Liberia: Senate Halts Kemayah's Confirmation

-Opens formal investigation in sexual harassment claim

The Foreign Relations Committee of the Liberian Senate has halted all proceedings into the confirmation hearing of Foreign Minister-designate, Ambassador Dee Maxwell Kemayah until the sexual harassment claim against him is investigated and he is cleared.

The committee, chaired by Maryland County Senator, H. Dan Morais, has also opened a formal investigation into the sexual harassment claim--a move many believe is meant to ensure that due diligence is taken in order to avoid misstep in such a grave situation.

The Committee at the hearing on Monday said its decision to open and adjourn the hearing is to allow probe into sexual harassment allegation against Ambassador Kemayah by a female staff at Liberia's Permanent Mission at the United Nations in New York, where Ambassador Kemayah has served as the Permanent Representative for about a year now.

Amb. Kemayah was recently nominated by President George Weah on September 3, 2020, to serve as Foreign Minister in place of Gbehzohngar Findley who had resigned to pursue his senatorial ambition in Grand Bassa County in the upcoming mid-term election.

However, Ambassador Kemayah's nomination has since been marred by allegation of sexual harassment by a staffer of the Mission, Ms. Whynee Cummings Wilson.

She alleges that Amb. Kemayah molested and sexually harassed her on January 8, 2020, her birthday, a confession coming out right after Kemayah was nominated for the position.

She has, however, come under criticisms for not speaking up until Kemayah's recent nomination which leaves many to believe her allegation is politically-motivated. To add to the suspicion and concern about falsehood surrounding her confession and allegation, Ms Cummings in recent days said she came out to add to the many views protesting against rape.

Tilem and Associates, a Law Firm representing Ambassador Kemayah, has responded to the allegation, terming it as a lie and politically motivated. The legal firm warned Madam Cummings-Wilson against tarnishing the hard-earned image of their client or else she will face a legal battle.

But the Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Morais, at Monday's hearing stated that the Committee finds magnitude in investigating the allegation which has been brought before the Committee--a move many are applauding, insinuating that the Senate is aware of the public concerns amid the allegation.

The Committee's Co-chair, Sen. Conmany Wesseh, said the case of the Liberian Foreign Minister-designate should be treated with justice, void of sentiments, especially a person who will represent the country at the international level.

"To ensure that Liberia gets the Foreign Minister it deserves," Senator Wesseh said, "The pursuit of justice is to ensure that no one makes false allegations against him and that anyone found guilty in the accusation would bear the full consequences."

Liberian journalist Julius Kullie Kanubah described it as a "good and laudable step," the Senate's decision to open and adjourn the confirmation hearings of the Foreign Minister-designate.

"This first step must be applauded at this stage, but with caution," he wrote on his social media page on Monday.

Kanubah noted that the stakes are indeed high for Kemayah in this situation.

"This is why the Senate Foreign Relations Committee must ensure that justice is done to both the accuser and accused in this case. If there is one thing from the first hearing, Senators from all sides (opposition, ruling, and independent) seem resolved to ensure justice, at least, publicly," he noted.

"Importantly though, there are many known unknowns in the investigation announced by the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee. "We don't know how open and transparent the investigation would be as much as how long it would take; how extensive it would be; who will be involved; and whether the Senate and the Executive branch would coordinate or cooperate to do a joint investigation," Kanubah, wondered.

"Kemayah's CV and experiences are rich and he had previously got two Senate confirmations under his belt. What a success! But can he get the third? It might be the most significant challenge of his lifetime," Kanubah noted.

The committee reached the decision to suspend the hearing to open an investigation into the sexual harassment allegation when one of its members, Grand Bassa Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, proffered the call.

The only female in the Senate requested a full investigation given the seriousness of the allegation and the 'integrity' that comes with the position.

Meanwhile, prior to the Monday confirmation hearing, women groups under the banner "We Are Unprotected" Campaign had written and called for the suspension of the confirmation of the Foreign Minister-designate.

"Our request is based on the fact that Mr. Kemayah is currently the subject of grave sexual harassment and assault allegations made by a female employee of the Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, where he worked as Ambassador prior to his nomination," the group's communication noted.

The group indicated that given the gravity of the allegations and the recent outrage over the high cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) against women and children in the country, it is incumbent upon the Senate to suspend the confirmation hearing until the government completes an investigation into the matter.

"We believe that any action short of this to give both Mr. Kemayah and his accuser the right to be heard will create a doubt over our commitment as a society to address these egregious crimes especially when Rape and other forms of SGBV have been declared a National Emergency by the government," the communication stated.

The member organizations of WE ARE UNPROTECTED, who signed the communication were: Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI) - Community Healthcare Initiative (CHI) - Organization of Women and Children (ORWOCH) - Girls For Change (GFC) - Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP) - Rescue Abandoned & Children in Hardship (REACH) - Women & Children Initiative.

The government of Liberia, through Deputy Presidential Press Secretary Smith Toby, confirmed recently that the government is in possession of Ms. Wilson's complaint and an investigation will be launched soon.

While the Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL) had called for the withdrawal of Kemayah's nomination, the Women's League of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE) has condemned the allegation against the Ambassador, noting that the allegation is coming from individuals who are opposed to his nomination as Foreign Minister.

Before his initial appointment at the Foreign Ministry and subsequent designation to serve at the Liberian Mission to the UN, Mr. Kemayah served as chairman of the political party, MOVEE.

According to MOVEE's women league, Mr. Kemayah has been a patriotic and dedicated national leader who has worked and continues to work for the good of Liberia without any spot of sexual harassment levied against him in past capacities he had served.

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