By Reuben Sei Waylaun
MONROVIA-The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) has described as ‘win for the fight against corruption,’ the Supreme Court’s decision against the Senator-elect of Lofa County, Brownie J. Samukai.
The Supreme Court on Monday February 8, 2021 brought down a guilty verdict against Samukai and two others and immediately ordered them to pay half of the US$1.4M within six months or be jailed.
The court upheld the lower court’s ruling against Senator-elect Samukai and two other co-appellants. It can be recalled Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay of Criminal Court ‘C’ in March 2020 ruled against Samukai and two of his co-defendants, Joseph P. Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller of the Ministry of Defense, but they took and appeal to the Supreme Court.
The high court said they are guilty for the crimes of theft of property, misuse of public money and criminal conspiracy and awarded them separate prison terms. Mr. Samukai was given a higher two-year prison sentence, while his co-defendants were given six months jail terms respectively.
The court said Samukai and his co-defendants had no authority to use the AFL pension funds; said funds were private funds; and that the defendants issued checks in their own names for personal benefits.
Addressing a press conference Wednesday February 10, 2021 in Monrovia, the Executive Director of CENTAL, Anderson Miamen said while they hold that the court missed an opportunity to call corruption by its name, they are however cheerful about the decision of the court.
Miamen further said “The court’s unambiguous exposition of key corruption issues, including its reference to integrity and the universal principle of accountability; we believe that the court’s acknowledgment and elaboration of these concepts represent a significant step in mainstreaming the fight against corruption at the highest levels of society as well as entrenching integrity values. The court’s admonition that public officials must have legal reliance and a legal basis for the fulfillment of both their statutory responsibilities as laid down by statute and their special duties as commanded by the head of state/president.”
“We are of the opinion that this position by the court presents a teaching moment to public officials who go to any lengths to endear themselves to the Presidency or any authorized individuals at the expense of our laws and public interest. We further agree with the court that a minister or ;ublic official receiving presidential orders, whose obedience requires violation of an existing policy or law, has a duty to advise the president or cause the Minister of Justice to advise the President and that if the President insists on the implementation of the illegal order, the Minister has the option to disobey the President and honorably resign his position with integrity,” CENTAL said in a statement read by its Executive Director, Anderson Miamen.
He said while the ruling of the court references the presidency due to the facts presented by the case under review, they strongly believe that it applies to other public officials and individuals taking instructions from their superiors.
“This, we believe, sends a very clear message that the utmost duty of public service is the state and its people and not the power-that-be. We applaud the court for its decision and further urge it to decide corruption cases with an even higher speed,” they urged.
According to the integrity organization, appeals to the Supreme Court have long been used to stifle justice, especially in corruption-related cases.
Miamen said “The court must therefore exert all efforts to ensure that cases are speedily determined according to the due process of law, ensuring that the rights of all accused persons are respected and protected.”
At the same time, CENTAL is calling on President George M. Weah to timely appoint the Executive Chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, the government entity leading the fight against corruption in the country.
“We call for broad-based consultations with civil society, development partners, and other critical stakeholders in processes leading to the recruitment of the next LACC chairperson and officials of other public integrity institutions, including, but not limited to the New Auditor General (AG) of the Republic of Liberia,” he said.
The organization wants increased stakeholders’ confidence in those appointed or recruited to key positions of public trust, especially at anti-corruption and integrity institutions.
CENTAL said this is essential to receiving the required moral and financial support as well as cooperation to effectively and efficiently perform.
“We reiterate our commitment to supporting the fight against corruption in Liberia and the overall national integrity building efforts. Also, we call for strong collaboration and partnership between government and other stakeholders, especially ordinary citizens with critical roles in denouncing corruption, demanding accountability from their leaders, as well as providing moral support to public integrity institutions and other key anti-corruption actors,” Miamen added.