and after two cycles of democratic elections, Liberians who have come to terms with the harsh reality “that peace is not necessarily the absence of war,” ask themselves whether the Government is sufficiently accountable and responsive to their needs.

Sherman proceeds to warn that

our country cannot be transformed when public service is evaluated by the Liberian people at large as the place where corruption exists, persists and is practiced as a matter of course and with impunity.

Hopes that your successive tenure will usher in a healing era of restorative justice and grassroots empowerment are increasingly eviscerated by your administration’s reenactment of chilling strategies that bear strong parallels with some of the conditions that culminated in the inhumane war.

Many who celebrated your democratic election as an antidote for amputation, castration, and other decidedly villainous modes of containing opposition have been astounded by your disdain, discipline and punishment of dissent. Yet, we know that dissent is the lifeline of democracy. What is the future of democratic practice where a civil society stalwart like the press is either alienated or co-opted or where the Bar – the iconic bulwark of justice – is unconscionably intimidated?

Is the assumption that the so-called “politics of the belly” which has become the hallmark of your administration overrides the public good? It is bad enough to imagine that a global goodwill ambassador such as yourself would stoop as low as purposefully installing roguish personnel in cardinal positions of power and normalize incestuous appointments which empower the likes of your sons to rid rough shod against all and sundry as if the affairs of a democratic polity are a birth-right entitlement.

If you care to take the pulse of your constituency, you will be dismayed to reckon how palpable sentiments for your resignation have grown. Yet, we know from experiences exemplified by the Arab Springs that a vacuum of power or unplanned succession could be a cure worse than the disease. Go figure, Madam President.

Ms. Susan Peyton,
New York, New York

Is There Nothing Wrong with the [Liberian] Economy?

Amin Modad is a Liberian businessman.

There is an ongoing debate on the state of the Liberian economy. I am compelled to put aside sentiments, personal relationships, and political allegiances to enable me objectively respond to this debate. It is high time that we all did to prevent further decline of what we have all worked so hard to build and preserve. I also believe that it is my obligation (like many of you) even more so when I have all at stake as a Liberian entrepreneur. I fervently believe that being conscious of where Liberia has risen from over the last 8 years, significant progress has been made to normalize the socio-political and economic situation in the country; one only has to have lived in Liberia since 2005 to appreciate the levels of growth and development Liberia has experienced as well as the foundation of peace and goodwill Liberia enjoys through the savvy leadership of President Sirleaf.

Despite this, being an entrepreneur and a trade development professional, I must say that the economy is severely stressed. Unless those of us entrusted to safeguard the interests of the Liberian people begin to realize our limitations and except our mistakes with conscientious efforts to make changes, we are on a downward trajectory. Liberia experienced a surge in investment and commercial activities in the last couple of years of the first term. Government initiatives and programs conceived in the early years of the administration began to show fruition as the government began implementing areas of the national development agenda. This spurred private sector activities in diverse sectors for example, construction contracts were in abundance with the construction of roads, schools, and hospitals. The procurement of goods and services generally improved while other service sectors piggybacked. Opportunities for wealth creation were being visible and Liberia experienced an unprecedented emergence of a TRUE decentralized middle class. However, immediately before the elections, there was an impasse; the world held its breath to see how the elections would end, which was a major test to our resolve for peace and stability. The economy began to gradually recede immediately after the elections as investors and donors continued the ‘wait and see’ attitude due to the then brewing fracas over the election results. FDI took a plunge as with ordinary investment speculation. Hotels like mine experienced a drop in occupancy especially from business clients. This was exacerbated by a reshuffle that did not meet the expectations of the public and partners. Delays in completing and passing the budget had the most cataclysmal effect on the economy and nation as a whole.

Having served on the board of a commercial bank during this period, the banking sector immediately experienced widespread defaults on loans by contractors, suppliers, and service providers who had borrowed in anticipation of being paid by the government or like myself, in anticipation that the surge in commercial activities seen in 2011 would continue. There is a ricochet effect; in simple terms, when there is a budgetary crisis with long delays in disbursements (especially so when the government is the most dominant employer and purchaser of goods & services), government employees, services providers and suppliers of goods will not get paid; people go into defaults with their banks and banks performance ratios (such as loan to deposit) go out of balance and they in turn don’t lend; local entrepreneurs are not able to cover their overhead or obtain short term financing to keep afloat most often leading to downsizing or even closure. Consequentially, a bulk of the population (publicly and privately employed) cannot support their families and must curtail spending. Activities that parallel economic growth such as the building of new homes, starting of domestic enterprises, and increase in employment all systematically decline.

Equally challenging even to the most experienced leadership is, when the budget is over ambitious & concluded without capturing the inputs, programs, and strategies of the individual entities. As such, there is a disconnect between the agenda & work plan of the individual agencies and what they will end up being compelled to do with the scanty allocations they are spared. As a short-term fix, which we are experiencing now, the government will attempt to raise revenue at all costs thereby imposing further stress on businesses that already don’t have the incentives to operate and succeed. We forget to realize that when there are no counterbalancing measures put in place to circumvent budgetary lapses, the economy implodes.

We created phenomenal policies and strategies over the first 6 years of the administration, but have begun faltering in their implementation by developing ad hoc agendas to fit budget lapses. For example, the Ministry of Commerce to which I once served as Advisor to the Minister, developed through broad based engagements with the private sector and donors, contemporary Trade, Industrial, and SME policies. However, the ministry is unable to implement these without the budgetary support. Thus, even though there is an ambitious administration with revived interests and plan, there is not enough money to implement them or jumpstart programs that development partners might be interested in funding. In the case of many agencies, the Ministers might actually accomplish more if 80% of their staff just stay home and get paid. This way, the institution could conserve and use savings to implement a couple of tangible programs such as establishing a Value Addition Center to support light processing or a Trade Store to promote Made in Liberia products.

The President needs to intervene perhaps drastically to improve interagency cooperation at the Ministerial or top level (predicated upon a concerted national agenda); currently, there is an infectious disconnect that is unsupportive of her vision and is affecting productivity in various agencies. It is so easy to slip into the trap of shifting responsibilities and attempting to solve such situations with short-term individualized interventions that most often create artificial and formal barriers. There is another caveat, donors and partners a becoming weary due to lapses in the implementation of key planned activities and the unnecessary ongoing public debates and internal frictions. From experience, donors and development partners are very sensitive to poor coordination.

The government needs to realign the functions of the various institutions/ministries to resolve overlapping functions and the evolution of super bureaucracies.

We have made progress to liberalize trade through the development and implementation of World Trade Organization (WTO) compliant trade policies as well as alignment of our tariff system with the ECOWAS Common External Tariff. A key part of WTO commitments is reductions in tariff rates, and removing unnecessary nontariff measures. To effectively facilitate trade, Liberia is obligated to improve and simplify customs procedures, streamline and increase the predictability of the systems for doing business. Many short-term interventions to stabilize the economy might lead us to administer contravening measures that would raise concerns with our trading partners; these actions might not have to be systemic.

Let me use this medium to suggest few interventions that the Government needs to focus on to attain sustainable economic development:

  1. Knowing that our comparative advantage lies in our natural resources, the Government must begin to fund programs that support the emergence of vibrant Small & Medium Industries (SMIs). Concomitant to this, quality improvement and standards must be prioritized to ensure the competitiveness of locally produced goods in order to access other markets. Liberia has been often classified as a Net Importer because we import almost all our consumables (such as sardines that is abundant in our waters or edible oils). By developing SMIs, we could make significant strides towards balancing our trade and avoid some of the effects of global trends that we might not be able to control. This also ties in to the current debate re increase in foreign exchange rate. Many factors affect the availability of foreign currency on the market. However, taking a look at our Balance of Payments and current trade flows we need to increase exports and retain capital in country. I don’t believe the export of raw/unprocessed resources by foreign companies would optimally improve our net foreign assets since these companies by virtue of their models expatriate profits and capital. Whereas, a domestically owned SMI that adds value to say rubber or timber for exports will most likely bring back and retain in country most of its earning. 

  2. Create both fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for businesses (especially Liberian owned) to thrive; such need not be discriminatory or contravening to multilateral obligations. Undue stress on the business community also affects the survival of local enterprises, discourages FDI, and heightens uncontrollable corruption especially when several agencies are compelled to raise revenue or blamed for the budgetary shortfalls. Even when the intent is not corrupt, just the mere fact that multiple agencies begin to inspect businesses and firms, impose fines, or prosecute businesses all at the same time borders harassment and create poor public sentiments. Government must not be deterred from its desire to strengthen the business environment and facilitate trade.

  3. Increase (rather than cut) the budgets of agencies that affect Trade and the proper exploitation of our resources such as the Ministries of Agriculture, Commerce, the FDA, and LPMC (or a similarly reconstituted agency). Focus and money must be placed on programs that support value addition, the increase of local production, and improvements on quality & standards to ensure Liberia’s trade competitiveness. Increased trade results in increased revenue for both the private and public sectors, and increases net foreign assets without imposing business barriers or fighting around the budget. There is no sustainable way of generating revenue without offering something for money (which is called Trade); what do we have to trade? Our resources. But I stress here again, we must make the move from just exporting unprocessed resources to adding value for greater returns.

  4. Implement a rationalized reorganization of government that would bring in competences and experience rather than merely reshuffling officials (this recommendation doesn’t in anyway conclude that there aren’t competent officials already in government.). We have a savvy and experienced President with enormous integrity, goodwill and support from development partners; but she cannot do the work by herself and must be able to rely on able lieutenants. It is like building a 20 story building with 4 inch blocks from the foundation up and then using gold bricks for the top floor. 

  5.  Great work in being done re the construction of roads. This must continue strategically to open access to markets, facilitate trade, and improve access to social services rather than for political gains. 

  6. Tourism is a great but underexploited opportunity that the government must begin to prioritize. Our rich and diverse culture & history and geographical assets could make Liberia a touristic destination. Relatively, there is a need to improve the country’s image; we must market Liberia. Despite the many good news that have come out of the country since President Sirleaf’s ascendency, we are still a post conflict nation that has been scarred by years of economic mismanagement, mediocre leadership, complex fragmentized society (not limited to tribal, religious, gender, and fraternal), and unfavorable international relations.

    The world still sees a nation ravaged by corruption, wars, etc. Where as, with our turn for the better and the goodwill this administration has, we could market our experience in conflict resolution & peace building and make Liberia a destination for global conferences, and peace talks in addition to ecotourism. Why do we have to go all the way to cold Geneva to settle regional disputes?

    Government must pay attention on developing the skills needed to drive tourism and cater to increased economic activity; the hospitality sector must be supported and incentivized. Hospitality must be included and subsidized at the University Level. Providing quality hospitality service is a challenge for hoteliers and restaurateurs as there are no formally trained Liberian chefs, hotel managers, and etc.

  7. Existing concessions must be reviewed without intimidating investors with the intent of ensuring that corporate social responsibilities and other obligations of the concessionaires are being met. Furthermore, government needs to be more prudent in negotiating new concessions. We are yet to experience the optimal effects of the over $16B we have attracted especially when concessionaires are not fully utilizing or developing local skills and resources or procuring from domestic suppliers. Partnership with local businesses must be embedded to ensure that concessionaires invest into building local businesses to supply their needs as an alternative to bank financing.

  8. BUILD LIBERIAN MILLIONAIRES! Concessions must be encouraged to establish partnerships with Liberian entrepreneurs and the communities in which they operate. This applies to the emerging oil sector. From the onset, government needs to award a couple of oil blocks or sell shares to Liberians even before prospecting rather than merely allowing large multilateral companies acquire all the blocks and give out X percentage to Liberians at their bargaining terms. With such discretion, these shares would be available only to the few elites and those in power who can advance the agenda of these companies. On the other hand, if say shares of just 3 out of the 13 oil blocks are opened to 1000 Liberians each who will own and in turn negotiate or partner with foreign investors, the chances of spreading wealth and building Liberian millionaires would be greater. Let us learn from the mistakes of other oil rich countries and neighbors such as Ghana and Nigeria. How else would we develop vested interests in peace, security, and a vibrant political system?

  9. Provide customized lending facilities to support entrepreneurship, mortgage & home construction, education & specialized training, healthcare, and manufacturing. In the developed world, Home Starts (measuring how many new homes are built in a period) is a critical indicator of economic strength and directly relates to the performance of other industries such as banking, the mortgage sector, raw materials, employment, construction, manufacturing and real estate. In a strong economy, people are more likely to build new homes; conversely, in a weak economy, people are less likely to.

    There has been condemnation of the CBL from some quarters for injecting funds through the commercial banks for lending to Liberian businesses. I don’t know how, why, and where that argument is coming from. Unless it was not strategically implemented and lacked the monitoring mechanisms, it was an unprecedented and overdue move by the government that is HELPING us. 

These and several other interventions can develop a sustainable capitalistic private sector driven economy with more revenue generating opportunities to drive an ambitious development agenda.

Hernando De Soto: Commanding Heights Interview

Hernando de Soto
Economist Hernando de Soto, author of "The Other Path" and "The Mystery of Capital," is the director of Peru's Institute for Liberty and Democracy and a champion of market economics and property rights.This Interview was conducted on PBS: Commanding Heights

Interview Contents

Capitalism and the Road to Prosperity
The Influence of Developed Nations on Developing Countries
The Roots of Poverty in the Developing World
The First World vs. the Third World
Assessing the Success of Capitalism
Property Law and Capitalism
Creating Property Law
Bureaucratic Barriers to Entrepreneurship
Legal System Reform
Capitalism as a "System of Representations"
The Challenges of Property Law Reform
Making Capitalism Work for the Poor
The Institute of Liberty and Democracy

 

    • Capitalism and the Road to Prosperity
      INTERVIEWER: Why does capitalism fail everywhere else and triumph in the West?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: Because the West has a property rights system, and property rights systems seem to be about ownership. What we're discovering more and more is that it's really the system that undergirds the system of values called capitalism. In other words, you have property rights in the West. In developing nations we do, too, but they're not legal. Once you legalize them and you have recordkeeping systems and you have tracking systems and you've got contracts and you're able to get all the information about somebody's ownership over an asset, all of a sudden you obtain enormous amounts of data that you do not have in developing nations.

      In the West, that is captured in the property system. If you are somebody that is honorable and pays their debts, which is what somebody would be interested in, that's going to be captured in your records, and your records are linked to your property records. All of these are property rights, [but we don't have them] organized in a central system ... in Third World countries.

      INTERVIEWER: Is this a possible change in the Third World?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: Yes, of course. ... You [The United States] were also a Third World country 150 years ago, and you transformed yourselves into a First World country. The same occurred for most countries throughout the world.

      INTERVIEWER: And how long will that take in the Third World?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: If we don't do anything explicit about it and we follow your formula, which is to zigzag our way to prosperity, it could take 300, 500 years. From the prosperous Catholic city of Florence until [the time when] all of Italy started having a right to prosperity, not sometimes but all the time, it took 500 years. What we say in The Mystery of Capital is that there are shortcuts, and once we learn what you did, what was necessary, especially the importance of property rights beyond ownership, we should be able to get there very quickly. The Japanese did it, for example, under MacArthur's occupation. They converted from a feudal system to a property-ownership system.

    • The Influence of Developed Nations on Developing Countries

      INTERVIEWER: Why do you come here and go on American television? What are you hoping to achieve by this trip?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: A lot of the support we get for working in other Third World countries actually comes from the First World, from developed countries like the United States, so it's important to get our message out. It's important first for support [and] funding, and secondly to influence policy. So much foreign policy is mistaken as to where the challenges really are. We'd like to make sure that in developed countries, who have so much influence on what developing and former communist nations are, people realize what the real issues are about. So it's important to come here.

      INTERVIEWER: Does the developed world realize what the issues are?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: I think that the developed world is beginning to realize the issues. A lot of things that have gotten in the way have to do with culture. Culture exists; it's important. I go to Paris because I want to [experience a different] culture. When I go to Paris, I know I'm in another culture. But I don't think culture has really very much to do with the fact that some people are desperately poor and others are wealthy. One has to get that out of the way. It's important for people in the United States to realize that they, too, were a Third World country one time, and regardless of the culture, they became as developed as Spain was once. We have to do the same thing. We have to let them understand that it's invisible things such as the law and institutions which have enormous amounts of things to do with prosperity, and it's not easy to get that message across. You get a tractor, you get a big machine, and say these guys have got it and these other guys don't, and therefore these guys [with the tractor] are more prosperous than the second guys. That's easy to illustrate. When we talk about law, when you talk about institutions, it's very hazy stuff, so you have to go back and sink it in one time after another. It's a lifetime's work, I'd say.

      INTERVIEWER: The idea that the U.S. was once an underdeveloped country is hard to conceive when you sit here in New York. This looks like it's been here forever.

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: That's right. If you look at New York, there's a feeling that all of these buildings have been here forever, but in fact they haven't been here for that long. They certainly weren't here 100 years ago, not the ones you are photographing now. Enormous amounts of things can be done in half a generation. It's incredible. And when you go and see the United States, Williamsburg, which used to be a capital of the United States, and compare it with the way Mexico City was 120 years ago [or] what Lima was, we probably had bigger cities than you did in the Unites States, and all of this [growth] has been recent. A lot of it has to do with the right laws, with the right kind of institutions.

      INTERVIEWER: When you come to New York and see the kind of wealth that's here and the kind of consumption that's here, how does that make you feel compared to the kind of people that you and your people work with day to day?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: The difference between being in the U.S. and being in Peru is that a very small number of people in the U.S. are concerned with development for the very simple reason they're already developed, while development is what we're all about in the Third World. We've got a lot of the human touch; we've got a lot of the human dimensions. What we're missing is prosperity. So naturally when you go to Latin America and you talk about development, it's a big issue. Here in the United States it's an issue for the foreign-policy types. I think they call them foreign-policy wonks, some multinationals who have investment abroad, some internationally minded citizens, but they're not the majority of people. They're the minority, and that's what we deal with -- the minority, the ones who care.

      INTERVIEWER: How much does the policy in the developed world actually impact what you're trying to do in the developing world?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: What happens in the developed world impacts what happens in the Third World and in former communist nations very much. First, because people from developed nations have got more money, so people on the left in the United States who want to press certain points of view can actually turn governments around. So can people on the right. The war for development is fought on both fronts, both in the Third World and in the First World. In the First World, if somebody thinks that a human rights issue is very important regarding terrorism and they actually can manage to sink that point in and make it a big issue internationally, it's all about whether you're getting funds or not. You can decide the cause of that war here in the First World because the funding for the weapons, the funding for the balance of payments stabilization, the funding for economic adjustment, it all comes from the First World. So when the First World blinks, the rest of us blink as well, and even harder. So the war is also here.

      Let me give you an idea: Aid agencies which are extremely helpful are mainly concerned about physical things. How do we help the poorest of the poor? They give a lot of weight to them and relatively little weight to the changing of institutions or the changing of legal systems. That's a definite impact, because they pour money to those people taking care of the physical infrastructure stuff -- that's also where the best brains in the Third World go to. And they don't go to changing a legal system. So what happens in the First World is very important to us.

      INTERVIEWER: Do you feel like you're making progress?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: Oh, yes. I think we are definitely making progress. The press is the first indication. We've been out in the last few months and in a lot of the major magazines in the United States and in Europe and in the UK. It's catching on because we're also making sure that the way our arguments are structured is not only understandable by the right people in developing countries but also can be read by the right people in the First World nations. It's very important to make the argument relevant to everybody.

      INTERVIEWER: Recently we were in Mexico and we interviewed Vicente Fox. He talked about your ideas and said, "We're listening to what de Soto is saying. We're also going to Egypt and trying to really connect with top leaders in developing countries...."

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: What we're trying to do is talk to very important leaders in the Third World -- not all of them, [as] there are about 160 nations between the Third World and former communist nations. What we're trying to do is to talk to some of those that are very relevant for a variety of reasons, but I would say that the principal one is so that the argument doesn't build up that what we're doing is a Latin American issue, or what we're doing has to do with former Spanish colonies. We think what we're doing has to do with human nature and the way societies get organized. So it's very important for us to be able to talk to the Cabinet in Egypt, which we do, because here we are talking with Muslims with a 6,000-year-old civilization, and the problems they've got are very similar to ours. It's important for us to be talking to Fox as well, because he's basically saying some of the things that the Egyptians have begun to say and the same things that Gloria Arroyo is saying in the Philippines. It's important for us to be in each different culture to indicate that the problems we're facing are standard and they are policy issues that can be dealt with.

      INTERVIEWER: In Mexico, they've got a lot of optimism, but they've got a huge challenge. What do you think?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: Personally, I think that Vicente Fox and his people are doing excellent stuff. One has to keep one's eye on them very much because they're breaking an old monopoly tradition in politics, and so they've got a lot of difficult challenges to face. They're very credible now; the important thing is for them to continue being credible. They're also moving a lot of funds at the same time. They've got a very difficult task ahead of them, but we wish them well and we're going to support them as much as we can.

    • The Roots of Poverty in the Devloping World

      INTERVIEWER: Let's talk a bit about your personal history. How did you get involved in these sorts of issues of capitalism, of poverty, and property rights?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: The way my involvement in these issues began was when I realized, after living in Europe for a long time yet traveling constantly back and forth to my native Peru in Latin America, that Latin America, and Peru of course, were very poor. I hadn't quite realized that as a child. I thought that my Peruvian friends, my cousins, my interlocutors when I came to Peru were just as sophisticated, as clever, as skilled as my European friends when I was a child. It only dawned on me about the age of 17 that I actually came from a poor country. And then I wondered why, since the skills seemed to be the same, at least among elites. So I told myself there must be something that isn't obvious that accounts for the relative wealth of the European, the North American, the West versus the nations of the Third World. Since then I've been interested in finding out what that difference is. And since I couldn't pick it up in the books, I thought it had to do rather in observation, with getting involved in the grassroots. That's how I got involved in this. And about the age of 39 I had made enough money so as to survive, hopefully, for the rest of my life. I started getting more involved in these issues.

      INTERVIEWER: You're talking about grassroots, and we're now going to the town of Cajamarca [in Peru]. What message are you taking to Cajamarca?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: The reason we were invited to Cajamarca, like to all the other places we've been in Peru, is because of the book that I wrote, which has become Peru's number one best seller of all time. We've sold about 300,000 copies. It's called The Mystery of Capital, and it tries to give an explanation for poverty at a time when everybody is somewhat disappointed in the fact that since the fall of the Berlin Wall we've entered another model which supposedly was going to bring prosperity, the market economy capitalism, and it hasn't. I happen to believe in the market economy, and I believe that capital is the source, or explains to a great degree the capacity to great additional wealth of the West. I've come up with an explanation that says with the figures that we are bringing out that, in fact, the poor have worked a lot; that we're a very enterprising lot; that what is missing is a legal system and an institutional framework that allows us to leverage wealth.

      The reason I'm going to Cajamarca now is because the universities, the association of Citizens Against Terrorism, and a few other organizations have invited us to talk about The Mystery of Capital. The curiosity stems from the fact that now, 12 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and 11 years after Peru adopted pro-market policies, their situation hasn't gotten that much better, and they want to know why. The Mystery of Capital offers an explanation. It says that the system per se works in the West, but that in our country, like in much of the Third World, it isn't functioning, not because it is not adaptable, but because we have missed some of the crucial elements that the Westerners had in the 18th and 19th century, like property rights, without with this system [the Third World] cannot function. I'm going there to explain to them that they shouldn't lose hope, that there are elements missing, but they require the active intervention of public opinion, and that's why I'm talking to them. And the need for politicians to overhaul the whole legal system so that they, too, can have property rights according to law over the assets they possess and be able to create capital.

      INTERVIEWER: Is Cajamarca like any other poor town in the rest of the world?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: Cajamarca, yes, is a very typical Peruvian village, mainly of rural characteristics, probably the 20th in size of Peruvian urban conglomerations. So it's very small, and it's pretty representative of a lot of what we call Latin America -- that is to say, Latin America from Mexico down to Bolivia, that part of America where we are mostly a mixture between old Indian indigenous civilizations and the Europeans that migrated.

    • The First World vs. the Third World

      INTERVIEWER: Why should the First World care about the Third World?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: I don't think the First World needs to care about the Third World. As a matter of fact, I generally believe that most of the problems that need to be resolved in the Third World and in former communist nations cannot be resolved from outside. In other words, I don't think there's much Westerners can do about it. Therefore, the fact that most First Worlders don't care about Third Worlders doesn't actually depress me, because I think the solutions are a local affair.

      Why would it be interesting for the First World to pay attention? Because we're a globalized economy. You depend very much on foreign oil. If you start working down to the crucial ingredient of your economy, you'll see that it's all interwoven. So in spite of the fact that you're not indispensable for the development of the Third World, the fact is that it is useful for us Third Worlders to be in close contact with you, and [to] be able to use mainly your technical advice when needed. But there is no reason that I can think of why I should try to convince a First Worlder to be interested in the Third World, other from the fact that we're all part of the same family.

      INTERVIEWER: You fly to a lot places. Where do you like to go? What sort of towns do you get more insight from?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: I have found out as we've been called to work in different parts of the world that every place brings something new. I was very interested, for example, when we were contracted to start helping redesign Egyptian legislation regarding property rights for the poor. I always thought that traveling to a different culture would make a great difference. It makes a difference, but not a great difference, and that's also interesting. What's interesting is to find out that we Third Worlders have much more in common than we have in differences. The cultural differences that would make for an interesting program on the Discovery Channel or an article in National Geographic Magazine are cute, are interesting, but that's not where the basics are. The basics are that all of us Third Worlders have in common a very underdeveloped property rights system, a very underdeveloped legal apparatus, and that's what keeps you ahead of us. That's the part I look at. The fact that I'm able to find it in different cultures is first of all important to us because it indicates that there are basic principles that account for development, that there are general theories that one can bring together and that, therefore, there are solutions that one can devise on the basis of this information. But it's not the differences that make it interesting for me to go into any particular part of the Third World; it's the fact that we're so similar in spite of the fact that this might be manifested in different cultural forms.

    • Assessing the Success of Capitalism

      INTERVIEWER: You make a pretty amazing and sweeping statement: The moment of capitalism's greatest triumph is the moment of its greatest crisis. Why?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: The reason why this is not capitalism's best moment. I wrote the book two years ago, before it actually got published and started being circulated in Spanish, because it hasn't really worked for the majority of the people in former communist nations and developing countries. We people from the Third World and from former communist nations are five-sixths of the world's population. There are about six billion human beings in total, and five billion are in developing and former communist nations. At the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we all decided to take the capitalist route. Right now it's quite obvious that about 80 percent of the people in developing and former communist nations have not benefited from the system. The fact that there's no alternative around for the moment doesn't mean that one cannot be created. It's obvious that people are trying to find other ways.

      So the test is there. The test is, can the system actually work for the majority of the people? So this is capitalism's testing moment. This has happened before. It's not that this hasn't occurred before. In Latin America, we found that in at least five opportunities, all our countries put together since the 1820s, when we found our freedom from Spain, [have] actually tried to follow the U.S. model or the Western model. We've privatized railways and we have lowered our tariffs to zero and we've opened ourselves up to foreign investment, and five times we've had to go back because it made sense for a very small [group] among of people at the top of the pyramid, but for the majority it didn't work.

      So our thesis is, basically, the reason it doesn't work for the majority is because the system can only work with property rights. Markets and capitalism are about trading property rights. It's about building capital or loans on property rights. What we've forgotten, because we've never examined the poor, we've sort of thought that the poor were a cultural problem, is that the poor don't have property rights. They have things, but not the rights.

      And when you don't have the rights, you don't have a piece of paper with which to go to market. You don't have a legal system that undergirds that piece of paper and allows it to circulate in the market. The question now is whether we're going to follow the Western route -- let's say that capitalism started 500 years ago -- and go through one revolution after another, tremendous wars, social wars and then finally, four centuries, five centuries later the system comes together, or we're going to be able to learn from you and get it over with in the next five, 10 years.

      But that requires for capitalism to understand that looking at the poor is not the task of the First Lady of the republic. It's the task of the president. It's not a question of just doing macroeconomic stability, getting your accounts right, stabilizing money. It's about finding out why the poor can't use the legal system and revamping it. It's major surgery. That's why we're at a time where capitalism is going to be tested. Will it be able to cater to the poor, or will it continually be seen in places like Latin America as something that essentially relates to libertarian clubs and to people who are wealthy, in many cases who don't necessarily believe in capitalism. They just believe in helping their own wealth. Or are we going to make it inclusive and start breaking the monopoly of the left on the poor and showing that the system can be geared to them as well?

      INTERVIEWER: You have alluded to it a bit, but I want to know if capitalism is really in trouble.

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: Capitalism of course is in trouble, because as usual it is only catching on among the top 20, 10 percent of the population of Latin American countries that have got their property rights paperized in a way that they can enter the market. It's in trouble in the sense that it isn't working for the majority. I insist that capitalism doesn't work without property rights, so it only works among the Westernized elites of our country. You may have noticed that in all developing countries and even former communist nations there are always some people who have been to Harvard, that have taught at Yale, that are in touch. Elites all throughout these hundreds of years have always been in touch. Kings and queens from different countries have always been in touch. So the fact that the system works for an elite doesn't mean it's successful. We've always taken it as successful. We've always actually thought that the poor didn't [appear] for cultural reasons. We've always thought that the poor needed to be educated. That's why they didn't come in. And what The Mystery of Capital tries to tell you is that there are huge legal obstacles for the poor to come in. It isn't that they culturally don't want to come in. They're continually proving that they do want to come in because they're continually migrating to countries like the United States and Canada and western Europe, so they do want to come in. The problem in our countries, in Latin America, is we're not letting them in, and it's because we haven't gone around to finding out what is the cost of getting in it. We're starting to find out it's a very high cost.

      INTERVIEWER: The elites are to blame?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: I always thought, at least in the case of Latin America, that elites have not accomplished their role. At the end, to create a revolution where the legal system and the market benefits everybody is a heroic task. We realize this the more we look into history and see what the foreign elites did back at the time, for example, of the American independence. They had a vision. And they had the courage to rebel against a status quo. What happens in many Latin American countries and Third World countries is that the elites don't do this, and [they] try to explain the economic backwardness of a large amount of the population -- 80, 90 percent of the country -- as a cultural problem. "We need education," [they say,] instead of seeing it as essentially a problem of [invisible] obstacles that are put in their way ... and they're so set in their ways of thinking that the lower classes are inferior that they're actually acting a lot more like Russian elites in 1914, 1917, than American elites back at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century, who were open-minded. Many times, of course, [impoverished] Latin Americans become confused by looking at them, because they're able to talk about Hayek and they're able to talk about Milton Friedman. But it's not that they really believe in them; it's sort of like a shield. It's a shield they use. They use libertarianism and conservative ideas the same way communists used to use socialism to hide their real intentions. You have to always be careful about that, because undertaking a revolution in terms of liberty is a very revolutionary task. It requires lots of guts, and it requires going against a status quo. Nobody who really gets along with the status quo can be absolutely trusted to change these countries around from their backwardness to a prosperous society.

      INTERVIEWER: We've been told for 50 years now that free markets bring freedom. Do you believe that?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: I believe that markets do help absolutely to bring freedom. I don't think that's enough, but I certainly do think that helps, because at the end good markets work with information. You need information, and that necessarily brings pressures on the political system to make people accountable, to provide the right kind of information, to provide the right kind of enforcement. They feed on each other. But it is also important to emphasize democracy as such. I am not necessarily a great friend of some Asian systems which went towards free markets but disregarded the democratic side. That may have worked in certain cultural circumstances and may not work in others. In the case of Latin America, where there is such a cult to the idea of democracy, you also have to add an effort in terms of political freedoms as well as economic freedoms.

      INTERVIEWER: There has been a battle of ideas that that the world has undertaken between communism and capitalism. What's next? Where are we swinging?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: Capitalism definitely won the battle against communism, but a lot of the main ideas or concerns behind the early communists and socialists are still around. They had to do with an equality. They had to do with inclusiveness. They had to do with fairness. These ideas will get back into the game, and I think it depends very much on the elite in developing countries to make sure that these are also incorporated into the capitalist or free-market argumentation. It's not enough to say that these are the leftist kind of things, human rights kind of things. We've got to bring them in. If we don't bring them in, the traditional leftist will come back. The traditional Latin American leftist is very different from the American liberal who respects democracy. I'm thinking about Latin American leftists who have no problem of carrying out reforms with no democracy whatsoever. If we don't incorporate all of these humanitarian values, all these humanistic values, all of these democratic principles within the capitalist agenda, it'll be born again in some other form that may not be the traditional communist one but will bring with it the same, and many, dangers that communism came with, which is a total disregard for the basic principles of economics that produce wealth and that at the end up solving material problems.

      INTERVIEWER: It seems that globalization is the trend. Won't that make it worse for poor people?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: No, globalization is where we've been heading for ages. Look at me with the beard and no hair on my head. I'm a product of globalization. Latin American Indians, Peruvian Indians aren't bald, and they can't grow hair on their face. I am a product of globalization. I am the result of Spanish migrants having come to Latin America and probably mixed with some Indians, but not enough so as I can't grow my beard. So globalization has been going on. What we're finding out now is what the early economists, the classical economists told us, from Adam Smith to Marx, which is that the more we learn to divide work among ourselves, the more productive we get. The idea was not only to go for larger markets in larger cities, but go for larger national markets and now larger international markets. And it's obvious that these are going to bring prosperity.

      What we've just got to make sure of is that globalization also includes the underclasses. They have a lot to gain from it as well. But if I go with you through the obstacles that somebody that's poor has to go through to get an export license, or an import license, or be able to put together the kind of paper that'll allow you to globalize, you'll find out that it's a pretty exclusive club, those who can globalize. It's a club made of those people and places like where I come from, Lima, that know how to deal with the law firms, that know how to lobby for legislation that helps some, but doesn't help somebody else. In other words, a system of capitalism for only a few, because there's a legal apartheid that blocks the majority from coming in. Everybody wants to globalize.

      And if somebody tells me no, the poor of Peru don't want to be globalized, the logical question that comes is then why have a million of them traveled to the United States over the last 12 years, not to mention those who have migrated to Mexico or migrated to Spain or other parts in Europe? The reason is because they want to globalize.

      We are now in Cajamarca, and you have seen many people that still keep their old traditional Indian costumes and their ponchos and their big hats. Here we are really in rural bliss in Peru. But I'm sure that when you've been to Lima -- not only Lima but most of the towns of Peru -- you don't see that anymore. People have got sneakers, and they have trainers, and they've got Nikes and other things. They're already globalizing. There is no cultural resistance to getting in on the same wavelength. The problem is that they can't globalize in economic terms. They're not allowed to get into the international market except for touristic projects and for artisanry.

    • Property Law and Capitalism

      INTERVIEWER: You are trying to do something unusual, which is to get a message out to the people. What exactly are you trying to achieve by holding these symposiums?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: There's a message in my book which is the result of the research and the conclusions my colleagues and I came to as a result of very practical empirical experience in many developing countries throughout the world. The general idea is that there doesn't seem to be a better system in the world than the capitalist system, and it's a very subtle one, too. It's much more sophisticated than what people think. What it has is the ability to pick up the value of people's work. It has the ability to be put on paper, to accumulate, to represent value, and to use it to further additional production.

      What we think is that the reason it isn't working in the developing world and the reason it isn't working in former communist nations is not because people are anticapitalist or people are antientrepreneurial, but that the infrastructure of laws that make the carrying of capital possible are simply not in place.

      The message here is don't despair; it's worked for the West; it can work for us. We know nothing better. But it's going to involve radical changes, and you being entrepreneurs are going to be the first ones interested in making sure that these changes occur, and they have to do with the legal system. Here's what we have to say about how the existing legal system in the Third World conspires against you, how it doesn't allow you to come in. Be conscious that that's the source of the problems, that it's not the capitalist system, it's not the free markets system, it's not your capacity as an entrepreneur; it's essentially a legal system that doesn't allow you to accumulate capital, to organize value, and to be able to transfer it.

      INTERVIEWER: So the system is rigged against poor people?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: What happens is that over the last 11, 12 years, the recipes available in the international market were at the macroeconomic level. Look, free-market entrepreneurialism is possible everywhere. It's a question of having stable money. It's a question of having fiscal equilibrium -- government doesn't spend more than what it gets. And it's a question of making sure that the government isn't the manager of enterprise, so you have to privatize things.

      That and a few other adjustments called "structural adjustment." But what we're seeing now is that that's important, but it certainly isn't enough. It isn't even the beginning of the story. Of course you need stable money, and of course to have stable money you need a government that doesn't overspend, and of course you also need a government that isn't involved in enterprise. But you also need, more important than other things, a rule of law that makes a market economy, the interdependence between millions of producers, possible through good contracts, through good administration of justice and through representations in paper that are capable of capturing value, so as to use that value to further additional production, i.e. capital.

      The general idea here is that we haven't properly yet understood the capitalist system. It's much more profound, it's much more subtle than we all expected, and it has only partly to do with macroeconomic equilibrium. Most of it has to do with the rule of law, putting in place a system that allows all of us to prosper.

      INTERVIEWER: And so far the system hasn't prospered. Why? Why doesn't it work?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: The system hasn't prospered so far because we've dedicated ourselves only to doing the macroeconomic side of the formula: stable money, fiscal equilibrium, and privatization. The majority of the capitalist system the way I understand it is essentially a legal property system. And in most developing countries and former communist nations you do not have a legal property system that can provide a framework for the majority of entrepreneurs. I'm talking about 80 to 90 percent of all the entrepreneurs that exist. As a result of it, you cannot produce wealth.

      One of the things that always scares me is that secret little argument, not even intellectual argument, that little prejudice that is not only in the minds of Westerners, but is also in the minds of elites of developing countries and people that take decisions, that the reason the capitalist system doesn't work is because culturally we're not ready for it, whatever the word "culture" means. It may even have racist implications. What we're saying is well, maybe it's true. Maybe the capitalist system does work much better with Protestants and whites. Maybe. But before that, let's take away all these enormous legal obstacles that poor people have to face. Let's take away all the ignorance around law and let's put good law into place and then we'll just see whether it works or it doesn't. We're absolutely convinced it does work because people are actively [conducting] enterprise all over the world. The thing is, they can't make long-term contracts, and because they can't make contracts, they can't obtain credit, and they have no way of constituting a company that can issue shares, therefore they have nothing to sell against investment. That's the reason it doesn't work. I don't think it's cultural at all.

      INTERVIEWER: So education isn't going to solve anybody's problem?

      HERNANDO DE SOTO: Education is important. Education is important; health is important; religion, beliefs are important; a civil society is important; a good democratic system is important. But there are many developing countries where you do have some kind of a democratic system. There are many of these countries where you've got education. You could even say that in terms of the indigenous needs of the Peruvian nation we've over-invested in education. Why? Because most of the people that we've educated have emigrated to the United States.

      So I'm not saying that education is not important, but if you don't have a capital infrastructure that is capable of creating job opportunities and entrepreneurial opportunities as a first source, all that education doesn't help. What we're saying is we've tried education, and it's good that we continue. Health is also extremely impor

A Satirical Look at Homophobia in Liberia

All Liberian anti-gay activists have decided to join forces under a single umbrella to help stamp out homosexuality in the small west African nation. The group (PEWMAH) Pedophiles, Embezzlers, Warlords, Molesters, Adulterers Against Homosexuals claims the mantle of covering about 90 percent of the Liberian Population.

According to the group spokesman, Bigboy Gorbachop, "we represent the national character and identity of Liberia and we therefore oppose the legalization of this type of satanic vice which can destroy our proud national heritage."

He further went on to say "we acknowledge we are all sinners; however, homosexuality, is against the very nature of our shared Liberian and African heritage." The group says there is no reason to hold national meetings or conventions as 9 out of every 10 Liberians are members of one or more of its sub groups. "Anywhere more than 3 people are seen, dah meeting!" said the spokesman. 

However, not all anti-homosexual groups are happy about the naming of this umbrella group. The Group Sex Association (GSA) of Liberia, the Closeted Legislative Caucus (CLC), as well as the Greater Monrovia Chapter of Fornicators Anonymous (FA), the Hidden Homosexuals of Liberia(HHL),and Parishioners for Promiscuity (PfP) have all put out statements protesting not being recognized by this umbrella group.

The Godma and Godpa Association of Liberia, currently holding their national convention in Bongquenemah,  could not be reached for comment.

The Closeted Legislative Causes, which is comprised of closeted members of the legislature stressed they are vehemently opposed to the legalization of gay marriage in Liberia. Their spokesman said, off the record, "if gay marriage is legalized in Liberia, some of our closeted partners will demand marriage proposals from us; we prefer to continue to act in a manner that is culturally acceptable for Liberia and Africa as a whole."

For its part, the Group Sex Association spokesman, Mr. Paigar Jukay, said even though his group is not named in the initials of the umbrella group, he is pleased that Liberians of all stripes are waking up to fight this terrible lifestyle. He continued that with the addition of these four groups they will achieve nearly 98% of the population of Liberia. He also reminded this reporter, that many Liberians are actually members of multiple groups named here.

In Liberia: Engineering the Failure of LIBTELCO

This article was written by George K. Fahnbulleh and Omar Fahnbulleh

The Liberian government recently announced a policy wherein the government would roll the cost of government official's communications into their salaries.  While this policy has been greeted with cheers by the people of Liberia, this writer believes there is something much more dubious afoot:  the deliberate bankrupting of LIBTELCO thru a series of seeming innocuous policies which I will detail.

To get the fiber optic cable here, we spent about 25 millions under a private-public venture called the Cable Consortium of Liberia. We have a problem; we don't have the required infrastructure to the get the cable operational. We need about 7 million dollars to get it going and we have not been able to get Government funding and this is why the connection process is slow. But we are making efforts to get banks to fund the project. At the moment we moving small small. ~ Paul Muah, Deputy Managing Director LIBTELCO 

The gains for the government and people of Liberia, with the implementation of high speed internet connectivity, in terms of increased efficiencies, communications, accountability, education, health are on a scale of orders of magnitude.  It is mind boggling to us, why the government would allow this entity to struggle when it is the entity which was built for exactly this function.

As we examine the latest policy, we realize the civil war destroyed the telephone line infrastructure in Liberia. However, in today's communications, most telephone traffic is no longer analog, but digital in the form of VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) transmitted via fiber optic cables.  This is the same fiber optic infrastructure LIBTELCO is struggling to raise money to construct. 

If the Infrastructure is built efficiently LIBTELCO could offer the Government and it Para-statals (IE. Central Bank, GSA, LPRC, NOCAL) and others, VOIP, VIDEO, DATA, Storage and Cloud based services from it’s current Data Centers.  With Liberia not having an abundance of qualified ICT professionals, the government should make a concerted effort to leverage LIBTELCO's expertise in providing these services. 

In Liberia, government offices do not have desktop phones, instead the government spends quite a bit of money annually to provide telephone service, by paying for "telephone scratch cards."  This means ALL GOVERNMENT BUSINESS, is conducted via private cell phones.  We had hoped this would be a temporary solution to the absence of the land line infrastructure.  With the coming of the fiber optic cable, we had hoped, the government, led by the Minister of Finance, a man with an Information Technology background, would have made this a top priority.

It should have been common and accepted knowledge, that the Government of Liberia, would have been the largest initial purchaser of services from LIBTELCO for desktop telephony, computer network communications (for operations health and education), data center services (the Ministry of Finance's IFMIS is currently hosted at the LIBTELCO data center).  However, the government has done all it can, to pull the rug from under this entity, and refuse to purchase the services only this company can offer.

The following government entities all have a need for massive data transportation and storage services:

  1. Central Bank of Liberia (this entity has diverted government funds to construct its own data center in Virginia).  Every service provided by this CBL data center, is currently available at the LIBTELCO data center.  As a matter of fact, any and all high speed internet service to the CBL data center can only come from LIBTELCO.
  2. NASSCorp (this entity is building its own data center)
  3. National Archives is currently building a massive database of digitized property records
  4. NOCAL has a need to provide secure managed data storage and transmission with its international partners
  5. GSA - Asset Management and Tracking Services Hosted at LIBTELCO
  6. National Security Apparatus
  7. Education - distance learning, record keeping etc
  8. Health - the ability to bring medical professionals to the desktop to assist Liberian medical providers.

The annual purchase of the services required to sustain the above needs, would far exceed what LIBTELCO needs to build out its infrastructure.  The argument cannot be made that there is no money, when you have at least two entities (Central Bank of Liberia and NASSCorp) duplicating the physical infrastructure and service offerings of LIBTELCO to the tune of several million dollars.

There is no argument any competent ITC professional can make, as to why the Central Bank of Liberia would undertake the extension of the fiber optic cable to Virginia or why NASSCorp would extend same to Red Light, and undergo the expense of providing triple redundancy for power, when all of the capacity and capability needed is already IN PLACE at LIBTELCO.

There is no argument any competent ITC professional can make, as to why the Central Bank of Liberia would undertake the extension of the fiber optic cable to Virginia or why NASSCorp would extend same to Red Light, and undergo the expense of providing triple redundancy for power, when all of the capacity and capability needed is already IN PLACE at LIBTELCO.  When taken into to consideration with the severe financial constraints facing the government, and LIBTELCO, one can only wonder what these folks are up to. 

One can only hope, the intent is not to bankrupt the company and sell it of to private "investors" for pennies on the dollar; but I am hard pressed to accept that the above confluence is simply a misadventure of the keystone cops.  There are too many smart people in this government, for the deliberate and willful ignoring of LIBTELCO.  Ralph Ellison wrote: "I am an invisible man, not because people cannot see me, but because they refuse to see me." LIBTELCO is the Liberian Government's "Invisible man."

The Way Forward

What is required is a UNIFIED NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY, which would drive the implementation and adoption of a single government wide strategy. We had hoped by now such a policy, which would put all of the communications and computing initiatives under a single budget line item, and a single management agency would have been done by now.

The Bureau of Data Processing currently under GSA, is the statutory agency RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL DATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS WITHIN THE GOVERNMENT OF LIBERIA.  This Bureau should immediately be seconded to the Office of the President, while legislation is drafted and passed to create the Bureau of Information Technology, headed by a cabinet level Director the Chief Technology Officer.

This BIT and it's predecessor will be THE SOLE ENTITY responsible for ALL, YES all computer and telecommunications systems within the government.  This will remove the IT decisions from people in Ministries, who decide whether or not to spend their budgetary allotment on internet services.

It is time to do better.

 

Why Rodney Sieh’s Imprisonment is Unconstitutional

Why Rodney Sieh’s imprisonment is unconstitutional and what can be done to get us out of this mess1.
by Ambrose W. Wortorson, Esq.2 

 

INTRODUCTION
Ambrose W. Wotorson, Esq/It has been clear for about one month now, that Rodney Sieh’s jailing is unconstitutional. However, greater care should have been taken to explain why neither the executive nor the judicial branch was able to do much, if anything, to get him released. Justice Minister Tah recently took to the airwaves to explain the judicial process, but that was after a deep skepticism had already gone viral. This public relations disaster – and disaster it is – has revealed a tendency of licensed professionals and political actors to talk over and past each other, much to the confusion of the people.

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS
Chapter III of Liberia’s well-written 1984 Constitution concerns fundamental rights. Fundamental rights are those basic rights that are so important that there must be a higher purpose or a very special reason for curtailing them. Under Article 11 of Chapter III, "…all persons are equal before the law and are therefore entitled to the equal protection of the law". This means that the law cannot treat one set of people differently than another set of people without some very special reason for doing so. Article 15 of Chapter III explains, "…every person shall have the right to freedom of expression." That too, is a fundamental right. Section "b" of Article 15 specifically identifies "…freedom…of the press" as yet another fundamental right that cannot be curtailed without some very special reason. Article 20(a) of Chapter III ensures that,"…no person shall be deprived of…liberty…except as the out come of a hearing judgment…in accordance with due process of law. In other words, nobody in Liberia is allowed to lose his or her liberty without prior "notice". Article 20(a) of Chapter III also teaches that nobody is allowed to lose their liberty without being given an opportunity to argue against their loss of liberty. Finally, Article 20 (b) of Chapter III identifies an "…easy, expeditious and inexpensive appeal" from judgment as yet another "fundamental right".

ENFORCING JUDGMENT DEBTS
But, these fundamental rights are now clashing with a little-known enforcement of judgment statute from 1972, and that has Rodney Sieh behind bars today. The statute, Chapter 44 of the Liberian civil procedure code, specifically states that nobody should be jailed for failure to pay a debt, except in very limited exceptions. (Section 44.1). One of the exceptions concerns a failure to pay damages where there is an "injury to reputation". (Section 44.71(2)(e)).

Notably, the statue allows installment payments, deferred payments and even mandates that "professional tools and implements" are to be exempt from money judgments. (Section 44.27). So, the statute contains various "outs" to allow judgment debtors to continue making a living whilst paying off their debts. Clearly, this is not a statute that jails everybody who fails or refuses to pay a judgment debt. The statue expressly forbids that.

INJURY TO REPUTATION AND THE CONSTITUTION
Section 44.71(2)(e) has elevated a particular civil wrong -- injury to reputation -- to the level of a jailable offense, without any obvious or special reason for doing so. Indeed, a person who fails to pay a judgment after vaguely causing an "injury" to another person’s "reputation" is going straight to jail. But, a person who is found guilty after a civil trial of any other intentional torts can freely ignore the judgment without any fear of being jailed. That makes no sense and there is no rational basis for creating such a distinction in the law. Since journalists are the most likely to be accused of injuring other people’s reputations, Section 44.71(2)(e) may disproportionately affect them.

Arguably, Section 44.71(2)(e) has created a special class of civil wrongdoers -- mostly journalists -- who are more likely than other civil wrongdoers to be jailed. The distinction that Section 44.71(2)(e) has created violates Article 11 of Chapter III that mandates that, "…all persons are equal before the law and are therefore entitled to the equal protection of the law. " Section 44.71(2)(e) specifically singles out certain types of civil wrongdoers for harsher penalties than other civil wrongdoers. Under this formulation, not all civil wrongdoers are equal before the law.

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
Section 44.71(2)(e) also appears to violate "freedom of the press", another fundamental right enumerated in the 1984 Constitution. Indeed, Rodney Sieh’s liberty was taken away when he could not or would not pay civil damages after a jury comprised of Liberian men and women found that his newspaper had crossed the line in two stories it carried in November 2009 and in January 2010. Section 44.71(2)(e) does not contain any guarantee that a party who has allegedly injured another person’s reputation will have an opportunity to contest his or her imprisonment before actually "going inside" if he or she can’t pay the judgment. This violates the fundamental right that nobody is allowed to lose their liberty without being given an opportunity to argue against their loss of liberty. No justification has ever been given for this.

INEXPENSIVE APPEAL
Under Section 51.8 of the civil procedure code, Rodney Sieh’s trial judge was supposed to "fix" his appeal bond. It is discretionary, and the civil procedure code does not appear to have any formula for fixing an appeal bond. Rodney Sieh recently wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, that his appeal bond was a whopping $2.2 million dollars. That is an outrageous, and absurd sum, if true. If true, that absurd appeal bond vitiated Sieh's right to an appeal, because he could not afford it. It violated Article 20 (b) of Chapter III that identified an "…easy, expeditious and inexpensive appeal" as a fundamental right.

THE MECHANICS OF GETTING RODNEY RELEASED
Rodney’s Sieh’s imprisonment arguably violates the fundamental rights of equal protection, freedom of the press, due process and inexpensive appeals. Rodney Sieh’s lawyers should consider filing a petition, styled as a combined writ of mandamus, injunction, habeas corpus and certiorari, challenging the constitutionality of Section 44.71(2)(e). The petition could be filed with the Civil Law Court for the Sixth Judicial Circuit, Montserrado County. That lower court Judge will need to address the issues presented in the petition. The lower court may certify that Rodney’s Sieh’s new claims raise constitutional issues, and may transmit the matter directly to the Supreme Court for resolution, if it cannot resolve those matters itself. While the executive branch of the government is not a party to the underlying libel case that resulted in Rodney Sieh’s losing a civil jury trial, the Court will formally notify the Ministry of Justice that the constitutionality of a statute is being challenged.

Once notified, the executive branch should promptly file a Motion to Intervene. But the Motion to Intervene should be made only so that the government can go on the record as taking no position, or more radically, joining the petition. The statute, as written, is indefensible, and it appears to violate some cherished fundamental rights. Care must be taken however, to explain that the executive branch can oppose such constitutional challenges to existing statutes, but that it is not doing so now because the legislature may need to repeal and/or to update portions of Section 44.71(2). The executive branch should not be shy in stating that jailing folks on account of their judgment debts is repugnant. That would not only be fair, but it would also answer the clamor that "the government does something". In this instance, by taking no position, and doing nothing, the executive branch will in effect, be doing something. Alternatively, this administration can also show its alleged democratic stripes and join Sieh’s petition.

CONCLUSION
This case can still be settled. Settling does not mean surrendering. It means an agreement by both sides to cease-fire. However, a settlement would not absolve the legislature of the task of reviewing the judgment enforcement statute, and repealing provisions that put folks in jail simply because they don’t have money to pay judgment debts. Finally, the one good that has come out of this case, is that for the first time in a long while, non-lawyers are now scouring over the statutes, struggling to understand and interpret them, and in some instances calling for their repeal. Others have begun to review a relatively unknown, but very impressive body of Liberian Supreme Court case law. That is good. Just like the Koran is not for Imams alone, and the Bible is not for Pastors alone, the law is not for lawyers alone. It is for the people.

_______________________________________

1 These are merely Mr. Wotorson’s thoughts and opinions, and they do not constitute legal advice, since he is only admitted to practice law in the United States, and not yet in Liberia.

2 Manhattanville College, B.A. Political Science (Honors), 1988. University of Miami School of Law, J.D., 1992. Admitted, New York, 1993, Second Department; United States District Court Southern District of New York, 1995; United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, 1998, United States District Court, Northern District of New York, 2000; United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, 2002.

The Imprisonment of Rodney Sieh for 5000 years, highlights Liberia's Ugly History of Indentured Servitude

This particular law was designed to force native people into indentured servitude when they could not pay their debts/fines. A wealthy landowner would "stand their bond" and they would have to "work off their debt" to the landowner more often than not by working the farms / tapping rubber.

This is why there are specific types of "offenses" like adultery, where one native man would accuse another of "following his woman" to the Justice of the Peace Court. The JP would then fine the accused say $50, which he could not pay. The JP would then tell some wealthy land owner he has x number of people in "jail" for various debt offenses, and the land owner would pay a percentage of the bond, and cart them off to work for him.

This is why the law even goes as far as setting the monthly debt exhaustion rate at $25/month UNTIL the debt is exhausted. It makes absolutely no sense to imprison someone who cannot pay debt, thereby DEPRIVING THEM of the ability to EARN INCOME to pay the debt, while at the same time absolving them of their debt at a predetermined rate. Except, of course, if the intent is to transfer their debt for cheap labor.

The  Law States as Follows:

§ 44.1. Imprisonment for nonpayment of money judgments.
A person shall not be arrested or imprisoned for disobedience of any money judgment or order requiring the payment of money except for those money judgments enforceable by punishment for contempt under section 44.71(3) or by imprisonment under section 44.71(2) if execution is not satisfied

2. Judgments enforceable by imprisonment if execution not satisfied. Judgments in any of the following actions shall be enforceable by execution, but if the judgment debtor cannot or will not pay the full amount of the judgment together with interest and costs, the sheriff shall arrest him and the court shall order him imprisoned for a period sufficiently long to liquidate the full amount of the judgment, interest, and costs at the rate of twenty-five dollars per month:

(a) Adultery;
(b) Seduction of wife or child;
(c) Illegally taking away or harboring a wife or child or ward under twenty-one years of age;
(d) Enticing an incompetent away from his legally appointed trustee or guardian; or
(e) Injury to the reputation when the words spoken or written are actionable per se.

Article 12 of the Constitution of Liberia States

No person shall be held in slavery or forced labor within the Republic, nor shall any citizen of Liberia nor any person resident therein deal in slaves or subject any other person to forced labor, debt bondage or peonage; but labor reasonably required in consequence of a court sentence or order conforming to acceptable labor standards, service in the military, work or service which forms part of normal civil obligations or service exacted in cases of emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community shall not be deemed forced labor.

It is obvious that the Statute above is in conflict with the Constitution.

What exactly is the State's interest in imprisoning a person, and burdening the taxpayer with the cost of that imprisonment, for failure to satisfy a civil judgment? 
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In Liberia: It is time for The President and Musa Bility to Go

by Omar Fahnbulleh

I have been thinking about this, for a while, and have mentioned it to a couple of people.  It is time for our President Madam Sirleaf to GO.  Madam yesterday undermined her Justice Ministry’s indictment in the LAA case.  The Liberian Justice Ministry issued an indictment of several Liberians, some serving in the Government of Liberia, but our President came out and issued a vote of confidence for one of the major players in the Indictment, Mr. Musa Bility.  Our president instead of letting Justice take its course decided to step on our Constitution and insert herself into the case and undermine the Justice Ministry by interfering with the legal proceeding. 

Why would Madam Cockrum or Mr. Johnson want to return to Liberia to face trial when the President has already vouched for one of the defendants?

Who is Musa Bility?

To know who Mr. Bility is, one only has to read the news out of Liberia.  This calls into serious question the judgment of the President, and her anti-corruption claims.

In July 2012,

State prosecutors alleged that SCRIMEX Chief Executive Officer Musa Bility defrauded the government of U$350,000, adding that their evidence against his company was overwhelming for indictment. http://bit.ly/1eShFOI

In June 2013,

The Confederation of African Football, instituted a six month ban against Musa Bility, in his role as President of the Liberian Football Association, for “violating statutes relating to the use of confidential documents.” http://bit.ly/13S4Ujc

In June 2013, the Tax Court of Liberia ordered Mr. Bility’s assets seized and sold.

The action of seizure and sale of assets as well as closure of the premises of his companies, according to the writ of execution, stemmed from a September 7, 2012 judgment which compelled Bility to pay US$165,000 representing the amount he owes the government of Liberia in taxes  http://bit.ly/16jv5l5

So even though State Prosecutors have, at least once, presented a successful prosecution of Mr. Bility for defrauding the government of Liberia, the President of Liberia, announces, after a second indictment of Mr. Bility, that she has complete confidence in his integrity.

For the President to say she has confidence in the integrity of Mr. Bility, is at the same time saying she has no confidence in the integrity of the Ministry of Justice.  But it begs the larger question: where in the world, does a President, whose government and country is rife with corruption, step in to serve as a personal character witness for a person indicted for corruption, even before the trial has even begun.
 
This is the second time, Madam Sirleaf has done this.  She visited Mr. Guyde Bryant when he was under a major indictment for corruption.  Madam Sirleaf has neither the desire, nor the intention fight corruption.  It was never part of her agenda and it will never be. 

Our President, every step of the way, has undermined the fight for corruption in Liberia.  She appointed Mr. Francis Cabah back into her Government when he was fired from Social Security for Corruption.  I am here scratching my damn head, in fact, my head hurts.  In the recent tape released by Madam Cockrum we heard the Defense Minister indict the entire government of Liberia when he stated that there are folks in the Government that have stolen but are still allowed to write checks for the Government.  We have yet to hear from our Elected Leaders.

Again I will say its best Madam Sirleaf leaves office now, considering we have UNMIL in Liberia for another four years.  If she leaves now, this will give her replacement a chance while we have UNMIL to do what is right and put in place the programs to move Liberia forward.  Is there anyone, at this moment in time, who believes if Madam Sirleaf stays in power and we stay on our current trajectory, when her term ends and UNMIL leaves we will have Peace?