By J. Kerkula Foeday
December 31, 2010
“Everybody knows that Mrs. (Johnson) Sirleaf’s government has been very strong against corruption. I think the world also knows that we have won corruption cases. We carried two Central Bank cases to court and we won those cases. We won other cases for armed robbery and murder and bank fraud, and all of that. I think this idea that people think we have a system that requires that every case (be) won is unrealistic….”
That was Christiana Tah, the Justice Minister of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Government. In the wake of Mr. Bropleh’s acquittal by a court in Monrovia recently, she had an interview with the VOA and made those impressive claims. Like her boss President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who in 2006 in her inaugural address vowed to confront corruption and to make it the major public enemy of Liberia, Justice Minister Tah has vowed to overhaul or reform the Liberian judicial system, which, reportedly, she sees as being corrupt and being run like a marketplace where the person who spends the most money by bribing the judge and/or jurors is usually acquitted or wins cases. One, especially the gullible, may be tempted to believe the Justice Minister that everybody knows that the Ellen Government has been very strong against corruption and to argue sympathetically for the Ellen Administration that it is genuinely committed to social reforms in Liberia.
Is the Ellen Government truly committed to reforms in Liberia in the first place? Has it demonstrated genuine political will to effect real and sustainable social and political reforms in Liberia? Is the Ellen Government “very strong” and genuinely committed to fighting against corruption in Liberia? Or, is the Ellen Government just concerned about and overly preoccupied with political grandstanding through rhetoric and the expressions of mere interest in meaningful, community-development reforms in Liberia? One of my professors often reminded me that there is a difference between interest and commitment. He says when one is interested in doing something, one does it only if situations allow it. If one is committed to something, he oftentimes says, one accepts no excuses; one accepts only results. In all fairness to the Ellen Government, one can arguably say that the Ellen Administration, since it came to power in 2006, has demonstrated its apparent interest in reforms in Liberia. And this apparent interest has been impressively rhetoricized in speeches, interviews, documents, etc. For example, during her inaugural address in 2006, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made these heartening pronouncements to the Liberian people and the international community about her government prime interest in fighting corruption and in good governance:
“Corruption, under my Administration will be the major public enemy.
We will confront it. We will fight it….”
“… The first testament of how my Administration will tackle public service corruption will be that everyone appointed to high positions of public trust, such as the Cabinet and heads of public corporations, will be required to declare their assets. I will be the first to comply….”
“My Administration will also accord high priority to the formulation and passage into law of a National Code of Conduct, to which all public servants [including me the President] will be subjected.”
These and other awesome promises by President Sirleaf and her officials have become nothing but mere mirage and false impressions, consciously phrased to make people believe that Ellen and her Government are committed to real social and political reforms and to extenuating, if not eradicating, corruption in Liberia. The Administration, as I argued in my June 2009 article: Why I Think the Unity Party Led Government Lacks Genuine Political Will, is yet to demonstrate true commitment to reforms and to fighting corruption in Liberia. The first testament of demonstrating the Ellen Government commitment to fighting against public sector corruption declarations of assets by government officials as promised by President Sirleaf in her inaugural address in 2006, still hangs in the air. There are still unresolved or unaddressed corruption cases in Liberia. Resolving or addressing these cases entails commitment, and commitment, if genuine, begets results no matter what. One cannot convincingly argue that the Ellen Government is truly committed to real growth-oriented reform and good governance if it cannot produce tangible results vis-à-vis its claim of confronting public sector corruption.
As for the Justice Minister’s claim of reforming the judicial system in the wake of what the Government of Liberia sees as a flawed trial of Former Information Minister Lawrence Bropleh, the Ellen Government has got to translate into REAL ACTION its apparent frustration with the corrupt judicial system in Liberia. If the prosecutors or the Liberian government lawyers in the Bropleh v. the Liberian Government case are seriously concerned about and believe honestly that the judge who acquitted Lawrence Bropleh behaved improperly, then, in addition to appealing to the Supreme Court for retrial as reported, the Government of Liberia should initiate the process of removing and replacing the judge in question in strict adherence to Article 71 of the Liberian Constitution, which provides that “The Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of subordinate courts of record shall hold office during GOOD BEHAVIOR. They may be removed upon impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office, or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery, or other infamous crimes. If the judge in question truly did not exhibit good behavior in court as the prosecutors have alleged and would want for the public to believe, then the Justice Minister should vanguard the call for and insist on the removal and replacement of the judge, for this will be a demonstration of real commitment to fighting corruption in Liberia; otherwise, this will be yet another expression of mere apparent interest in reforms, including fighting against corruption, in Liberia.
Fighting against corruption in Liberia, I should underscore here, is a constitutional obligation. Article 5 (c) of the Liberian Constitution supports this claim. It provides that “The Republic shall take steps, by appropriate legislation and executive orders, to eliminate sectionalism and tribalism, and such abuses of power as the misuse of government resources, nepotism and all other corrupt practices.” The President and all other top government officials took a solemn oath to support, uphold, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of Liberia. If the Ellen Government is indeed committed to fighting corruption, not just interested in rhetoric against and platitudinizing corruption, then it has got to produce real results in the corruption case against the Former Information Minister by ensuring that the alleged misbehavior of the judge is exposed to the public, that the judge is removed and replaced, and that the appeal to the Supreme Court is vigorously pursued. The Liberian people deserve to know the facts in this case. They need to know what happened to the more than US$300,000.00 the former Information Minister is accused of misappropriating. If the Ellen Government fails to vigorously pursue this case in the interest of the Liberian people (most of whom barely survive on less than US$2.00 per day), it will not only be demonstrating its deficit of genuine commitment to fighting corruption and to effecting real change in Liberia, but also its unashamed disregard for the Liberian Constitution. Again, this is another challenge for the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Government.