George K. Fahnbulleh

Ideas and Opinions...

In Liberia: Tripping over their Ignorance

I have watched for the past 3 weeks, as the Opposition Coalition, has tried in vain to challenge the NEC's conduct of the election.  The reason they are failing so miserably is they have approached this as a legal issue, with no forensic/technical basis.  We see a room full of esteemed lawyers arguing and peacocking about "the law." Each determined to show how much law he knows.  We get it already. You are experts at law.

However, these esteemed lawyers are totally ignorant of the forensics which could strengthen their case.  

The NEC made the voter rolls available to parties on a USB drive.  Those voter rolls were in PDF format. Yes, the NEC provided a list of 2 million voters on paper, for the political parties!!!

This is strike one.  Did the NEC deliberately provide the voter rolls on paper to make the voter rolls inscrutable? It is not possible to query such a list in any reasonable period of time.  Why not an Excel spreadsheet? But what you don't know, you don't know.

Be that as it may, there are technology tools, which will allow you to take a report in pdf and convert it back to a database.

A Liberian technology expert performed this task and shared his results with me.  On their face, they point to an astounding level of technical incompetence, that seems almost criminal.  It is one of those things when you see, and your professional, yes professional opinion is "no person can be this stupid."

There were more than 15,000 (fifteen thousand) duplicate voter IDs.  There were more than 100 persons age 105 - 215.  The latter is a data entry quality control issue.  The former, however, points to the incompetence mentioned above.

A fundamental concept of Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS) is the idea  every row (record) must have a unique identifier.  This unique identifier can only occur once in a table, hence the word "unique".  There are two ways to do this, which allows the system to enforce these constraints:
a) make the specific column the primary key
b) add a "unique constraint" to the column

That column for the voter registration database should be the VoterID number.  Again, because each voter must have a unique voter ID number, the database design must have designated the VoterID column as the "primary key" or placed a "unique constraint" on the column, if a different primary key was used. 

The fact there were 15,000 duplicate voterID's in the file, suggests neither of these fundamental architectural/design constraints were put in.  Let me be clear, if you registered for "Introduction to Databases" and dropped the class after 2 weeks, you would have learned about "primary keys."

In light of this apparently fatal technical flaw, the litigants should have then demanded:
1) the NEC freeze the database (by making a certified copy and removing that copy from the premises.)
2) a copy of the database be given to the litigants for inspection.

This would have allowed the litigants to actually query the database and note all of its design/data flaws.

Also important is whether or not the NEC built an "Audit Trail" into the database.  For high-security databases, it is necessary to record and track all changes made to the data, capture who made the change, and the date and time it was made.  For example, if someone changes the data in a middle name column from "K" to "Karmoh" that change is automatically recorded in a separate table.  This allows for secure monitoring of changes to the data.  The absence of an audit trail means the NEC has no reliable mechanism to tell which changes were made, by whom, and when.

Back to the absence of primary keys and/or unique constraint of the VoterID.  The design/architecture flaw here is so severe, it is impossible to believe there are not even more serious flaws in the database.  It is also impossible to know for certain, without an inspection of a copy of the actual database.

How, if at all, did the NEC correct the problem of 15,000 duplicate voter IDs? Is there an audit trail which shows how the correction was handled?

I can understand all of this technology mumbo-jumbo, is confusing to the lawyers and layman alike.  However, that the lawyers did not have database experts to challenge the NEC over these questions, is where I believe their case was doomed.

Sometimes you have to get out of your own way.

 

President Sirleaf and the Unity Party Intend to contract or sell everything Before they leave Office

The government of Liberia is looking to enter into a BOOT model contract for e-visas, with less than 4 months left until a new government comes in. I examine the technical requirements, by the government, which are farcical, later in this piece. But first, some housekeeping.

What is the BOOT model?

"BOOT (build, own, operate, transfer) is a public-private partnership (PPP) project model in which a private organization conducts a large development project under contract to a public-sector partner, such as a government agency. A BOOT project is often seen as a way to develop a large public infrastructure project with private funding…Such contracts are typically long-term and may extend to 40 or more years."

The BOOT model is entirely unnecessary and does not apply to this type of contract (which would cost under $2M USD). There is no need for any party to BUILD the technology infrastructure (storage, database, transport, ecommerce) can all be purchased using the “SAAS” or Software As A Service model. Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services are two vendors offer these types of infrastructure services.

The issue here is the services being requested, cannot, in any way, be considered “a large public infrastructure project.” The requirements in the Request for Proposal, are vague, specious, devoid of any over-arching technology philosophy. Reading the RFP, it is obvious it was SPECIFICALLY WRITTEN by a specific “vendor” with a “specific vendor” in mind.

This contract will essentially ensure, for the next 10, 20, 30 years that some group, family, cartel will get a percentage of each and every Liberian visa issued.

Imagine this: if there are 50,000 visas issued annually and the “cartel” gets $50 per visa, the “cartel” collects $2.5M annually. Extend that over a 10 – 30 year period, the amount balloons to $25M - $75M.

Why do people believe they must “soak” the Liberian people in perpetuity?

FYI, the Maritime contract with LISCR was a BOOT contract. The GoL did not spend the money to build the data infrastructure, as a result, the infrastructure is owned by LISCR and the price for turning over that infrastructure is so exorbitant, it is unaffordable.

So the question is why would the Unity Party government be in such haste, to commit to a long term contract, for a project that will not be implemented BEFORE 2018, tying the hands of the next government? This is a question I would actually like BOTH the President, and the Vice President to answer.

Sadly this is not the only such “contract” being entered into.

The National Identification Registry is embarking on a $6M USD, biometric ID card project in October (the election month). Their plans call for them to build two (2) datacenters, even though there is an unutilized data center at LIBTELCO. According to the NIR, they will register 50 persons a day. At this rate, it will take 252 years, to provide IDs to 4.7 million people. They are obviously in it for the long haul. Haul being the operative word.

The NIR has contracted with a Kenyan company to provide the service. The software and technology is not developed by the Kenyan company. They are simply the vendor who will implement the service.

Then there is the NEC, which has reportedly hired a Ghanaian company, to do/manage database work for them.

How is it that the most important, private data, data with national security and privacy implications is being given to foreign companies, as if there are no Liberians, anywhere in the world, with the capability.

Government agents standard arguments is people “have to be on the ground.” Since when did Kenya, and Ghana become “on the ground” in Liberia? Is it simply that they are planning for their lives outside Liberia? The people of Liberia will continue to suffer, while past leaders make money off them for the next 30 years.

What is obvious, in these contracts, is there seems to be a concerted effort, to direct all of the GoL information technology contracts AWAY from Liberians and Liberian companies. This hinders the development of the sector in LiberIa. How many Liberian companies are there working for the Ghanian Election Commission or the Kenyan Biometric Registry?

The VP/UP Problem
The problem for the Vice President, is he cannot run to continue the Unity Party governance, while at the same time, claim he has been oblivious to these types of shenanigans.

Analysis of the E-Visa Request for Proposal

The term service provider is actually the “integrator,” and speaks to a lack of understanding of the types of vendors that do this kind of work.

1) The Service Provider must have been in the Software Engineering business for at least 10 years.

This is a lark, because these e-visa packages are not “developed/engineered” by the service provider. The developer of the software, and the software itself should meet those standards, not the “service provider.” This is like demanding the Toyota dealership have 10 years in the car manufacturing business.

2) The Service Provider must be accredited in the key software technologies used in the development of the Web Based Online Visa Application CMM Level 5 Certification is preferred.

Again, this continues to conflate the actual developer of the software with the “service provider.”

3) The Service Provider shall demonstrate experience in the development of large and comparable software systems in the government sector. Experience working with the Liberian government will be an added advantage.

These are software packages that are purchased. If the government of Liberia were actually serious and committed to the development of the ecosystem for these types of services, it would not contract with a separate vendor for the National Identification Registry, the Biometric/e-passport, and the e-visa.

This is death by a thousand contracts, where each contract is a vehicle for some person and/or group to CHOP.

Financial Criteria:

The turnover of the company should be more than $10 million. How many Liberian IT companies “turnover” $10M. This should tell the reader, there is no intention to allow Liberian companies to qualify for such a bid.

Summary 

The government is determined to solicit multiple solutions for several requirements that can be addressed by a single integrated platform. This is yet another example of spending large amounts on a solution that can be purchased at a fraction of the cost.

What is even more painful, is the determination of this government, to develop a vibrant internal software services sector, which would further create learning opportunities for Liberian youth.

It is my hope that the next government will do an audit of ALL the technology projects, including those sponsored by aid dollars, and where there is malfeasance in contracting, it will go after, those “former officials” with malice, no matter where in the world they try to hide.

Integrity is not the solution for Corruption in Africa

"Show me a country with poor record keeping systems, and I will show you a poor country every time" 

The fight against corruption, in Liberia, is not about integrity. It is about having RECORD SYSTEMS that can adequately track all transactions. Most African nations, Liberia included, are woefully deficient in their record keeping systems.

How come Liberians who exist in the West seem to not have these "integrity" problems? As soon as they get to Liberia, their "lack of integrity" shows up. Because in the West, record keeping systems exist that will catch them more often than not, so they do not risk committing the offenses.

The DEFAULT proposition is "you will be caught." In Africa, the DEFAULT proposition is "you will NOT be caught."

In other words, people in the West ARE FORCED to be honest, whether they want to or not, BECAUSE of the systems in place.

Another thing that forces honesty, in the West, is the REDUCED USE of CASH for financial transactions. Those credit/debit card transactions force the transactions into RECORD KEEPING SYSTEMS.

In Africa, the vast majority of the transactions are cash transactions, which leave room for theft, at every collection point of the transfer of said transaction.

As long as we continue to look at it as an "integrity" problem we will miss the mark. It is a lack of systems problem.

You can have systems of Accountability without computer systems

What process is used to standardize the collection of data for people requesting or receiving a government service/benefit?

It is not just about "computer systems."

The PAPER FORM is the most BASIC CONSTRUCT for data collection and management. In developed countries, people requesting something from the government must fill out a form. Design of those forms and their elements are controlled by a central entity and the agency requesting the benefit/action is being requested.

In the US, that federal agency is the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
-The elements and/or wording on those forms can only be altered after a rigorous process between the agency and OMB.
-Any computer systems which capture the data from those forms must be updated before a new version of the form is put into circulation.
-PUBLIC NOTICE must be given, as to the changes to the form.
-These notices and regulations are published in the Federal Register.

Once a new version of a form is released, the old version CAN no longer be used to request or submit information to the government.

So I am not speaking only about computers in any discussion of DATA SYSTEMS. Data systems include all instruments used to collect data.

In Liberia: NOCAL, No Cash Available for Liberia

Liberia Oil Basin

NOCAL paid nearly $4 Million USD to the Liberian Legislature over the past 18 months. The company paid $1,000,000 for the nation wide tour for the legislators to consult with their constituents.

I previously posted a check made out to Sen. Sando Johnson for $31,000.00 immediately after The Legislature passed the last oil block lease.

31000 x 102 = 3,162,000


It is my studied opinion, that NOCAL fronted the money to the legislators directly out of its coffers.

The lease signed with Liberty Petroleum, which had never ever drilled an oil well, fell through when Liberty could not flip the lease (which they tried to do 48 hours after getting it), and NOCAL was not able to collect it $25 million signature bonus. Out 4 million dollars with nothing to show, the President wants a restructuring.

Global Witness warned that Liberty Petroleum was unlikely to perform.

Global Witness: Liberia Has Burned the Furniture to Warm the House Feb 27, 2015

 A major oil contract, offshore Block 16, was recently handed to a coalition of three companies. One of these appears to lack sufficient funds to operate the oil block, and another has close links to some of Liberia’s worst tax dodgers. 
(1) On 18 December the first, and so far only, of these contracts was finalised. Block 16 was awarded to US-based Liberty Petroleum, Nigerian-based Pillar Oil, and Liberian-based New Millennium Oil and Gas, who together paid US$ 22 million in signature bonuses and other payments. 

(2) US-registered Liberty holds a 90 percent stake in the contract. Yet the company has only seven employees and a 2014 declared turnover of just US$ 3 million.

(3) In contrast, assuming that Liberty’s contract complies with the Liberian government’s new model contract (the Block 16 contract is not yet public), Liberty and its junior partners must invest US$ 53 million in the next seven years in oil exploration.

(4) Liberty is part-owned, through a series of intermediary companies and trusts, by US Congressman Trent Franks, a Republican representing Arizona’s 8th District.

(3) In contrast, assuming that Liberty’s contract complies with the Liberian government’s new model contract (the Block 16 contract is not yet public), Liberty and its junior partners must invest US$ 53 million in the next seven years in oil exploration.

(4) Liberty is part-owned, through a series of intermediary companies and trusts, by US Congressman Trent Franks, a Republican representing Arizona’s 8th District.

 

Just as Global Witness had previously warned, on June 16, 2015, FrontPage Africa reported:

The President confirmed that US oil company Liberty Petroleum, and Nigerian oil company A-Z failed to stump up US$25 million in cash they promised for four oil licenses that they agreed to purchase in the oil auction. These initial payments are known as "signature bonuses" in the oil industry.


The President said her son, Robert Sirleaf had reorganized NOCAL and left it strong. Now less than two years after he left, the President is saying the staff needs to be cut to 50? 

Why didn't Robert Sirleaf's reorganization cut the staff?

Unless the President is telling us the staffing increased from 50 to 300 AFTER Robert Sirleaf left it is clear their claim, his and hers, they reorganized the company is patently false!

Because the legislature has been PAID every step of the way, is the reason you do not see them clamoring for an explanation of what happened to the company.

This, my fellow Liberians, is the damage this woman has done to the country: she has completely destroyed the separation of powers and has corrupted and conscripted the legislature as her crime partner.

The Reorganization Team

President Sirleaf also disclosed that an Interim Transition Team (ITT) composed of the current Chief Operating Officer, the Vice President for Finance and the Vice President for Technical Services will hold over in the transition period, with severance pay delayed until the period is over.

I find it curious that the interim transition team includes the Chief Operating Officer & VP for Finance both executives who should have been managing the finances and operations of the organization.

The Chief Operations Officer, Althea Sherman (nee Eastman) was Robert Sirleafs best friend and classmate at CWA, Class of 1978.  She was brought in as his direct representative.  The Vice President of Finance, Karmo D. Ville was hired by Robert Sirleaf. Two of the three people being held over, are direct hires of Robert Sirleaf.

The entire thing is being stage managed by the president. Her son was Board Chair. She appoints his best friend to run the day to day operations of the company. The company fails. The president says fire everybody EXCEPT my sons friends, the same people who ran the day to day operations and the finance of the company that was poorly managed, are now going to lead the transition?

The Friends & Family plan works for AT & T, but it does not work for a country. 

I seriously fear for the future of this country.

In Liberla: A Disgraceful Government

 

"The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it" ~ George Orwell

I read with the utmost amount of shame and disgust, the recent 17 (seventeen) page missive, by a national security operative of the Government of Liberia, Grant Solomon, against the former Justice Minister of Liberia, Christiana Tah. Three months after Madame Tah resigned from the Sirleaf government, the government is still undertaking an intense effort to discredit her. To me, it is evident the President and her National Security Team feel the need to impeach her credibility, to preempt and discredit anything she may say about her time in government.

I have included in this paper, an extensive bibliography, to demonstrate to the "security researcher" that when you write a 17 page document, you should include information which can be verified.

The manner of Madame Tah’s resignation, and the insight it provided into the President’s actions in obstructing investigations, was unlike any other resignation in this government.i

That fear was evident and confirmed in a letter to Madame Tah by the National Security Council, in which the government believed it was necessary to "admonish" Madame Tah, a lawyer, of her obligation not to divulge "state secrets."

Ironically, the people demanding she maintain secrecy, are now spreading gossip, not only about the workings of the Ministry of Justice, under Tah, but about her place of birth, her family life.

There are so many things that are disgusting and false about this piece, it is difficult to even begin to organize my thoughts. Some of the things that jump out at the reader, are not only the venom and vitriol in the letter, but the pettiness.

The piece does not simply deal with Madame Tah’s tenure at the Ministry of Justice, but delves into her personal life and attacks her marriage and her children. This is something low class people do. Mr. Solomon writes:

"She is married to Dr. Tah, a gynecologist, and almost twenty years her senior. The union is blessed with two children, a young lad, of less significance to society, and a budding young lady who is a caricature of her mother’s dual personality."

How is the age difference in a person’s marriage the concern of the national security agency? Mr. Solomon refers to Madam Tah’s son, who is autistic as "a young lad, of less significance to society." Thankfully, the young man is a citizen of a country, America, which values all of its citizens, even the ones with disabilities. What kind of human beings, let alone a President, and her National Security Team, attacks an autistic child to go after his mother?

Solomon goes on to say of Tah’s daughter "a budding young lady who is a caricature of her mother’s dual personality." This young lady has excelled with multiple degrees from some of the top universities in the world.

Although Mr. Solomon states Tah has the following academic credentials:

  1. Masters in Sociology / Corrections – Kent State University
  2. LLB Law Degree – Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law
  3. LLM Law Degree - Yale Law School

He attempts to diminish her credentials by suggesting she graduated from the Grimes Law School with a 2.1 GPA, when in fact she graduated Magna Cum Laude.

According to the Yale Law School website "Applicants for the LL.M. program must have completed their law degree at an accredited U.S. law school or a non-U.S. law school with substantially equivalent standards, and must have a strong record of academic accomplishment."ii

We are to be convinced that a person with a 2.1 GPA met the "strong record of academic accomplishment" required by Yale Law School.

The leaves one to wonder, why are these people so insecure that they seek to diminish the accomplishment of others.

It also begs the question: why would the President, not once, but twice, appoint a person of such low academic standing, first as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and later as Justice Minister?

The answer to the first question can be found in the President’s autobiography, "This Child Will Be Great." This is a woman who has been able to con the world that she is a "Harvard trained economist" over the past 12 years, when in fact, she has a 2 year degree from Madison Business CollegeIV, described in Wikipedia as:

"Madison Business College was the name of a business college in Madison, Wisconsin, founded in 1858. It was also known as Northwestern Business College and School of Shorthand, Capital City Commercial College, Madison College, Madison Junior College, and Madison Junior Business College; it closed on September 22, 1998."

She was able, through her work with the Government of Liberia, to parlay that 2 year degree into a 9 credit certificate program designed specifically for people from third world countries, by Harvard. Lawrence Summers, the former US treasury secretary, is a Harvard trained economist.

It is also noteworthy that this president has managed to drive out of her government just about every woman of qualification and substance including Antoinette Sayeh and Olubanke King-Akerele. Imagine a woman president who despises competent women; quite the contradiction.

The NSA robs Korean Businessmen

What seems to strike a raw nerve with the President and her entire National Security Team, was the public disclosure by Madame Tah, of the President’s refusal for the Ministry of Justice to investigate allegations of robbery against agents of the National Security Agency made by Korean businessmen.

Madame Tah’s allusion to this incident, in her resignation statement, so irked the President, that New York Times writer, cum Sirleaf biographer[i], Helene Cooper attempted to cast aspersions and derision on it, in her October 30, 2014 article.  Ms. Cooper wrote:

Ms. Tah, used her resignation news conference to accuse Ms. Johnson Sirleaf of trying to block a corruption investigation into Liberia’s National Security Agency, which is headed by another of the president’s sons. Ms. Johnson Sirleaf denied the charge; it was the same son, Fumbah Sirleaf, who helped American agents pull off West Africa’s largest drug bust in 2010.”

The crime was initially reported on extensively by the National Chronicle, in a series of articles:

  1. In Alleged Organized Crime "Gold, Diamond Deal":NSA, Lebanese National Rob Koreans Of US$284,000
  2. After Sharing Korean Businessmen’s US$284,300: NSA Aids Lebanese Man To Escape

On August 14, 2014, officers of the Police Support Unit (PSU) barricaded and tear-gassed the offices of the National Chronicle, seized computers and arrested its editor, Phillibert Browne. On September 9, 2013, the Police Director, Christian Massaquoi barred Mr. Browne from traveling. The raid was ordered directly by the President of Liberia, bypassing the Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice’s attempts to take hold of the investigation were thwarted by the Executive Mansion. In a letter dated July, 11, 2014 the Deputy Minister of Justice for Administration and Public Safety, Wheatonia Y. Dixon Barnes wrote:

"We are indeed very concerned about the legal implication this issue poses to the Government of Liberia (GOL), and the potential negative impact it may have on investors. In this connection, therefore, we advise that you forward this matter to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) for a thorough investigation in conjunction with the NSA. To protect the integrity of the process, we further advise that the amount in question be deposited into an escrow account until the legality of this issue is determined. Additionally, we request that you stay all forms of investigation with respect to this case pending our joint sitting."

Those instructions were never carried out, even though, by law, the Director of the National Security Agency is required to "report to the President through the Ministry of Justice on all Matters affecting the work of the Agency, as circumstances may require or as directed by the President." The law further requires the Ministry of Justice to "issue orders and regulations with the approval of the president with regards to the performance of such additional function as circumstances may dictate for securing the safety of the State." The National Security Agency can give no account of the money, seized by its agents.

Solomon, who claims he is a "security researcher" has obviously never heard of the internet. He tries to pin the dismissal of Deputy Minister Barnes on Madam Tah, when the Executive Mansion website, on September 13, 2014, posted a list of three deputy Ministers from Justice who were dismissed by the President being "out of the country without an excuse."

Why concoct a fantastical lie, when the information is readily available?

The fact is the President dismissed three of Minister Tah’s Deputies even after Minister Tah submitted medical excuses and pleaded in person for mercy for the three Ministers. The real target of the dismissals at Justice was Wheatonia Barnes, because of the instructions she gave Fumba Sirleaf, noted above. The President could not stomach the idea that any person would instruct her son to hold on to evidence of a crime. The other two ministers were simply collateral damage.

We are supposed to believe that 5 rogue agents, seized nearly $250,000 dollars and that money was never turned over to the authorities within the agency?

Madame Tah’s assertions were vindicated when the Special Independent Committee set up by the President, to bypass the Ministry of Justice, and "to investigate accusations of money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal arrest, and conspiracy to defraud" the Korean businessmen made 3 findings and recommendations, which were:

  1. Appropriate administrative actions be taken against the operatives of the National Security Agency (five in all) who were directly involved with the arrest of the Korean and Sierra Leonean nationals immediately.

  2. The operatives of the National Security Agency (five in all) who were directly involved with the arrest of the Korean and Sierra Leonean nationals, and their co-conspirators (two who do not work with the NSA) be handed over to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution in order to clear the name and image of the National Security Agency.

  3. The Government of Liberia refunds to the Korean nationals the full amount of US$247,500, which they withdrew from the International Bank of Liberia (IBLL) on July 8, 2014, and which they proceeded with directly to the City King Hotel, immediately thereafter, and were arrested shortly after their arrival. Liberian Observer 11/10/2014

The President’s attempt to shield her son, and obstruct justice cannot go unnoticed, especially when one considers that one of the NSA agents involved in this robbery, Terrence Doe, has an extensive criminal record in the United States. Doe was tried and acquitted on double murder charges in New Jersey. The question on everyone’s mind, is how, did a career criminal become an agent of the National Security Agency? Perhaps, her son, Fumba Sirleaf can answer that.

NSA robs Nigerian Businessman

Incidentally, this is not the first time agents of the NSA have robbed foreign businessmen in Liberia. In September of 2006, NSA agents confiscated $508,000.00 from a Nigerian businessman, under the guise that the Nigerian was a drug dealer and counterfeiter. The businessman, Valentine Ayika, went on to become a member of the Nigerian parliament. Mr. Ayika sued the government of Liberia in the ECOWAS Court, and in the case Valentine Ayika v Republic of Liberia, the court "ordered the return of $508, 200 dollars by the Liberian Government to Mr Valentine Ayika.

The presiding judge, Justice Hansine Donli, held that the plaintff, Ayika, was exonerated from drug trafficking and money laundering by an investigative team in Liberia.  Donli said Ayika was not indicted by the investigative team and that Liberian Government had no legal justification to confiscate the said money."

President Sirleaf stubbornly refused to obey the ruling of the Court until Liberia’s seat on the Court was denied.

How does one explain, the same agency, committing two of the same kind of robberies, yet expect us to believe the head of the agency knew nothing about it? 

The Cockrum Meeting

Again, Mr. Solomon, the security researcher, tries to place the blame for the Cockrum tapes on Madame Tah. I know both Melvin Johnson and Ellen Cockrum, and I know they have never met with Madame Tah.

The Golden Child

It seems the President and her minions, are still trying to wrap their heads around the terrible election thumping of her golden child, Robert Sirleaf, at the hands of George Weah. This 78% - 11% drubbing of the golden child, has left the President and her inner circle in total shock and disarray. They understand that this was a vote that says the President has no legacy. For all of the love and adulation, they twice showed the President, she has abused them, abused their trust to please her golden child and minions. Coupled with the complete collapse of the healthcare system when the Ebola epidemic hit, after 9 years in office, the Liberian people want nothing to do with anything or anybody named Sirleaf anymore.

Sadly, rather than working to salvage what is left of her tattered legacy, the President is hell bent on settling scores with her former Justice Minister, and anyone she imagines an enemy. This is unwise, and ill advised. I will encourage Madame Tah to speak to the Liberian people, at the time and place of her choosing. 

The reason for highlighting with documentary evidence, unlike our erstwhile security researcher, Mr. Solomon, is to show that he is a liar, a person in a long tradition of government liars which date back to the Tubman era of the Public Relations Officers (PRO’s). They authored documents, wrote "secret memoranda" which they claimed they found in women’s shoes. It is pathetic, that this Continuing Criminal Enterprise which calls itself the Government of Liberia, has decided it will publish lies about a person who has served the Liberian people faithfully

In Liberia: Incapable of Introspection

I read Minister Lewis Brown's response to the Press Statement by the former Justice Minister, and wondered what manner of people are Liberia's leaders who are incapable of introspection.  Mr. Brown, as usual, was in full uninformed attack mode.  Rather than focus on the substance of the Madam Tah's statement, which has resonated across the globe as a scathing indictment of the President and the Government, Mr. Brown chose to be, well...Mr. Brown (see Mr. Brown from the TV Show).

One would think, any response coming from an official government source, would be based on deep introspection, reason, and judgment.  It is clear neither the government nor Min. Brown seem capable of that.

In his very first paragraph Mr. Brown deliberately misrepresents that Madam Tah "finally mustered the courage to exercise her prerogative to resign."  Did Mr. Brown's boss, President Sirleaf, not inform him of the Minister's resignation of March 31, 2014?  Mr. Brown the Minister resigned on March 31, while still under suspension.  Your boss has that resignation letter.  It would be in the best interest of full disclosure that she release to the Liberian public a full copy of the original letter of resignation.

I, for one, am curious, as to why the President refused to accept the original letter of resignation?

As several legal scholars have already written, the President did not give any substantial weight to the precedent set under her by allowing the Court to remove a member of the Cabinet from his / duties.  I continue to believe, the President colluded with the Court to orchestrate the suspension, because she wanted to accomplish other nefarious goals which Minister Tah would not allow. 

If one must listen to people opine about actions of the Judiciary, one should listen to legal scholars who understand legal doctrine.  As is usually the problem in Liberia, people do not know how to "stay in their lane."   In the case of Minister Brown, he should pull off the road entirely.  

Was Minister Brown aware, that Madam Tah returned to Liberia even as the Ebola epidemic was growing, and the president already had her resignation letter in hand?  And he wants to talk about mustering courage?  What exactly did she have to gain? She could have demanded then that the President accept her resignation.  

Now, it is not clear to anyone why Minister Brown thinks that Minister Tah will be angry when she has been magnanimous to return to work and help this Government that is now spiraling into an abyss, without complaining, after her rights were abused by the Judiciary with the complicity and endorsement of President Sirleaf.  It is, rather, the Government that is angry and embarrassed by the forthrightness of the former Minister, which it is incapable of responding to.

Please tell us "what bigger interest" of the Liberian people is served, when the Minister of Justice, cannot investigate allegations of fraud against other government agencies? Or is it just the National Security Agency, which happens to be headed by her son?  You have the audacity to talk about "teaching by good examples?"

Minister Brown, please tell us what "bigger interest" of the Liberian people was served, when the President decided that the Security services under the State of Emergency would be under the control of the Minister of Defense, as opposed to the Minister of Justice where it belonged?

Do you understand this directly contributed to the death of a Liberian citizen, Shaki Kamara.  Apparently, it has not occurred to you and your boss, that her decision to place command where it should not be placed, had consequences for the Liberian people.  I do not need to remind you of the public beat down by the American ambassador regarding the misuse of the Army.  

How does it serve the Liberian people's "bigger interest" when a president, in office is so consumed by petty parochial interests that her decisions lead to the death of a Liberian citizen, and international rebuke?

I also find especially troubling, the misogyny and sexism you demonstrate when you state "the former Minister may be deeply beholden to the human emotions of bitterness and anger."  What is it about crude men like you that you would seek to dismiss the statement from a Minister of Justice as “emotional?”  

Minister Brown, let me suggest, that you resist the urge for your natural tendency to be a fanatic, confer with the President and cabinet, and decide what the government's official response is to the indictment made by the former Minister of Justice.

You seem eager to tell us of your meeting on October 4, where the President expressed concerns about corruption investigations, where she stated there were no sacred cows.  Perhaps then her son, the Director of the NSA is a sacred sheep or goat.  Because when it was necessary to investigate charges of fraud in his agency, the investigation was promptly sent to a private party outside of the Ministry of Justice. 

Mr. Minster please consult with the Minister of Finance, and provide the Liberian people HOW MUCH money has been made available to the Ministry of Justice for investigators and prosecutors?  Please ask the Minister of Finance to provide to the Liberian people the budgetary allotment for LAWYERS, in other government agencies.  How does that compare with what is provided for the Ministry of Justice?

Will those figures reflect a commitment to investigating and fighting corruption?

For a government, which has completely lost the trust of its citizens, it should be evident that whoever speaks on behalf of the government, at this time, should be a person of substantial credibility.  The President seems to prefer the face of her government to be a man singled out, by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for economic crimes.(TRC Final Report, page 295), and one forbidden to enter the United States. 

Isn’t this the very Lewis Brown who accused the President of desecrating the office of the Presidency, only a few years ago?  

As for Deputy Minister of Information, Isaac Jackson, I will not dignify his comments, as it is evident he lacks the aptitude and the intellectual heft to understand the contents of Minister Tah’s statement.

This President seems to have a penchant for losing women of great credibility, Antoinette Sayeh, Olubanke King, and now Madam Tah.  At some point, you must look in the mirror, instead of looking in the echo chamber, comprised of the likes of Lewis Brown, and ask yourself: what am I doing wrong. 

Finally, with regards to corruption cases, we have seen the President’s attitude towards her cronies, like for example, resubmitting names to the Senate, in the face of brewing scandals.  It does not take a rocket scientist to conclude the Justice Ministry would have been pressured by the President to forego prosecution of her cronies.

We are all waiting to see the government’s performance on corruption going forward…we will be watching.

 

Notes from Liberia John Berestecky 08 09 2014

Here is a letter that I just received from my friend "Mustafa" who is working with the ebola response in Monrovia. This is very important to read.:

Dear friends and partners,

I bring you a thoughts on the current ebola crisis in my country, Liberia.

Since I begun working with the ebola response in Liberia, I have never been as sadden as I was today. I stood with my tracers and watched the ambulance team transferring two of the Catholic Sisters from their St, Joseph Catholic Hospital Compound. As the two innocent young Nuns from the Democratic Republic of Congo mounted the ambulance to be taken to the treatment unit at the ELWA, I shared tears. I share tears because we could have prevented them from contacting this deadly disease. They had trusted us and our ability to manage the ebola response; we cause all of them to be infected. After serving this country for over 40 years and saving thousands of lives, is this the way we could repay them. As the ambulance made its way out of the deserted hospital with the first badge of two nuns, I became too overwhelmed with sorrow. The ambulance was returning for four of them including a medical doctor. How could we have disappointed them....I reflected painfully:

Three weeks ago, Brother Patrick, the business manager from Cameroon got infected by a case that was brought to the hospital. He was a contact until he started showing symptoms. The laboratory had taken his specimen and his result was negative. Based on this result,the other sisters and brothers decided to nurse him back to health. Despite their treatment he progressively began to shown signs and symptoms that were typical of ebola. He decided that he would leave for his home country, but the airline recognizing the signs and symptoms ask for a repeat of the test. Behold! This came back positive.

The sisters, brothers and doctors who treated him were in a state of shock and dismay. Brother Patrick was kept in one room of the hospital for treatment. The confidence of the brothers and sister in our ebola response system was seriously corroded. Brother Patrick became weaker and weaker and others stop coming around as they pondered over their own status. Then Brother Patrick died. His body was among the 52 bodies that were buried in a mass grave one week end ago. Then the sisters and brothers as well three of the Liberian health care worker (including a laboratory technician, a social worker and and a nurse) started getting sick. In all seven of them became positive for ebola. One of them, a Nigerian Medical doctor, was told he was negative. However, he told us that every symptoms in his body indicated to him that he too had contacted the disease. We then ordered for a new result. We are awaiting this result, but he is getting sicker and sicker each day.

Even as I write to you, we are arranging to take the remaining two cases tonight. We were told that previous attempts to take them to the treatment unit were met with resistance with resistance. But their reluctance was due to the fact that we destroyed their confidence in our ability to handle this Ebola crisis. They had decided that they would rather die in their compound then follow us to the treatment unit. If we had failed them with our laboratory results, how could they trust us to provide the kind of intensive care that is required in the treatment unit? As if to make matters worse, the Liberian Social Worker who was confirmed with ebola escaped today in the population. Her daughter came and took her away, when she heard we were moving them to the treatment unit. This is worrisome as she could be a source of new transmissions in the community. Are we really winning this war against ebola?

I would say NO!!! Just a few days ago, our only internist was suspected to have been a contact with Dr. Samuel Brisbane who had died from ebola. Dr. Brisbane had contacted ebola from a patient because he refused to use gloves and barrier nursing. Dr. Borbor was asked to do his laboratory test. It came back negative about one week ago. To our greatest dismay, he was taken to the treatment unit last night when he started manifesting severe symptoms of ebola. They are now repeating his test. Such inconsistent test needs tos top because it only exposes more people to the infection.

I have investigated the laboratory procedure and I noted several sources for potential errors. There is a single team of laboratory technicians that are working over ten hours a day and seven days a week without any time to rest. This would lead to lapses and increased risk for errors. One of the technicians told me sadly that they worked these very long hours and no one provides them with food. They begged for food and were given a 100 pound bag of rice with no soup kind and no one to cook for them. Many of them had not being paid for three months. How could we trust our lives in in the hands of people that are overworked, staved and not given their just compensation? Are we wining this war against Ebola?

I was trying to get the burial team to pick up a body that had being lying out for two days. The dispatcher from the Red Cross, who is a friend said to me, “ I beg you Dr. , the number of bodies we have in Monrovia is more than the two vehicles and two teams we have today.” She said that even as I was speaking to her, two of their vehicles were already filled with bodies.

Even, where we have our clinic, a man had started vomiting and toileting blood two days ago. I was called to intervene. I call the ambulance team but no one responded. I called those of my colleagues in authority at the Health Ministry, but they too were powerless as the system and the logistics were not in place to respond to such a call. The treatment unit was overflowing with sick people. They just could not pick any one up in the community because there no bed available in the unit. Then the man died. His body stayed in the house for two days, while his poor wife and children slept in the open. No one wants to come closer to them. After two whole days of begging every authority I knew, they finally removed the body today. The home was never spread. The poor woman and her children are again sleeping outside today. I have tried to call the guy on spraying but his phone is off. But, I will press on and will call again tomorrow.

This evening the Catholic Bishop asked that Sister Shanta (who died around 2 am this morning, the second victim from the Catholic Hospital) be buried in the compound. The authorities honored his wish and her remains were lay to rest on Liberian soil thousands of miles from her native DRC. We can point to her grave and memorialize her in the future. But, Brother Patrick and the over fifty bodies that were buried a few weeks ago will never have such honor. The remains of the over 60 bodies that have so far being cremated in the Indian crematorium on the Marshall Highway will never have these memories.

I pray that their memories and the memories of those who will survive this deadly ebola will remain in our hearts. As I walked out of the deserted St. Joseph Catholic Hospital, I remembered that it was here my father was treated during his last days on earth in 2011 and it was here my sister Marie receive her treatment before we transferred her to Ghana. But today, the hospital is a ghost town.

Maybe, as some of us fight each day to make some kind of difference, it will at least amend for all of our mistakes and failures in the Ebola Response. May God save our country and those countries affected!!!!

 
John Berestecky can be reached at johnb at hawaii dot edu

Re-Imagining Liberia: A Protocol for Asset Declaration & Verification

As Liberia continues to make progress towards harnessing and leveraging the technologies of the 21st century, my musings have turned to thinking about solutions to some of the issues which have bedeviled us and our governance. 

 In a series of posts I will ask and try to answer some questions which have vexed us.  I am persuaded it is not enough to say "this is what is needed;" we must answer what, why, and how.  I am not an economist, I am a technologist.  We look at questions and try to provide solutions based on process, policy, and technology.  This is what this post is attempting to do.  I invite all Liberians to make this a vigorous discussion.

This particular topic today deals with how we can implement a reliable asset declaration protocol which will allow the government to attest to the veracity of the asset declarations made by government officials.

 WHAT ARE ASSETS?

 An asset is anything to which a monetary value can be attached.  The issue with assets in Liberia is that it seems people employed by the government seem to be able to increase the amount of assets they have at a rate that far outpaces their salaries.  The government has no reliable mechanism for establishing the value of a person's assets before he/she enters government, and no reliable mechanism for establishing their value after they leave office.  As a result, prosecution, which relies on facts is next to impossible.

 There are several components required for this protocol to work, three of the most important are:

  1. There must be means of establishing ownership of assets which is non-refutable. 
  2. There must be a legal framework, thru the legislative process, that establishes the use of identifiers and technology to ensure such a system is trustworthy and reliable. 
  3. There must be a legal framework which ensures the ability of all the government agencies, required in the verification process, to communicate electronically effectively and efficiently.


ESTABLISHING ASSET OWNERSHIP WITH A SINGLE ENTITY IDENTIFIER(SEI)

In order to establish the ownership of an asset, we must have the ability to issue universal identification numbers to every entity (individual or corporate entity) that can own said asset.  This single entity identifier can be separated into two distinct groups, with different government agencies taking ownership and management of the groups:

Group I:  The Single Person Identifier (SPI) - In every developed country there is an identifier that distinctly identifies every individual.  It is a one to one relationship, and it is non-refutable.  In the United States, this is called the Social Security Number.

For the purposes of Liberia, we can also use the social security number, and the logic is simple:  Every person, at one time or another will have to interact with the national social security corporation.  As such, every person born in Liberia, every person who works in Liberia must have a social security number.  This must be mandated by law.

What the social security number will allow us to do is to distinguish between Mary Blapoh from Ganta, and Mary Blapoh from Logan Town, even if they were both born on the same day. 

NASSCorp already has in place the system to verify identities and issue social security numbers. 

Every asset, bank accounts, property deeds, business ownership (whole or partial) must have a social security number(s) attached to it, in a uniform manner in computer systems.  Those systems must, by law, allow for the query and response, of that data, to establish the identity of an applicant for any of the above kinds of services.

For example, if Mary Blapoh (Ganta) wants to open a bank account, she must present her indentification and social security credentials to the bank.  The bank, in turn, must be able to send an electronic query to NASSCorp seeking to establish the veracity of Mary Blapoh's credentials.  Once the bank receives an affirmative response, the account, with Mary Blapoh's SSN can be opened.  The same scenario would work for any other type of service.

Group II: Business Entity Identifier

This type of identifier is given to every registered business by the Revenue Bureau of the Ministry of Finance when a business is registered.  However, since businesses are owned by individuals, the social security numbers of the owners must be attached to the incorporation documents.  There must also be procedures to change the ownership percentages, in a filing that can be done electronically.

The challenges now for the government are to institute the legislation, begin the process of issuing social security numbers to every Liberian citizen and non-citizens doing business in Liberia, and affixing a social security number(s) to all asset records.

This process, in my opinion, can be accomplished in 24-36 months and includes legislation, system updates, and account updates.

Any entity that is the holder of records of assets, must have the ability to respond to an electronic query for records tied to a specific social security number. This means if the government wants to do an asset verification on an individual, it can send out a query to the banking sector for all accounts owned by a specific SSN; it can send a query to the National Archives for all property records owned by that SSN; it can query its corporate registration database for all corporations owned in whole or in part, by that SSN.

Lastly, because these protocols are already established in the developed world, any person who previously lived outside Liberia, must provide the government with the authority to do asset verifications on his/her foreign identifiers.

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