The Legislative branch of the Liberian government is a national pariah, a cornucopia of chaos and disaster. It is the epitome of poor judgement, unwise counsel, and anachronistic machinations. Both houses – Senate and House – lack fundamental understanding of political life, and hence, their mental incapacity to read or fully comprehend the nation’s organic law, the Constitution. The House of Representatives’ recent decision to sentence two private citizens to jail for 15 days due to a scuffle one of them had with a member of that body is utterly incomprehensible, inconceivable, and deeply inconsistent with the functions, duties, and responsibilities of a legislative body. This is the nadir of politics in the nation’s life. No wonder the country remains a shamble-sham, a monument of the mundane and mediocre, an obnoxiously sad story in the comity of nations, “a scar on the conscience of humanity” — thanks to the cabal of misfits and milquetoasts, lackeys and dullards who parade as leaders.
By Abraham Keita, Contributing Writer
The House’s action is not only symptomatic of ineptitude and reckless bravado. It is a grossly horrifying abuse of legislative power. It is disgusting and it must be abhorred.
But a little education would suffice. Article 44 of the 1986 Constitution states: “Contempt of the Legislature shall consist of actions which obstruct the legislative functions or which obstruct or impede members or officers of the Legislature in the discharge of their legislative duties and may be punished by the House concerned by reasonable sanctions after a hearing consistent with due process of law. No sanctions shall extend beyond the session of the Legislature wherein it is imposed, and any sanction imposed shall conform to the provisions on Fundamental Rights laid down in the Constitution. Disputes between legislators and non-members which are properly cognizable in the courts shall not be entertained or heard in the Legislature.”
Let us unpack this, howbeit, leaving out the part about sanctions, since can be imposed only in the case of a due process. First, a citizen can only be arrested, charged or sentenced by either chamber of the Legislature if (a) he or she impedes the workings or deliberations of that body, and (b) prevents a member of either house from discharging his or her legislative duties. In the case of Makanvee Sheriff and the Grand Kru County lawmaker, she neither committed (a) nor (b). In fact, Makanvee wouldn’t have had an exchange, albeit heated, with the member of the House in question had he not been violating traffic laws by driving in the opposite lane, thereby smashing into her vehicle. Moreover, she did not prevent the lawmaker from attending session nor did she impede any legislative function or deliberate session on that day. Instead, she drove behind him as she wanted him to acknowledge that he had damaged her vehicle. Who wouldn’t want their property to be repaired, restored or replaced if damaged by someone, especially when that person shows no remorse or acknowledgment? Of course, her encounter with the lawmaker may have been somehow overboard, but she was clamoring for justice, since in Liberia, those in power and with connections stand above the laws (a sort of aristocracy). One wonders whether they are laws at all.
Second, even if Makanvee had obstructed the House or prevented a member from carrying out his or her legislative duty, only through a “hearing consistent with due process of law” can she be arrested, charged, and sentenced. Was Makanvee granted due process? Did the state (House) listen to her claims or consider conditions which may have played into the heated verbal exchange with the lawmaker? She was never accorded due process. In fact, she was arrested and immediately placed in handcuffs the moment she showed up at the Capitol. Nothing could be more intimidating and terrifying. This is a common practice in Liberia: to arrest individuals, put them in handcuffs and throw them in jail when their crimes have not been established. This is a complete misapplication of universal legal principles, and the House’s action violates Makanvee’s fundamental rights as a citizen as laid out in the Constitution.
Lastly, as quoted above, Article 44 makes it clear that “cognizable” disputes between a member or members of the Legislature and non-member (s), i.e. private citizen (s), shall be settled, tried or judged by the courts, not by either of the Houses of the Legislature. Now, perhaps members of the House of Representatives find “cognizable” too difficult a word to know or understand its meaning. Here is a simple definition or explanation: (i) anything that is cognizable is “capable of being known” and (ii) “capable of being judicially heard and determined”. (A simple google search could have helped them). Both definitions are quite similar: for something to be heard or determined, it has to be known, and that which is knowable can be determined. Indeed, we know what the dispute is between Makanvee and the lawmaker: a verbal exchange that volleyed into insults and invectives. But what is so peculiar about this dispute that the entire House of Representatives – acting all at once as the accuser, the prosecutor, and the judged – threw itself into it?
Such a dispute can and ought to be settled in the courts. It is, thus, clear that those lawmakers got involved to instill fear in Makanvee and her brother, who had gone with her to the Capitol on the day her vehicle was hit by the Grand Kru County lawmaker. This is a tactic to scare these two private citizens and would-be citizens who might even attempt to call out or confront lawmakers, by extension government officials, for their inappropriate or wrongful actions, and this is the first step to the birth of tyranny. Every tyrannical government has only come about when the people’s body, the legislature or assembly, becomes susceptible to undemocratic tenets.
This is precisely why the current Legislature of Liberia, especially the House, is a smorgasbord of disaster: it is an embarrassment to the nation because it has no clues about its constitutional duties and responsibilities, and it evinces symptoms of draconian and tyrannical inclinations.