George K. Fahnbulleh

Ideas and Opinions...

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

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

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.

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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.