19 July 2013

Liberia: Lawmakers Jail Teahjay

The wrath of lawmakers Thursday descended on Sinoe County Supt J. Milton Teahjay when they ordered him jailed at the Monrovia Central Prison for 48 hours for contempt after he admitted flogging Rep. Mathew Zarzar of District # 3 in Sinoe County and repeatedly lying under oath on issues relating to the misuse of the county development funds.

Members of the House of Representatives also fined Sinoe county's, assistant supt. for development Romeo Quiah LD4, 999.99 for "lying under oath before the plenary."

Spectators who converged at the Capitol to witness the contempt proceeding against Mr. Teahjay--a man who once fought his boss at the Information Ministry during the regime of President Charles Taylor--greeted the action against Teahjay with cheers.

This is the second jail sentence resulting from a contempt proceeding taken against a public official by the 53rd legislature.

Rep. Zarzar had earlier written the plenary complaining that Teahjay brutalized him during an appearance at a community local radio station in Greenville to clarify allegations against him by Supt. Teahjay

"Supt. Teahjay insisted that I must be thrown out of the studio. Ladies and gentlemen, at that point, the Superintendent started his invectives, his obloquy on me. In obedience to our rules 41 and 42 which state that we should remain honorable at all times, I thought not to go further," Rep. Zarzar narrated as lawmakers expressed dismay over the matter.

Rep. Zarzar also accused Supt. Teahjay of engaging in dubious activities in the county thereby violating the budget law and public financial management act of the country.

"Records made available to us indicates that Mr. Teahjay entered into a half million-dollar contract for the electrification of Greenville City without regards to the PPCC regulations governing contracts of such financial magnitude.

"The amount of US$200,000 was also appropriated, allotted, and disbursed by the office of the superintendent without the knowledge of the chair of the Project Management Committee (PMC)," Rep. Zarzar complained to his colleagues.

He disclosed that Supt. Teahjay received US$50,000 from the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) but never reported that money to the county.

"When Hon. Jeremiah W.N. McCualey, Sr. and I asked Supt. Teahjay about the expenditure of the money, he (Teahjay) openly told us that he represents the President and the Executive branch. Therefore, he is on par with the legislative branch and will not, and does not report to the legislature," Zarzar said. After the presentation of the facts coupled with documents, Rep. Zarzar rested his case in order for Supt. Teahjay to defend himself. Supt. Teahjay however apologized for the flogging of the lawmaker and pleaded with the plenary for more time to address himself to the issue of financial misapplications in the county.

But at the plenary Thursday, his apology was rejected following warning by Rep. Edwin Melvin Snowe that acceptance of such would pave way for repetition of similar acts against lawmakers in other parts of the country.

"A mere apology from Supt Teahjay should not be accepted. Others will do it and say, sorry too," Snowe observed.

But Supt. Teahjay denied the misapplication of funds in the county levied against him by the lawmaker, saying the claim was based on rumors and gossips.

"The allegations are based on rumors. No money has ever been given to the Superintendent. I did not equate myself with the lawmakers. Hon. Zarzar has got his information completely incorrect.

"Mr. Speaker, these allegations are unfair. Hon. Zarzar is navigating what is a vendetta against me. He needs to make himself clear so that we can know what we are to respond to," Teahjay insisted.

However, as the proceedings continued, Teajay began to flip-flop in his statements and admitted to the operation of several accounts onbehalf of the county, an act which according to the lawmakers, violates the Public Financial Management act in the country.

"Sinoe County has five official accounts. It is not my personal account," he said as he described the day as "sad for the people of Sinoe."

When questioned about the breach of the budget law and whether the Ministry of National Security had invited him for investigation on his alleged involvement in the siphoning of US$62,000 intended for the county, Supt. Teahjay denied, but said he breached the budget law in the interest of the contractors.

"It was in the interest of the contractors; these errors were harmless. I was not aware of what you just read with regards to the budget laws," he added.

"I have never been invited by the Ministry of National Security on any issue," he said, but lawmakers presented copies of the invitation letter to him which he acknowledged receiving before the plenary.

Supt. Teahjay also told lawmakers that Cllr. John A. Gabriel was a part of the Electricity Contract that he signed in the county, but when a lawmaker contacted Cllr. Gabriel, he denied the claim before the plenary.

The Sinoe County Superintendent later told the lawmakers that he didn't say so, despite a sentence of such being displayed in his speech delivered to the plenary Thursday.

As the hearing proceeded, dumbfounded Supt. Teahjay could no longer defend himself against the allegations levied by Rep. Zarzar, thus prompting Rep. Bill Traway (Montserrado District # 3) to move for his incarceration at the Monrovia Central Prison for 48 hours which was unanimously endorsed in vote by his colleagues.

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