In my thinking thoughts, I reflected on the recent melee between some members of the Legislature and the Supreme Court of Liberia whereby the former threatened three members of the latter with impeachment. The lingering question is, "Who is right and who is wrong?"
Utilitarian versus Deontological Principles
So far, opinions proffered as attempts to assuage the tension only suggest the action is three pronged: "wrong", "right" or "right but should be watered down for now, for the sake of peace and stability" Whatever the case, the recent positions taken by our President and her Vice President do not appear to be amalgamated; this has become a concern in various circles.
To place the views on a more debatable platform, two professional lenses would suffice; Jeremy Bentham's Principal of utilitarianism, which evaluates actions based upon their consequences, and Immanuel Kant's Deontological ethics which holds that whether something is right or wrong doesn't depend on its consequences.
Principles of Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that determines right from wrong by focusing on outcomes. It is a form of consequentialism (Bentham, 1748). The construct holds that judgment should be made or withheld based on consequences of the action upon which action is supposed to be taken. If the consequences will be bad then the action is wrong but otherwise, it is right. The most ethical choice is the one that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number.
For example, assume a hospital has four critical patients whose lives depend upon receiving organ transplants: a heart, lungs, a kidney, and a liver. If a healthy person wanders into the hospital, should his organs be harvested to save four lives at the expense of one life? The consequences would give life to four people, the greatest good for the greatest number but how about the rights of the one man to life and liberty, let alone the most ethical principle?
Principles of Deontology
Deontologists (Kant, 1781) believe that morality is a matter of duty. We have moral duties to do things which are right to do and moral duties not to do things which are wrong to do. Whether something is right or wrong doesn't depend on its consequences.
Legislators' Deontological View
Fellow Liberians, do you assume members of the Legislature who are pushing impeachment of three of five Supreme Court Justices do not understand the consequences of having an incomplete bench to hand down judgment in election disputes? Do you believe they are not aware that removal of three Justices would create tension and corroborate suspicions that there could be a ploy to manipulate elections results and cheat?
In spite of the answers to those questions, the legislators do not care. They have a deontological moral requirement to perform their duty or do what is "right"; a duty to correct citizens who are in error with the constitution regardless of their positions and connections, on one hand. On the other hand, they also understand that if they abandon their deontological duty to impeach those Justices, they would lose relevance. It does not matter whether heaven will come down, whether people will protest in the streets, whether election results will be delayed, whether the President declares a state of emergency, the legislators in compliance with deontological ethics, must impeach the Justices as a binding deontological duty.
President Sirleaf's Utilitarian view
Recently, a release from the Executive Mansion cited President Sirleaf as "rejecting" the impeachment proceedings and termed the move as being clearly in violation of Article 73 of the Constitution. While she subscribed to the constitution for support, in the spirit of Utilitarianism or consequentialism, she called on the members of the House of Representatives to abandon this course of action "for the sake of peace and stability in Liberia" She then decisively declared that the "The Executive Branch of Government will not support any action, which tends to undermine the Constitution and reverse the gains this country has made"
In my opinion, the President appeared to be saying, "... according to the Article 73, you are wrong, but if per chance, it is later interpreted otherwise and you prove me wrong and gain permission and support to carry out the impeachment for the sake of peace, please do not do it." These strong words pregnant with logic were sufficient to resonate as the voice of the nation and assuage the situation. Unfortunately, Vice President Joseph Boakai had a different ambivalent view.
VP Boakai's Ambivalent View
You see, it is sometimes difficult to decipher the messages coming from the Vice President regarding his role as the Deputy Stewart of this nation. The messages sometimes leave one to wonder if he is supposed be mostly swayed towards the Executive Branch or the Senate and I earnestly invite pundits to chime in. At some points it appeared like VP Boakai had distanced himself from the foibles and dunces of the UP-Ellen Jonson Sirleaf led government while at others, there appeared to be an affinity between the two.
Howbeit, the positions of President Sirleaf and her Vice President on the impeachment appear to be clashing. During the debate at the Paynesville City Hall, the very experienced Ambassador Boakai asserted that he is not a lawyer so he would not take a Utilitarian nor Deontological view. He replied that he is not a lawyer so he could not say whether it was wrong or right to impeach, so he would wait and see or "sit on the fence".
Considering his remarks, one would think a release from the Executive Mansion spoke for the whole nation including the Vice President. Was it a national view of the Executive Branch or solely President Sirleaf's? Is VP Boakai not part of the Executive Branch?
How could VP Boakai take a seat on the fence when his boss had spoken? Is the unfolding event a manifestation of rumor and gossip that over the 11 years of their reign, the President hardly consulted her Vice Standard bearer? Is there a conflict?
You will note that the position Boakai took could also be seen by laymen and politicians as being politically sagacious. Recently, the Ambassador received endorsements from the House and the Senate. If you were in that situation where people who commit to support you launched an initiative, would you openly oppose them and support a boss lady who is already on her way out? Humanly speaking one would say no, while professionally, others would stick with their boss lady so as not to be seen as having being ungrateful and cowardly.
There are two ways a layman would interpret VP Boakia's ambivalent view and choice to "sit on the fence". In terms of utilitarianism, VP Boakai is not concerned with the "for the sake of peace and stability" sermon preached by Ellen, his boss, insinuating the impeachment consequences could be disruptive. Instead Boakai could be interpreted as taking a deontological stance, "if my fellow Capitol Hill law makers need to do their duty, I will wait and see. My position is if they win, fine, and if they lose fine as well, if they abandon the quest as proposed by President Sirleaf, fine again.
An Eye for an Eye
From another layman's perspective, VP Boakai's "sitting on the fence" could be misconstrued as serving a blow to the Supreme Court or "an eye for an eye". The Supreme Court Justices were the ones who interpreted the Code of Conduct to include the huge number of opponents who are Presidential aspirants whose exclusion would have been an advantage to the Boakai's Presidential bid including the likes of Karnwea, Sulunteh, Cummings and Mills Jones. Since the Supreme Court dressed many devils in their interpretation of the Code of Conduct, let them "cry their own cry"
World views on the impeachment
Recently, the United Nations, OAU and other development partners called on the government of Liberia to ensure the impasse between the legislature and the Supreme is resolved. While they did not say whether the action was right or wrong, they alluded to the utilitarian principle of the "foreseen bad consequences"
All Liberians want peace for they have tasted the consequences of a "no peace"situation; unfortunately, instead of raising their voices and taking a stand, they are doing wait and see" and sitting on the fence like our cautious VP Boakai. A crowded fence on a football field once broke from under the huge number of spectators sitting on it. If we all sit on the fence it might collapse, so let us speak out!!
About the Author
The Rivercess man, Mwalimu-Mku Moses Blonkanjay Jackson previously served the Government of Liberia for four years (2011 -2015) as MOE/GPE/World Bank Project Consultant, and Assistant Minister for Teacher Education. The Harvard trained Rivercess man is Former Chairman for Unity Party USA but has withdrawn for politics and currently conducting private business as Education Consultant and teacher training in Liberia; he can be contacted at +231 886 681 315/+231 770 206 645