10 February 2016

Liberia's Finance Minister Takes Senate to Supreme Court

Photo: The New Dawn
Finance Minister Amara Konneh.

Monrovia — Finance Minister Amara Konneh and the Liberian Senate will face a legal battle after the Minister filed a petition before the Supreme Court of Liberia for a writ of Prohibition against the action of the Senate against him based on a letter written to the body about government austerity measures. Following Minister Konneh's appearance at the Legislature, his legal team led by Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe filed a petition for a writ of prohibition at the Supreme Court against the Senate contempt charge.

According to the petitioner, the action of the Senate was not legally done. "Petitioner says prohibition will lie to undo what has not been legally done, as in this case, respondents has chosen to send petitioner to jail for a mere letter contains nothing relating to impeding or obstructing the Senate or any committee thereof, in the performance of its function."

Stated the petition "wherefore and in view of the foregoing, petitioner prays your Honor for relief in the following manner, to wit: any order directed to respondent to release the petitioner and stay all further proceedings; an order to issue the alternative writ and order the respondent to show cause why the peremptory writ should not issue; grant unto petitioner such further relief as this court may consider just and legal under the facts and circumstances of this case"

By the skin of a flea, Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amara M. Konneh, was saved from going to prison for 48hrs on contempt charges by the Liberian Senate when Senator Alphonso Gaye of Grand Gedeh County filed a motion for reconsideration. In keeping with the Senate standing rules, anyone filing a motion for reconsideration should follow-up with a written communication within three sitting days of the legislature, meaning Senator Gaye has two weeks from February 9 to file his motion and if it is defeated, Minister Konneh would be sent to the Monrovia Central Prison.

Contrary to the instruction from the Senate for the Minister to appear with his lawyer, he appeared Tuesday without his legal counsel; but this time not with an excuse that his lawyer is out of country. He pleaded with the Senators to squash the appearance of his lawyer and advised the matter be handled politically, leaving the Senators displeased.

"I appeal to you that this matter be handled politically, preferably in an executive session. Many of you are aware that I have shown to you the deepest degree of respect during my entire period in government as cabinet Minister. I do not intend to show any degree to this body now or in the future", the Minister told the Senators.

"Given your displeasure over the content of the said letter, I reiterate my regret for its content and therefore apologize for it," Minister Konneh said. A motion filed by Senator Dan Morias of Maryland County called on his colleagues to send Minister Konneh to 48 hours imprisonment on contempt charges for allegedly hindering the working of the legislature by abrogating unto him powers belonging to the legislature.

"Honorable presiding and distinguished colleagues in keeping with article 44 of the Liberian constitution and in keeping with Senate standing rules 60 to 61, which speak about contempt powers, I move that the witness be sent to prison for 48 hours for obstructing the function of the legislature", said Senator Morias All attempts by Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County and Senator Morris Saytumah of Bomi County to salvage the moment by calling for the Minister to be fined proved futile as the most Senators opted for the former.

Konneh's defiance

Appearing before Plenary of the Liberian Senate two weeks ago the Finance Minister shoulder responsibility for a communication written by his deputy Dr. James Kollie who is the deputy Finance Minister for fiscal affairs to the Senate that was described as insulting and undermining by that august body. Konneh said: "Let's not confuse proposal and appropriation I am not breaking anything in the constitution here all I am trying to do is a technical work base on the seventy million dollars goal we expect in revenue, adjust the expenditure side so that we don't get into deficit financing.

"I will not apologize to other ministries and agencies because I did nothing wrong. All me and my colleagues were trying to do was to say because of the poor recovery from Ebola, because of the decline in the prices of the two major commodities driving the economy of Liberia there will be a deficit in revenue collection to the tune of seventy million and as a government we need to reduce expenditure so that we can live within our means that is the letter we sent so I have no apology to make to that effect."

Days after the defiance posture shown by the Finance Minister FrontPageAfrica obtained a leak letter where he (Konneh) secretly) wrote the Senate apologizing for the action to that august body.

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