Liberia: ‘No Money to Conduct Every Autopsy’ – Justice Minister Tells Lawmakers
Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Liberia, Frank Musah Dean has told Plenary of the House of Representatives that the government does not have money to conduct autopsy of every questionable death in the country.
Minister Dean, appearing before the House of Representatives recently, said Liberia has only two pathologists with no laboratory for testing of specimen.
To conduct an accurate Autopsy, Minister Dean said, specimen have to be extracted and sent abroad for advanced examinations, something the Government is not able to do owing to the huge financial implications.
The Justice Minister was being questioned over his alleged refusal to cooperate with the Grand Bassa Legislative Caucus in the ongoing investigation into the death of Morris Toe, former agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) assigned in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.
Toe’s lifeless body was discovered in April 2019 near the compound of ArcelorMittal in Buchanan. The family has since called for an autopsy, alleging Toe was killed under mysterious circumstance.
The Government agreed to launch an investigation to establish the cause of death; however about 10 months later, the investigation has not completed and Toe’s body has not been buried.
This has led to anger and widespread condemnation from the family and residents of the county over the Government and the County’s Legislative Caucus failure to bring the case to a closure and allow “Toe to be laid to rest.”
The Grand Bassa Legislative Caucus, through its Chairman, Rep. Thomas Goshua (District #5, Grand Bassa County) said the caucus has written several letters to Minister Dean, as well as calling his mobile phone and text messages, requesting an audience with him to brief the caucus on the status of the investigation but the Minister has refused to respond.
This led the Caucus to seek plenary’s indulgence to invite the Attorney General to give reasons for his “flagrant disrespect to the caucus” and to inform them on the status of the investigation.
“You have 15 counties, two pathologists. Everywhere somebody dies you say somebody killed him. You want an autopsy. That is the situation we are confronted with. There is no money to undertake such an exercise, especially outside the law.”– Justice Minister/Attorney General Cllr. Frank Musah Dean
“The delay in making this autopsy report public is a recipe to create unrest within ArcelorMittal concession area, thereby causing an enormous lost and revenue generation by the state,” Rep. Goshua stated.
“Despite frantic effort made to the Minister’s office to address the situation associated with the publication of this report, the Minister has not responded to the several communications written to him, nor has he made any effort towards the closure of this case.”
After being questioned by several lawmakers during the hearing, Minister Dean, who appeared calm earlier in his previous explanation, soon became furious and told the lawmakers that the delay was due to the refusal of the family to accept the coroner’s report, which stated that Toe died of natural cause, thus demanding an autopsy.
He said because Liberia has only two pathologists and there is no laboratory, the process is time-consuming and cost-intensive as specimens extracted have to be sent abroad for testing.
According to him, the pathologist should have taken the specimens to Ghana, but because of the lack of money, the process delayed and the pathologist was awarded a scholarship and travelled to India for a short-term advanced studies.
However, he assured that preparations are ongoing for the specimens to be sent to the pathologist in India for testing.
“I can understand the impatience of the members of the Grand Bassa Legislative Caucus. But they cannot say that we have not been in contact with them. We have come to this House on several occasions on this matter before and after this autopsy was done. There just has been no new information to add since we came here,” he said.
“You have 15 counties, two pathologists. Everywhere somebody dies you say somebody killed him. You want an autopsy. That is the situation we are confronted with. There is no money to undertake such an exercise, especially outside the law.”
Speaking further, the Justice Minister disclosed that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has committed to setting up a laboratory at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Monrovia, adding that it will be a major boost to government’s investigation of criminal cases such as sexual violence and questionable deaths, among others.
“Probably when we complete our laboratory, which will be paid for by UNDP, we will recruit more pathologists. We started with all the equipment and materials we need. But is not every death that requires autopsy. And we are making it difficult when we allow the population to demand that when somebody dies, even after the preliminary examinations, and when they don’t accept the results, we must do autopsy.”
Angry Burst Up In Plenary
Following Minister Dean’s response, Reps. Edwin M. Snowe (Distirct #1, Bomi County) Larry Younquoi (Distit #8, Nimba County) and Mariamu Fofana (District #4, Lofa County), among others, commended him for the effort so far, but blamed him for not responding to the Grand Bassa Caucus.
Rep. Snowe called for coordination among the branches of government to ensure smooth effective operation.
Rep. Younquoi called on Minister Dean to apologize to the caucus and cooperate with the lawmakers to bring the case to a closure.
While majority lawmakers backed Rep. Youquoi’s suggestion, Rep. Gray differed and called on the Minister to issue no apology. He said the problem over the delay was beyond the Minister’s control.
All the Legislature can do, he said, is to appropriate funding to the Ministry of Justice to empower the Minister and his team to be fully equipped to conduct investigations and execute its functions fully.
Rep. Gray’s comments angered Reps. Goshua and Vincent Willie (District #3, Grand Bassa County), sparking heated arguments on the floor.
When calm was restored, Rep. Younquoi filed a motion, mandating the Minister to apologize and work with the caucus in bringing the case to a closure.