Dear Mr. Peter Nkanga,
Having persuaded you of our Leader’s respect for the rule of law and the doctrine of the separation of powers for which she could not have consciously interfered with judicial matter, I thought you would have graciously conceded. But, regrettably I sense that you have decided to drum up sentiments and put a propagandistic twist to whatever may or may not have happened during the early stages of the drama that now unfolds before us.
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Quite honestly, had it not been because of the respect that I have for your institution, I would have brushed your piece aside with laughter because your inquiries are unfair and suggestive of negativism. However, considering that we are acting in the terrain of opinions, where one can persuade others, much is desired by the lightened people when facts are tempered with, and so, I will endeavour to provide truthful information in debunking this subtle attempt of yours to propagandise the outcome of the case involving your colleague, Mr. Rodney Sieh and Dr. Toe.
In responding to your questions, I will speak in broad terms because of my consciousness of the sensibilities of the parties in this matter. To begin with, I categorically object to your insinuation that the Liberian government has refused to try Dr. Toe on account of audit reports from the former Auditor General, Mr. John Morlu. With the utmost respect to the former GAC boss, many serious professionals in and out of Liberia have argued that some of the GAC reports fell short of best practice standards. But, beyond this unflattering assessment of the GAC report, no serious government the world over will rush to court on the basis of a mere audit report because audit reports are not evidence in of themselves. To get justice in one’s favour in a criminal case, the standard is that you must prove beyond all reasonable doubt – this is called the preponderance of evidence doctrine. And so, in order to meet this threshold, the Ministry of Justice, the agency of government with the statutory mandate to prosecute crimes has constituted a small team to thoroughly review audit reports, investigate and acquire material evidence before going to court.
Secondly, I am of the view most sincerely that Mr. Rodney Sieh’s travails are not a direct consequence of the Liberian Government’s failure to fight corruption. It is rather Mr. Sieh’s unethical conduct in embellishing the truth in his reportage of matters under consideration. On this point, I need to provide some clarity because it seems to me that you are confusing two separate issues.
Mr. Sieh is not in jail because he tried to fight corruption. Mr. Sieh is in jail for his lack of respect for the rule of law. The record is abundantly clear that following the trial in the lower court (Civil Law Court), Mr. Sieh announced an appeal. And under our jurisprudence, Mr. Sieh was not just required to announce an appeal and file a bill of exception, he needed to have filed a bail bond and a notice of completion within sixty days, which he woefully failed to do. This action led the Supreme Court to affirm the decision of the lower court, thereby leading him to jail.
Knowing your institution and the reputation which it holds, I am sure you will not advise media practitioners to operate in arrogant disregard of well established legal procedures in the various countries where they work. Had you knew the facts beforehand and acted proactively in advising Mr. Sieh to perfect his appeal at the Supreme Court, maybe the decision would have been reversed. But, regrettably, it appears that Mr. Sieh proceeded in reckless disregard to the well established procedure laid down in our laws for which he is now behind bars.
Quite frankly, I think it will be grossly unfair to question the government’s commitments to fighting corruption on the basis of the Sieh saga because the government has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate ample evidence of its commitments to making Liberia a corruption free country.
At the risk of boring you, please allow me to highlight some of the measures taken by our government in curbing corruption. If anyone were to carry out an objective comparison of the actions taken against corruption with inaction, you will realise that a great many efforts have been applied to ensure a corruption free Liberia. Some of these efforts have been directly executed through direct government actions that have been represented through strengthened technological installations, policy implementation, etc .
For example, the government has supported various policy and legal regimes, including the freedom of information laws, and encourages citizens to take advantage of the law to dig out information about their communities and other issues of their concern. By doing this, we believe the fight against corruption will be all out - involving all sectors of society.
Along these lines, we have developed the anti corruption strategy which expresses strong commitment to end graft in the Liberian society. The combined effort of the General Auditing Commission (GAC); the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC); the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI); the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC) and the Internal Audit Secretariat (IAS) - inconsonance with such laws and regulations like the freedom of information law, and the government's accession to the Table Mountain Declaration (decriminalizing press offenses) - are significant contributions to this effort, which remain undeniable!
As a way of strengthening transparency in our governance structure, these accountability institutions that have been set up to enjoy autonomy with fixed term limits for principal officers. By this action, we restrain any political processes from interfering with the integrity of their work.
Considering that we are in the age of information technology, the government has taken a number of measures to assist this fight. An effective Information Technology policy is in place to - among other things - make work easy and prevent risks of corruption. This is now reflected in the work of various ministries and agencies:
Bank Payment of Salaries & Benefits - With this regime, an increasing number of employees' salaries are now automatically paid in their bank accounts, greatly undermining the risks of double payments for services; payments are now mostly made only to real persons; and ghost names effectively eliminated. One Stop Business Registration - By this regime, the registration of businesses have become an easy process that at most takes one day. It reduces the time, resources and efforts that could otherwise be used for other purposes, and diminishes the possibility of paying bribes and other unwarranted charges;
Integrated Financial Management & Information System (IFMIS) - this is a centrally coordinated billing and payment service that allows simultaneous tracking of bills and payments, which makes auditing easy; determines the total value of periodic revenue intake within a short while.
Online Presence – This provides easy time access to major policies through various websites operated by the government ministries and agencies. Now, with the click of a mouse, everyone knows what resources are earmarked for whatever activities, with room to track accomplishments, as well as to ensure instantaneous feedbacks. There is also increased discussion of public policies, using various technological platforms. You put up a question, and you get answers as the relevant functionary comes alive.
Signing Executive order 38 - which among other things encourages official of Government to declare their assets. Establishment of the Whistle Blower Act - The act encourages citizens to expose corruption in any sector of the Government.
While we cannot rule out organized schemes to defraud the government and the community, the anti corruption crusades have changed the landscape in Liberia today - to the effect that people are today more cautious in handling government resources than at any other time in the country's history. This is due – in large part - to the attention that has been placed on the curbing of corruption - by arousing public curiosity - providing them the audacity to point out conspicuous consumption and to bring out any reasonable perception of corruption into public ridicule. For example, sometime last year, the Government’s anti corruption measures scored a big success when a whistle blower alerted authorities of the Finance Ministry to a criminal syndicate which resulted into the arrest of the Deputy Revenue Collector in Grand Bassa, Mr. Daniel Grigsby for defrauding government of US$325,000.00 over a period of five years.
Again, I like to emphasize that in instances where there are probable causes to claim of corruption, the relevant matters have been referred to the prosecuting arm of the government for review and action as in the case of audit reports. The record will show that the Ministry of Justice have reviewed and investigated, and where there are sufficient material evidence for prosecution, the government has gone to court. The cases of Albert Bropleh, former head of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA); Chris Bailey, former Superintendent of Grand Gedeh County; Beatrice M. Sieh, former Director of Police; Dr. Laurence K. Bropleh, former Minister of Information, etc.
In a number of instances a lawsuit is not seen as the most appropriate action. But effective executive actions are taken to remove the specter of suspicion from the work of the government. This was accurately demonstrated by the Liberian Leader’s action to dismiss Mr. Robert Kilby, former head of the General Auditing Commission and Ms. Pearine Davis-Pakinson, former Director General of the General Services Agency for conflict of interest.
Additionally, in most recent times, following investigations into reports of corruption at the Roberts International Airport (RIA), the government issued an indictment involving several persons, namely Ms. Ellen Cockrum, former head of RIA; Mr. Musa Bility, the Chairman of the RIA and the President of the Liberian Bank for Development & Investment – John Davies.
I have enumerated the government's actions in fighting corruption, not in any desire to bore you, but to make the point that there can be no genuine and honest stand against Madam President and this government’s commitment in curbing corruption. The efforts that have been applied so far show a commitment to stamping out corruption – and that is where we stand as a government.
This leads me to the next faulty and comical point raised in your piece about conflict of interest, and that the Chamber Justice, Cllr. Banks’ sister is married to Cllr. Emmanuel James, Dr. Toe’s lawyer – citing for reliance Article 90 of Liberia’s 1986 Constitution. Firstly, you make pretence of knowledge when you quote a constitutional article without providing explanation of its relevance to the matter under consideration. Regrettably, your understanding of “conflict of interest” represents a complete misunderstanding of this principle of law as provided for under Liberia’s Law.
The first jurisprudential question is whether under Liberia’s law a Chamber Justice or a sitting Judge can preside in a case involving his brother –in- law? There is absolutely no law under our jurisprudence that prevents a sitting Judge from hearing a matter involving his/her in-law. This is because such a relation is far too remote to compromise the professional integrity of a Judge or Justice. Because to so do, one will endeavour to ridiculously extend such argument to school mates, friends, especially in communal or close society like ours.
Under Liberia’s law, the ground for disqualification of Justices is provided for in section 2.7 of the Judicial Law: “No Justice of the Supreme Court shall sit on any case in which he is interested or has made a ruling as a Justice presiding in Chambers in connection with an application for a remedial or extraordinary writ or on which he sat while a judge of a lower court.”
And so, the argument about Justice Banks being an in-law to the lawyer who represented the other party is completely irrelevant as he has never participated in the case before. At least, your argument would have appealed to reason if Dr. Toe and Justice Banks had a blood relationship.
Additionally, it will interest you to note that this case was decided by the full Bench of the Honourable Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia. So, it is not possible that one Justice will influence the four other Justices of the Bench to do what you are insinuating? Come on, gentlemen, you need to show some decent respect for the Honourable men and women who are presiding over our justice system because anything to the contrary would be contemptuous.
Another point I would like to make on this issue before rushing on to conclusion is that the legal doctrine of estoppels by lashes and estoppels by silence will operate against you and your colleague, Mr. Rodney Sieh on your latest contention. Because, Mr. Sieh had his right to perfect the appeal process at the Supreme Court at which time he would have had the opportunity to raise these issues that you all are raising from the sidelines to have the Justice recluse himself from the case. Regrettably, our colleague, Mr. Sieh proceeded in arrogant disregard to the respect for the rule of law.
Finally, I wonder why you decided to now direct your enquiries to my seniors (Lewis Brown & Jerolinmek Piah) when in fact the issues you are raising are less than substantive to warrant their responses. It is not my style to bother my seniors on matter that can be handled with great ease. It is my hope that we will keep these exchanges between the both of us.
Atty. Isaac W. Jackson, Jr.