12 January 2018

Liberia: 'I'm Not a Fugitive From Justice'

Gender, Children and Social Protection Minister Julia Duncan Cassell yesterday said she was prepared to appear before the Commercial Court at any time to answer to contempt charge related to her ministry's alleged refusal to honor the US$93,805.72 judgment against it.

Early 2017, the court ruled against the ministry and subsequently ordered it to pay the money to Smart Tech Incorporated, based on a contract in which the company provided internet services to the ministry, which work was completed within 60 days as stipulated in 2016; a judgment the minister has not honored.

The minister's failure was enough for Judge Chan-Chan Paegar, a member of the three-judge panel, to summon Minister Cassell and several other officials to appear before him.

Cassell and her deputies were expected to give a reason, if any, as to why they should not be held in contempt for disobeying the court's judgment.

However, neither Cassell nor her ministers showed up at the hearing as the court had scheduled.

Consequently that same Thursday, January 4, Judge Paegar issued an arrest warrant for Minister Cassell and her deputies for their failure to appear for the case.

Addressing journalists yesterday, Cassell said she was not afraid to appear before the court, although the minister argued that she has never been cited by Judge Paegar.

"The court document for the minister to appear was dated in July 2017, but at that time, I was no more a minister, because by June, I submitted my letter of resignation to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to allow me to concentrate on the October 10 presidential and legislative elections, of which I contested for the legislative seat in Grand Bassa County," she noted.

"I am not a fugitive, I will appear at the court at any time they have told me to do so, but I am here serving as minister and waiting for any court order," Cassell said.

"I believe I have been targeted because I was not serving as a minister when the court served the writ. There were people acting in my absence, so why should the court request for my arrest for not complying with its order," the minister argued.

As of the newspapers stories, Minister Cassell dispelled he articles, terming them as "erroneous articles suggesting in those newspapers that I had a US$90,000 plus delinquencies with Smart Tech Incorporated, a vendor that was commissioned to provide services to the ministry, which I head."

Cassell indicated that she received several calls from family, friends, and well-wishers from all over the world when she was recently outside the country, and they "wondered if I was a fugitive. That was the impression given by the media."

She said the confusion could have been avoided, "if a call had been made to any of my deputies for clarity, while I was away. I do not personally owe the vendor any penny."

"The ministry owes Smart Tech, because the information technology services that the company provided was for the purpose of upgrading a government infrastructure to enhance the ministry's efficiency, productivity and responsiveness to meet the growing demand for its services," Cassell added.

She said the fact of the matter is that the debt owed Smart Tech by the ministry was valid (truth), "and we are pulling all steps to make payment and honor the judgment of the court against us, hopefully, a quick solution can be found and the company will be paid the arrears."

"I would like to reiterate that the amount owed the technology firm is valid, but it is owned by the ministry and not me, as an individual," the minister noted.

She said the delay in payment was never intentional neither was it deliberate, "but it was due to circumstances beyond our control," making specific reference to the passage of the budget.

As the Sirleaf administration, in which Cassell serves, will come to an end within 12 days, the question remains to be answered is whether the amount in question will be paid before the end of the 12 days.

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