Liberia: Solicitor General Must Follow the Executive Law, Respect the Minister of Justice


OVER THE PAST year, Solicitor General Cllr. Syrennius Cephus has been on a war path with his immediate boss, Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean. That both went full blown recently when the SG wrote a 10-page document dubbed 'legal opinion' which sought to complain Minister Dean to the Minister of State, Nathaniel McGill.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN the pair have been strained for months. So strained that come in the circle of the presidency, say it is no secret that Cllr. Cephus wants to become Minister.

IN TWO KEY decisions recently, the SG and the minister have taking opposite routes on issues that have drawn rebuke in the public domain.

EYEBROWS WERE raised recently when Cllr. Cephus engineered the dropping of charges against Ellen Corkrum, former head of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA), who allegedly siphoned over US$200,000. Corkrum was also accused of illegal transfer of US$56,750 of LAA funds to her romantic partner Melvin Johnson, and his firm Melvin Johnson and Associates (a law firm in the State of Georgia, United States of America) allegedly for services rendered in connection with the security system at Roberts International Airport (RIA), which services were neither performed by Johnson or his firm.

MINISTER DEAN distanced himself from the decision, telling members of the Senate that it was the decision of the Office of the Solicitor General. In contrast, Solicitor General Cephas appeared before the Senate to explain the circumstances that led to the dismissal of the indictment.

IT IS ALSO befitting to note, that the SG was one of the lawyers who represented the interest of Ms. Corkrum during her saga, raising eyebrow son his involvement with the motion to dismiss the case. In 2016, Ms. Corkrum notified the Court that she was hiring the services of Cllr. Cephas as one of her legal representatives and prayed the court to add his names to the records.

THEN MORE RECENTLY, the Solicitor-General challenged Cllr. Nduibisi Nwabudike's petition for Declaratory Judgment filed with the Civil Law Court. For him, the Justice Minister's failure to intervene from the onset brought the office of the President to public disrepute.

NWABUDIKE WAS nominated to head the National Elections Commission(NEC) and was rejected after massive public outcry.

THE STATUTORY MANDATE of the Ministry of Justice as outlined in Chapter 22 of the Executive Law is to ensure compliance with and respect for the rule of law. The statute makes the Ministry of Justice the key rule of law institution and, therefore, the people of Liberia expect that the Ministry will effectively carry out the mandates delegated to it and successfully promote the rule of law throughout the country. Successful achievements in the exercise of the Ministry of Justice's mandates are critical to the government's strides for sustained recovery and rebuilding of the legal and other infrastructures of the nation. Specifically under the directive of the statute, the Ministry conducts the following functions in support of the aforementioned mandates:

WHERE WE HAVE problem is the glaring disregard for the Executive Law - Title 12 - Liberian Code of Laws Revised which clearly draws a line of demarcation between the functions of both the Minister and the Solicitor General

SECTION 22.2, Duties of Minister of Justice states: "It shall be the duty of the Minister of Justice to -- (a) Procure the proper evidence for, and conduct, prosecute, or defend all suits and proceedings in the courts in which the Republic of Liberia or any officer thereof, as to such officer, is a party or may be interested; (b) Institute all legal proceedings necessary for law enforcement; (c) Furnish opinions as to legal Matters and render services requiring legal skill to the President and other agencies of the executive branch of the Government; (d) Oversee the codification of Liberian statutory law and the editing and printing of the Supreme Court opinions, and of such of the opinions of the Minister of Justice as he may deem valuable for preservation in book form; (e) Supervise the correctional system and the commitment and treatment of prisoners; (f) To the extent stated in the Aliens and Nationality Law, administer the laws relating to the admission, deportation, and naturalization of aliens, and the regulation of aliens within Liberia; (g) Supervise the activities of the National Bureau of Investigation, the National Central Bureau, and the National police Force; (h) Oversee all Government activities relating to the prevention and control of fires; (i) Direct the administration of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.

REGARDING THE SG, 22.4. states: "The President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint an officer learned in the law to be the Solicitor General. Subject to the direction and control of the Minister of Justice, the Solicitor General shall -- (a) Prepare and argue before the Supreme Court all cases to which the Government of Liberia or any officer thereof, as such officer, is a party; provided that the Minister of Justice may himself conduct any case if in his opinion the interest of the Government requires him to do so; (b) Have immediate supervision of the conduct of all litigation involving the Government of Liberia, including the activities of the County, Territorial and District Attorneys.

THE LAW IS CLEAR, the Term of Reference of the SG is "subject to the direction and control of the Minister of Justice."

WHY THE SG continues to cross the line is clearly a matter of serious concern that needs to be addressed.

THE JUSTICE SYSTEM in Liberia needs all hands, on deck; and on the same page. The SG cannot continue to disregard authority and take matters into his own hands, repeatedly. This sends a bad message about discord and disunity in the government which never ends well, regardless of the situation or circumstances we find ourselves.

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