25 February 2013

Liberia: Let the Law, Not Expediency, Prevail


FOR TWO DAYS last week, the lower house of the Liberian parliament, the House of Representatives, found itself embroiled in an unsolicited legal debacle. The nature and sheer force of the fiasco compelled the House to vote in a follow up action last Friday to arrest those responsible. The series of incidents that led to the decision are as much worrisome as the interceding actions that derailed and broadened the brawl.

THE HOUSE VOTED Thursday to commit to a 72-hour imprisonment Montserrado County Superintendent Grace Kpaah for contempt of the legislature. The superintendent had failed to heed the House's directives to reinstate the suspended Chairman of the Projects Management Committee of Montserrado County and to refund the US $50,000.00, which she admitted applying in reverence to the directives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Unexpectedly came into the fray acting Monrovia City Mayor Mary Broh who circumvented the enforcement of the imprisonment order by physically taking away Madam Kpaah, who was being prepared for commitment to the Monrovia South Beach Prison. Weighing in on the matter, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was away in Freetown, Sierra Leone, attending a presidential inauguration, immediately issued an order suspending the two officials indefinitely, pending further action. The embattled superintendent, who the House's sergeant-at-arm is still pursuing, is currently in hiding. The whereabouts and fate of Kpaan's maverick defender, Mary Broh, remains a missing puzzle in the scheme of things. What a vain maneuvering!

THE EVENTS ARISING from and surrounding the House's attempt to reign in the happy-go-luck superintendent may be routine, but they are as much fundamental to good governance and the establishment of the rule of law as they hold the reign to peace, stability, reconciliation, and the growth of democracy in postwar Liberia. There is no way this country is going to recovery from more than a century of autocracy, official lawlessness, and dysfunctional economy if officials of government continue to feel too big or too connected to submit to law. Mesdames Kpaan and Broh, by their places in the corridor of power should have known something ordinary Liberians do not know: that the Legislature has oversight responsibility for executive institutions and that those operating these institutions are answerable to lawmakers at the lawmakers' behest. Most importantly, they should know also that by flouting the authority of the Legislature, they are creating a constitutional crisis that is inimical to the smooth running of the state. They are also holding the Liberian people in contempt by being contemptuous of their elected representatives.  In efforts to avoid invoking an unintended inference, though necessary say, it will be safe to avoid saying that by choosing to flout the authority of the Legislature, they are inadvertently demonstrating their incompetence to serve in government.

NOW THAT THE actions of the two officials have spilled the proverbial milk, it is incumbent upon them to clean the mess and help the president's efforts to still the waters by submitting to the legal process and proffering public apology to the honorable House of Representatives. Through this single act of submission to law, they will be setting examples for others to follow. It will be wrong on their, or the part of any Liberian, to spike the law in order to spite members of the House of Representatives who they consider inconsiderate and aloof.

THIS BRINGS US to the immediate, helpful, and commendable role President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf played in mitigating the budding tension.  We however want her to go further. We want her to consider moving beyond the realm of crisis management to being proactive. It is said that bad sickness requires radical treatment; and therefore, the recurrent standoff between her lieutenants and the Legislature calls for radical action. One of such actions that rush to mind is for the president to educate these officials on the nuances of the much-referenced constitutional check-and-balance doctrine and work through the Senate President and UP members of parliament to ease tension arising from oversight executions. It is unhealthy for the Executive Mansion and the Legislature to be in constant contention not over policy and budget formulation, which is healthy, but over the actions of uninformed (or naughty?) officials.

THIS IS WHY as we thank the House for remaining firm in its demand to ensure the enforcement of its verdict, we encourage it to realize that Liberia is a small country where legal compliance is difficult. The reason is that Liberians are congenitally lawless, but that because Liberia is a small country in which the inhabitants are tightly interrelated. A moment's felon, who is good only for the gallows, might just be a relative or a relative of a colleague. We therefore prevail on the House not to trash its current demand, but to tamper whatever it plans to do with mercy, closely observing where its rights end and where those of others begin. We therefore bid the House go no further than the action it had taken already.

FOR THOSE, WHO though in the fringes of the brawl are posturing and cruising for a fight that they cannot back legally, we want to say that while necessary at times, group solidarity without recourse to law is sheer lawlessness that this nation cannot afford. We call on Mary Broh's cohorts, some of whom are probably thankful by now that they managed to evade the radars of both the president and the Legislature, therefore, to exercise restraints. They must come to the realization that it is the law not expediency and connectedness that must prevail in Liberia's quest for reconciliation and economic prosperity. The time for vain posturing is no more. It is time to consult together, build, and benefit within the purview of the law. If they feel strongly that the House trampled Madam Kpaah's rights underfoot, there is one conduit for redress – the Supreme Court – not vain solidarity marches or bravado rescue actions. If at any time any group of Liberians feels the laws are inadequate to protect them, the place to look is not at the streets, but at the petitioning of their representatives for constitutional reforms or the enactment of relieving laws.

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