25 February 2013

Liberia: Can Two Wrongs Make a Right?


This nation witnessed an interesting political saga between the House of Representatives and Montserrado county Superintendent ,Grace Kpaan, who was reportedly found guilty of contempt of the House, something for which she was sentenced to jail for three days.

Following the Plenary of the House's decision, the superintendent's lawyer and others frowned on the manner in which the House took the decision as it was contrary to constitutional provision which calls for the "due process of law" in such a matter. Interestingly, while en route to the Monrovia prison compound on Center Street, it was learned that Acting Monrovia City Mayor Mary Broh and group of women protested the sentencing of the superintendent and reportedly prevented and obstructed the jailing of her.

Unsurprisingly, since news about this alleged action by the acting mayor, there have been mixed reactions, some taking issue with those women for taking the laws into their hands by obstructing the imprisonment of the superintendent, while some claimed that the action of the lawmakers was not legally done, claiming that what is not done legally is not done at all. Whatever the situation, given these arguments and counter-arguments, the question that comes about is whether or not two wrongs can make a right.

For her part, President Sirleaf, who was in Sierra Leone attending the inauguration of that country's President has suspended the two government officials, after she was reportedly briefed by Vice President who is President of the Liberian Senate on the matter between the House and the superintendent.

The acting mayor is suspended pending further consultations. In the meantime while the debate continues, the House of Representatives following an emergency session last Friday, ordered the arrest and detention of the acting mayor and the superintendent, and even called for the dismissal of the mayor.

As the debate on the issue continues, the major argument is the issue of whether or not the House was right for sentencing the superintendent without the "due process of law" as required by the Liberian constitution in such matter. Article 44 of the Liberian Constitution on such a matter unambiguously states, "Contempt of the Legislature shall consist of actions which obstruct the legislative functions or which obstruct or impede members or officers of the Legislature in the discharge of their legislative duties and may be punished by the House concerned by reasonable sanctions after a hearing consistent with due process of law.

No sanctions shall extend beyond the session of the Legislature wherein it is imposed, and any sanction imposed shall conform to the provisions on Fundamental Rights laid down in the Constitution. Disputes between legislators and non-members which are properly cognizable in the courts shall not be entertained or heard in the Legislature."

Now consider the provision of the constitution on such matter. Let us assume that the House did not follow this provision; but was it equally right too for a group of women, reportedly led by the acting mayor to have gone to the prison to create a blockade? Certainly no. If people are claiming that the action of the House of Representatives was contrary to law, then, they too should not have gone to the prison to effect such action. If one accuses another of not abiding by provision of the organic law (Constitution) of the land, such person is also expected not to contravene the very law.

In this case, since these women were arguing that the House of Representatives egregiously contravened this provision of the constitution, they should have resorted to the very laws by seeking redress from the Supreme Court of Liberia, which is the final arbiter of constitutional issues. The court is about a stone throw from, the Capitol Building which houses both the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate (not the House of Senate) as it is sometimes referred to by people, when making reference to the Senate.

I believe that those arguing against the House of Representatives' move by exercising their power over the issue of contempt are not really looking at the contempt power of the House, but the issue of due process of law. If this is the argument, then, those who went to the prison only added insult to injury. They too were wrong for allegedly obstructing the enforcement of a decision of the House of Representatives.

Again, can two wrongs make a right? So in this matter if the due process was not followed, it was wrong; equally, if acting Mayor Broh and other obstruct the enforcement process, it was also wrong; hence, two wrongs cannot make a right. The phrase, "two wrongs can't make a right,' is defined by theAmerican Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition as meaning, "An evil act can't be corrected with more evil." The phrase is a proverb used to rebuke or renounce wrongful conduct as a response to another's transgression.

Many times people overlook the issue of "due process of law" which has been an important issue. In a simple sense, due process of law means creating that quasi-judicial forum to afford the accused to answer to charges, be represented by a counsel and be made to face his or her accuser(s) the black's Law Dictionary ( 8th Edition: Pages 538-539) defines due process of law as, "the conduct of legal proceeding according to established rules and principles for the protection and enforcement of private rights, including notice and the right to a fair hearing before a tribunal with the power to decide the case."

I can recall during the saga when there were attempts to remove then Speaker Edwin Melvin Snowe and when he was unconstitutionally removed as Speaker, he did not resort to any wrong action by attacking his colleagues or going on the rampage, rather, he pursued the rightful legal path by flying to the Supreme Court for redress. The Court, upon hearing the matter raised the issue of "due process of law." With this kind of ruling, members of the Legislature, should have taken note and against any act not in line with due process. But again, despite this, that did not give anyone the color of right to obstruct the imprisonment of the superintendent.

To conclude, if the House did not act in keeping with laws, then, equally, those who went to the prison compound did not act properly. As we have repeatedly said that this is a "country of laws and not men,"therefore, let us behave this way, no matter where we find ourselves.

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