9 April 2014

Liberia: Minister Tah Resigns? 'Letter of Resignation in President's Office'

Photo: Liberia Government
Justice Minister Christina Tah briefing the Cabinet Retreat(file photo)

Monrovia — Sources within the Executive Mansion confirmed to FrontPageAfrica Tuesday that Liberia's Minister of Justice Christiana Tah has tendered in her resignation from the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf government with immediate effect.

"Her letter of resignation is in the president's office," a source told FPA Tuesday. It is unclear whether the President has accepted the resignation of the minister, who is also her legal advisor.

Minister Tah, since October, has not been performing her duties as Attorney General and legal advisor based on a suspension by the Supreme Court of Liberia, something that is creating lack of clarity in leadership at the Ministry of Justice as acknowledged by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in his twenty-seventh progress report to the United Nations Security Council on the United Nations Mission in Liberia.

On 18 February 2014, Secretary General Moon told the Security Council that recommendations from a September 2013, baseline assessment conducted by the Liberia National Police with UNMIL which provided a comprehensive assessment of police capacity, including integrity and effectiveness are currently stalled due to lack of clarity about leadership at the Ministry of Justice, suggesting that Tah's absence has created a vacuum and posing problems for the security sector.

Stated Secretary General Moon "Recommendations included reviewing the organizational structure of the police, improving conditions of service, decentralizing training, management and administration, strengthening a public complaints mechanism and expediting a legal framework to address senior appointments, promotions and rank structure. Feedback from the Ministry of Justice and police leadership has been positive. "

"A joint steering committee, comprising the police, UNMIL and UNDP, was established to prepare a new strategic plan and a development framework for the police. A draft of a new legal framework for the police was finalized in August 2013 and submitted to the Ministry of Justice, but remains stalled owing to a lack of clarity about Ministry leadership".

Last October Supreme Court suspended Minister Tah -- from practicing law for six months after finding her in contempt of court. The court ordered Tah to explain why she should not be held in contempt for releasing FrontPageAfrica managing editor Rodney Sieh from prison.

The court had jailed Sieh for failing to pay a $1.5 million libel fine to former agriculture minister J. Chris Toe. Cllr. Tah said then that her decision to release Sieh on "compassionate" grounds was part of her duties as Attorney General. As Liberia's chief prosecutor and legal advisor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her suspension raises questions for the government.

Following her suspension, President Sirleaf has been mute on the issue with Information Minister Lewis Brown acknowledging that the President is aware of the court's decision and is consulting with legal experts on the government's options and rights.

"The executive is aware of this ruling; the executive has received it," said Brown. "The executive recognizes its duty to enforce it. But, it is working in a way to find out what are its rights as well and, in the face of such action, what are the options available to it."

The information minister at the time said the fundamental principle of the government is to continue to build and strengthen Liberia's democracy around the rule of law.

Severe blow to the President?

The Supreme Court's suspension of Tah "marked only the second time in Liberia's history that a sitting Minister of Justice, who also doubles as Dean of the high court and chief legal advisor to the President, had been dealt a severe professional blow".

The only other time that this has happened was during the administration of the late President Samuel Kanyon Doe, when the late Chief Justice Emmanuel Gbalazeh suspended then Justice Minister Jenkins K.Z.B. Scott for reportedly referring to judges as 'unprofessional.'

A FrontPageAfrica investigation gathered that, Doe "prevailed on Gbalazeh to reverse his decision and pointed out that the court's ruling to revoke Scott's license amounted to removing him from office, and that only the Head of State could remove government Ministers."

Minister Brown would not comment when asked if Sirleaf would ask the Supreme Court to withdraw its decision to suspend Tah's license except to say that Sirleaf will continue to deepen the progress that has been made.

"One thing you can be sure is that this president, as has been done in the past, will continue to respect the line of demarcation of the court, the independence of the various branches and the duty of the court to say what the law is," Brown said. He said he was not sure whether Sirleaf can go for six months or even a week without a justice minister.

"That is why she has availed herself to a wide range of consultations, including with legal scholars and luminaries in the country, those who have greater depth about what our constitution says.

"You know, the court can make a decision, but it requires the executive to enforce the decision," Brown said.

Tah Faces Broh's Scenario

Tah's resignation, if confirmed could be similar to that of Mary Broh who, while serving as Mayor of Monrovia was suspended by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf after the House of Representatives passed a vote of no confidence in Broh's ability to continue to serve in government accusing her of obstructing legislative functions.

The Lawmakers accused Broh of preventing from going to jail former Montserrrado County Superintendent, Madam Grace T. Kpan, who the Lawmakers held for contempt and ordered her imprisonment at the Monrovia Central prison.

While the Sergeant -At-Arm at the House of Representatives was taken Madam Kpan to jail, a group of women led by Broh emerged and allegedly prevented Kpan from going to jail. The Lawmakers than turned on Broh and ordered that she is arrested and sent to jai,l but Broh escaped arrest and was in hiding for weeks before her suspension by President Sirleaf from office in February 2013. Broh later submitted her resignation to the president while facing suspension and her letter of suspension was accepted by the President.

Less than a month later, Broh was appointed by President Sirleaf as head of the Project Implementation Unit of a special presidential project, the Omega Village Project and Broh has now landed at the General Services Agency as Director General.

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