10 January 2013

Liberia: FDA Lawyer to Face Probe for 'Conniving With PUP Criminals' - Committee Wants Him Barred From Public Service

Photo: Charles Akena/IRIN
Unscrupulous loggers cutting down trees.

The Special Independent Investigation Body (SIIB) setup by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to probe the Forestry Development Authority (FDA's) misuse of the Private Use Permit (PUP) has recommended the dismissal of Cllr. Benedict Sagbeh, the FDA Legal Counsel from the employ of the FDA for conniving with the FDA Management and various individuals in the fraudulent issuance of PUPs.

They added that "a complaint of his unethical behaviors and ethical failures and moral turpitude is reported to the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the Liberian National Bar Association for disciplinary action, noting that he should be barred from providing any future legal services to the Government of Liberia."

According to SIIB's report, the FDA Legal Counsel failed to provide representation in the best interest of FDA. "Mr. Sagbeh drafted the PUP contracts and thus directly approved the illegal actions of FDA from the inconsistent terms to the fraudulent land grant in the PUPs.

Cllr. Sagbeh continues to show disdain for the NFRL and CRL and acting upon that disdain, advised his clients to violate the law. Once national attention became focused on the issuance of PUPs, Cllr. Sagbeh did not accept his role in the issuance of PUPs nor did he provide adequate representation to FDA.

He instead, at every turn took positions that were adverse to FDA while defending the operators of PUPs. Cllr. Sagbeh's actions were particularly egregious when action was instituted against the Government by PUP operators." The report indicated.

The report further revealed, that "On August 12, 2012, several PUP operators petitioned the Supreme Court for the issuance of a Writ of Prohibition, arguing that the moratorium was arbitrary and a violation of the due process clause of the Constitution. On September 4, 2012 the Supreme Court issued an Alternative Writ of Prohibition returning the operators to status quo ante pending the outcome of a full hearing.

On September 5, 2012 Mr. Sagbeh apparently filed returns on behalf of FDA, although the agency, according to the law is represented by the Ministry of Justice, stating that the petition filed by the operators "present no traversable issues" and praying that the Court grants the alternative Writ of Prohibition.13

In the opinion issued by Justice Banks, the Court took keen note of the legal brief filed by Mr. Sagbeh purportedly on behalf of FDA. Mr. Sagbeh's brief claimed the moratorium was issued under pressure by Global Witness, that operators had been injured, and that the action of FDA violates the Constitution. Justice Banks noted with some alarm the position taken by FDA legal Counsel, Mr. Sagbeh which he said was opposed to the interests of the Government".

Furthermore the SIIB final report pointed out that 'Cllr. Sagbeh continues to support the granting of PUPs even when shown evidence that FDA's actions were illegal.

Cllr. Sagbeh has only stated that some mistakes may have been made and that those PUPs with glaring illegalities were not reviewed by him. He had earlier admitted to drafting and reviewing PUPs prior to the approval of Moses Wogbeh. Instead of advising FDA appropriately where the agency had acted in violation of the law, Cllr. Sagbeh sanctioned the illegal action.'

The committee concluded that the FDA under the legal stewardship of Cllr, Sagbeh, did not have a mechanism in place for determining the term of years for a PUP. It said Cllr. Sagbeh has stated that he created a formula used by FDA in computing the term for the PUP, but when the SIIB attempted to apply this formula, it did not correspond with the terms in several PUPs.

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