MONROVIA – The Liberian Senate has received information that the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has handed down a verdict in the case: KABINEH MUHAMMAD JA’NEH VS THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA, and the media has been requesting the official reaction of the Liberian Senate to that verdict.
The Liberian Senate wishes to state unequivocally that it would have reacted by now to the verdict of the ECOWAS Court in the JA’NEH Impeachment Case. Unfortunately, due to the activities of the pending 2020 Senatorial Elections scheduled shortly, the Leadership of the Senate is unable to meet with the required quorum to review the matter and act accordingly. In due course, the Leadership of the Senate and House will meet and issue an advisory to the Executive Branch on the verdict of the ECOWAS Court.
However, because of the misinformation that is being peddled from one media outlet to the next by political detractors and some ill-informed persons in the public sphere on the trial processes of the former Associate Justice, at the Senate, it is important to set the records straight.
According to the Statement issued by the Senate on Tuesday, November 17, 2020, the trial of former Associate Justice Cllr. Kabineh Ja’neh was conducted in a very fair and transparent manner as prescribed by the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, the relevant laws of our country and the Standing Rules of the Liberian Senate. He was fully accorded Due Process as required by these laws and other legal instruments and his fundamental rights were respected during the entire process of his trial at the Senate.
In retrospect, the following are the highlights of the trial process:
- Allegations of Mis-steps at the House of Representatives on the Impeachment of the former Associate Justice
On allegations that there were no rules of procedure in place at the House of Representatives (the House) prior to its impeachment of the former Associate Justice, that the House did not honored the prohibition of the Supreme Court not to proceed with the impeachment, and there was no quorum on the Sitting Day the House impeached Cllr. Ja’neh, and so forth, the Senate wishes to clarify that under the Constitution of Liberia, it is not clothed with the Authority to question how the House passes on legislation and other instruments or make judgment on those matters.
The Constitution of Liberia, the Standing Rules of the House of Representatives, the Standing Rules of the Senate and precedence have clearly laid down the rules of engagement between both Chambers of the Legislature.
The statement quoting Article 29 of the Constitution says: “The legislative power of the Republic shall be vested in the Legislature of Liberia which shall consist of two separate houses: A Senate and a House of Representatives both of which must pass on all legislation.”
The release furthered stressed that the process of passing on all legislation, resolutions and other instruments and of officially transmitting those instruments, are prescribed in the rules of the Senate and the House.
Article 43 of the 1986 Constitution says: “the power to prepare a bill of impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives and the power to try all impeachments is vested solely in the Senate…”
Therefore, once the House of Representatives impeaches a public official, the Senate is under constitutional obligation to try said impeachment, without question, unless the Senate is prohibited by the Supreme Court of Liberia.
Hence, in the instance case, there was never a prohibition on the Senate from the Supreme Court of Liberia after the Senate had received the bill of impeachment for Justice Ja’neh from the House of Representatives.
- Amendment of Senate Rule 63: The Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trial
On the issue of Amendment to Senate Rule 63 which deals with Impeachment Trials, prior to the receipt of the Bill/Articles of Impeachment from the House of Representatives, the Senate visited its Rule 63, which is the rule of procedure for impeachment mentioned in Article 43 of the Constitution. This rule of procedure for impeachment was validated and approved by the 52nd Legislature on March 30, 2009 and is indicated in the present Senate Standing Rules.
During its review of the rule of procedure on impeachment as indicated in Rule 63, the Senate noticed that Section 24 of the rules indicates that a mere two-thirds of members of the Senate present can acquit or convict.This contravenes the Constitution of Liberia which calls for a vote of two-thirds of the entire membership of the Senate to acquit or convict an impeached public official.
Therefore, section 24 of the Senate Rules was revised to make Senate Rule 63 coherent with the Constitution of Liberia.
- The Trial Process
The trial of former Justice Ja’neh proceeded in accordance with due process of law. The trial took place in the Chambers of the Senate with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. The Revised Criminal Procedure Law of Liberia, Chapter 2.2 states: “In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to be represented by legal counsel at every stage of the proceedings from the time of arrest or where no arrest has been made, from the initial appearance and submission of the accused to the jurisdiction of the court”. Cllr Ja’neh was present throughout the trial with his attorneys. He was adequately represented by his legal counsels from the initial stage of trial till the time of judgment. Attorneys representing the House of Representatives along with its Managers on Impeachment were also present throughout the trial. The Senate sat as “jurors” at the trial. According to the Liberian Constitution, the accused shall have fair, speedy, public and impartial trial. All of these elements stated herein were met during the trial.
Furthermore, Attorneys from both sides presented their arguments, witnesses were adduced, testified and cross-examined, there were closing arguments and motions were made and ruled on by the Chief Justice. The elements of any criminal trial were present. There was no harassment of the accused and impeached Justice, no harassment of his lawyers and there was no harassment of witnesses.
4. Voting Process: On March 28, 2019 at about noon, after the lawyers for the House of Representatives and former Justice Ja’neh rested their arguments, the Chief Justice made a statement and charged the Senate, as jurors, to go into their room of deliberation, and come up with a verdict.
The Senate then retired to its Chambers in the Annex, and held a discussion on the voting guidelines. The minutes and all other documents pertaining to the trial were made available by the Secretary of the Senate. Senators were given the opportunity to peruse the documents before making decision.
On March 28, 2019 Twenty-three (26) Senators took part in the voting. At 5:00p.m. on the same day with no other Senator showing up, the voting for the day came to an end. The Jury Foreman and Secretary tabulated the results, filled up the verdict summary sheet, signed and dated it.
5. Final Results
A total of twenty-three (23) Senators voted to remove Justice Kabineh Ja’neh from office having been impeached earlier by the House of Representatives. He was found guilty on the Road Fund Charge, while there were not enough constitutionally required votes to convict him on the theft of documents, obstructing the impeachment process and the Constance Land charges.
Counselor Ja’neh was found guilty of “Misconduct” and “Gross Breach of Duty”, which are two (2) of the grounds provided by Article 43 of the Constitution. From the very beginning, the Road Fund Charge was very strong against Counselor Ja’neh. Majority of the Senators believe he abused and misused his discretion by the issuance of the Writ of Prohibition against the payment of the total amount of approximately US$27 million, which SRIMEX Corporation and CONNEX Corporation had collected as withholding agents for the Liberian Government to be eventually used to construct new roads and rehabilitate old road pursuant to the Millennium Challenge Compact between the Liberian Government and the United States Government. That money was not the property of these two private companies; it was not part of their income or profits. As collecting agents, they had collected US$0.35 (thirty-five cents US) for each gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel sold at the pump to the public, retained and used US$0.10 (ten cents US) per gallon as their commission; and instead of turning over the balance US$0.25 (twenty-five cents US) per gallon to the Road Fund Account, they kept everything and applied it for their own use, to the deprivation of the Liberian Government and people.
This caused the Liberian Government to renege on its obligations to the United States Government under the Millennium Challenge Compact. And when the Liberian Government demanded that they pay over the amount collected, Counsellor Ja’neh issued the Writ of Prohibition so that they would not have to pay on the spurious and untenable ground that the regulation/law pursuant to which they collected the surcharge was unconstitutional. If that law/regulation was unconstitutional, why did SRIMEX Corporation and CONNEX Corporation rely on it in the first place to collect the surcharge and consume their commission? If the regulation/law was unconstitutional, as between the Liberian Government and these two (2) private companies, who was better positioned to return it to the Liberia people through services to them? The more than 2/3 of seated Senators who voted for the removal of Counsellor Ja’neh from the Office of Associate Justice determined he has committed “Misconduct” and “Gross Breach of Duty” for the issuance of the Writ of Prohibition, for which he was no longer fit to continue to serve in that high office as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
Let it be noted with affirmation and emphatic clarity that the Liberian Senate did not violate any of the provisions of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia and any laws of Liberia nor did it breach any of its standing rules in the impeachment trial of former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia. The entire impeachment trial process was transparent, legally and constitutionally-sound and totally void of inducements, coercion, political collaboration, vengeance, and politicking the Statement concludes.
The Liberian Senate in no way violated the rights, in any form, of Cllr Kabineh Ja’neh prior to, during and after his impeachment trial.