Mr. President, You Ought Not to Support Cllr. Cephas’ Role in the Impeachment Trial of Justice Ja’neh

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Every intellectual in Liberia knows that one of the five Justices of the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia is now undergoing impeachment trial at the Senate. This process, by our Constitution, should be very far from the workings of the Executive Branch of Government, which the President of Liberia heads.

Few months ago, specifically in August 2018, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh.

On that Tuesday, August 28, out of the 49 lawmakers present in session, one voted against, while nine members of the Nimba County Legislative Caucus walked out of the Chamber. This indicated their disapproval with the process of impeaching Justice Ja’neh, who hails from Nimba County, too.

The petition to impeach Justice Ja’neh was filed before the House of Representatives by Representatives Moses Acarous Gray (Montserrado County, District 8) and Thomas P. Fallah (Montserrado County District 5). Both alleged that Justice Ja’neh “committed a serious official misconduct by engaging in a wanton and unsavory exercise of his judicial discretion far exceeding the bounds of elementary judicial interpretation of issues simply to satisfy his personal ego”.

The lawmakers also want Ja’neh impeached for what they termed as “proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of his office by allegedly allowing justice to be served where it belongs no matter the status of the party affected.”

However, before the House’s decision can take effect, the Senate would have to concur with them. This is the process going on now in the Senate; and Justice Ja’neh had indicated to FrontPageAfrica that he is prepared to go the full length of the law over what he believes is an unlawful procedure by the Legislature to impeach him from the Bench of the Supreme Court.

Like Justice Ja’neh who believes that the process is unlawful, so are leaders of three of the main opposition political parties in the country. Messrs. Benoni Urey, All Liberian Party; Charles Walker Brumskine, Liberty Party; and Alexander B. Cummings, Alternative National Congress, all three men condemned the process and termed the proceedings as “politically-driven.”

Even the President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), the umbrella organization of all lawyers in Liberia, thinks otherwise, too. Because of his disapproval with the process, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe once asked the Chief Justice to recuse himself from the impeachment hearing. Cllr. Gongloe in December 2018, opined that the counts on which the impeachment proceeding were initiated against the Supreme Court Justice by the lawmakers were wrong and should not have been condoned by the Chief Justice.

“If one says that someone is held for misconduct, there should be a clear judgment from a due process as the law requires that a Judge cannot be held accountable for judgment/opinion,” said Cllr. Gongloe who stated until the lawmakers can do the right thing their action will continue to be condemned.

Even as recently as Tuesday, March 12, Cllr. Gongloe again told the Chief Justice that he (Gongloe) finds it frustrating that the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh began with a list of actions or conducts which, in his view, do not qualify as impeachable offenses.

Almost every intellectual probably knows all of the above. However, what most have probably not paid keen interest to or overlooked are those who are legally representing both parties in the impeachment proceedings. Specifically, for the House of Representatives, Cllr. Sayma Cyrenius Cephas, who is the Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Technical Services, serves as their lead lawyer along with Representatives Jonathan Fonati Koffa and Kanie Wesso, both of whom are lawyers, too.

However, Cllr. Cephas’ role in this impeachment proceeding has come under the microscope and this has drawn the President of Liberia, Mr. George Manneh Weah into the firing line from his critics. Those critics believe that the President isn’t really serious about his pronouncement that he would “directly get involved in the programs and practical implementation of agriculture development.” They believe that the President supports the action of his lieutenant – Cllr. Cephas— leaving his job at the Ministry of Agriculture to come and plead for his client— the House of Representatives.

The Deputy for Technical Affairs at the Agriculture Ministry is the “brain” behind the operations at that vital ministry. His absences from work at the Ministry will leave the Ministry dead.

The President, in his Annual Message in January lamented that endless national and foreign resources pumped into agriculture have been enormous, yet returns on these investments are almost negligible. 

“This will have to change,” he said. “Just as I am doing with the roads, I will directly get involved in the programs and practical implementation of agriculture development.  The sector accounts for more than 70 percent of household earnings. Therefore, our Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development can only be sustainably achieved through agriculture. We will craft new practical and realistic agriculture policies, incentivize the sector by providing access to credit, reducing tariffs on agriculture implements, and provide small machines, modern seeds and fertilizers.”

Just in case, Mr. President, you don’t know that Cllr. Cephas’ role in the ongoing impeachment proceedings is a violation of the Code of Conduct, below are few sections that we think should draw your attention for you to instruct Cephas to go and do his damned job at the Ministry and leave the House to find another lawyer.

Section 11.17: Work Ethics: “All Public Officials and Employees of Government shall be committed to reporting for duty punctually in compliance with official Government working hours. Unless otherwise stated, the official working hours of a public servant are: Monday – Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.”

Mr. President, the impeachment trials are held for lengthy hours during official workdays. As Cephas abandons his job and performs legal service as lead lawyer for the House, a service not part of his TOR as Deputy Minister of Technical Services at the Ministry of Agriculture, he is in direct conflict of the above section of the CoC.

Section 3.2: Integrity: Public Officials and Employees of Government shall not place themselves under any financial obligations or other situations of conflict that impair, or are likely to impair, the performance of their official duties …”; and will set out the facts and relevant issues truthfully, and correct any errors as soon as possible. They shall use allotted resources only for the authorized public purposes for which they are provided.

One of the three core responsibilities of the Legislature, including the House of Representatives, is oversight of the Executive and all of its institutions and officials. The works and activities of the Ministry of Agriculture and by extension, Cllr. Cephas, should fall under the oversight of the Legislature. But the fact that Cllr. Cephas is serving as lead lawyer of the House compromises the House and puts it in violation of section 3.2 (Integrity) because Cephas’ service is putting the House in a situation of “conflict that impairs, or are likely to impair, the performance of the House’s official duties”; which in this case is the effective, independent, and impartial, transparent oversight of the official activities of Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Technical Services.

Section 4.5 Efficiency and Effectiveness: “All Public Officials and Employees of Government shall faithfully, effectively and efficiently implement the policies of Government with transparency. In the performance of official duties, he or she shall exercise proper due diligence, care and attention and maintain high standards of performance.”

Mr. President, Cllr. Cephas serving as Lead lawyer to the House implies that he is treating the performance of his official duties with the “care and attention” and not “maintaining high standards of performance”, which therefore brings him in violation of Section 4.5 of the CoC.

In addition to the many violations of the COC, Cllr. Cephas’ role also conflicts with Article 3 of the Constitution, which states: “…Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches shall hold office in or exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the other two branches except as otherwise provided in this Constitution…”

Cllr. Cephas serves in the Executive Branch as a Deputy Minister of Agriculture. Performing legal services for the House of Representatives along with Representatives Fonati Koffa and Kanie Wesso, etc, can be equated to helping the House to perform a power assigned to it (the power of impeachment), this therefore brings him in conflict with the spirit of Article 3 of the Constitution.

So, Mr. President, are you supporting Cllr. Sayma Cyrenus Cephas’ role in the ongoing impeachment trial of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh?

VACANCY ANNOUNCEMENT

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