Speech delivered by Cllr. Tiawan .S. Gongloe, Incoming President of the Liberia National Bar Association at the occasion marking the installation of officers of LNBA at the Paynesville City Hall, January 25, 2019

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Senior Associate Justice Kabineh .M. Ja’neh and other associate justices of the  Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia, Associate Justices, and judges of subordinate courts

Ambassador Gang, Ambassador Plenipotentiary of the Cameroon and Vice Doyen of the Diplomatic Corp.

Excellences, members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps

Mr. Yacoub EL HILLO, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Liberia,

Our Guest speaker

Other HEADS OF INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Retired Justice George E. Henries, our Installing Officer

Cllr. F. Musa Dean, Minister of Justice and Dean of the Supreme Court Bar

His Honor Roosevelt Willie, President of the Association of Trial Judges of Liberia

Cllr. G. Moses Paigar, Immediate Past President of the Liberia National Bar Association, and members of the LNBA

Cllr. Jamal Detho, Associate Dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, members of the faculty and students of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law

Representative ofthe Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia and members of AFELL

Heads and members of other Liberian Professional organizations

The Chairman and members of the Inter-religious Council of Liberia

The Chairman and members of the Traditional Council of Liberia

Chairpersons and members of political parties

Mr. Peter QUAQUA, President of the West African Journalist Association (WAJA)

Mr. Charles Cuffee, President of the Press Union of Liberia

The heads of Human Rights and other civil society organizations

Members of CENPID and other Hatai Shops across Liberia, the incubators of democratic debates

Heads of student and youth organizations

Mrs. Sonie Gongloe, my dear wife and other members of my family, and

Other distinguished ladies and gentlemen

 

Before proceeding any further, may I seek your indulgence to stand with me for a moment in memory of two former presidents of the Liberian National Bar Association, who made their compulsory transitions from temporary life to eternal life over the last two years, Cllrs. Theophillus C. Gould and David A. B. Jallah. Thank you and you may have your seats. These erudite lawyers will continue to be remembered for their services to the LNBA. Also, before proceeding any further, l wish to publicly acknowledge the efforts of those who made it possible for me to stand here today. Words are truly inadequate for the degree of gratitude that  I want to express to my campaign team led by Cllr. Kuku Dorbor; the strong support shown by the local bars, led by the Nimba Bar, the prosecutors, the public defenders and lawyers serving in the judiciary, as well as  non-lawyers all across Liberia and the Diaspora, including students of the Louis Arthur Grimes  School of Law, my friends of CENPID Hatai shops and other hatai shops, who, although without the right to vote, displayed their rights of engagement with the electoral process by campaigning for the election of the leadership team of the LNBA that just took the oath of office a few minutes ago. On behalf of this team, I thank you for your overwhelming support. Further, I want thank Cllr. Bormah Varmah, Chairman of the Steering Committee for this installation program, and his team for the great preparatory work for this event. My final words of gratitude go to Cllr. G. Moses Paigar, who became former President, just a few minutes ago, for the enormous cooperation and support given our team for the holding of this event. Thank you, Mr. President Emeritus.

By the nearly unanimous support, evidenced by nearly eighty percent of the votes cast, members of the Liberian National Bar Association have given me a very strong mandate to serve the LNBA for the next three years. The question on everyone’s mind is what will the Gongloe administration do for the Bar. The answer is simple. I will do what I promised to do during the campaign because it was based on those promises that I was elected by my colleagues. During my campaign, I promised that in addition to continuing the current programs and projects of the LNBA, I will start a Bar Journal to serve as an avenue for lawyers to critically examine the opinions of the Supreme Court through scholarly articles, work on an insurance scheme for members of the LNBA, and to lead the Bar in serving as a general counsel for the Liberian society on all contentious legal issues. The bar cannot, must not and will not be silent on contentious legal issues that have the propensity to lead our country into confusion or chaos and reverse the gains made, collectively,  in re-establishing a peaceful social order, within the framework of the law, with the support of the international community, following fourteen years of fratricidal civil conflict that caused the estimated deaths of more than 250,000 of our compatriots and the destruction of all of our basic infrastructure in our country.

For example, there is a current debate on whether the President of Liberia can appoint an ambassador while the Senate is on recess. The clear legal answer to this simple legal question is NO! There is no provision under our constitution for the appointment of an ambassador without the advice and consent of the Liberian Senate under any circumstance. Article 54  of the Constitution of Liberia which provides for the appointment of public official by the President  states, “ The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Senate, appoint and commission a) cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers; b) ambassadors, ministers, consuls…” amongst other officials of government. There is no exception to this mandatory constitutional procedure for the appointment of public officials by the President, even during a state of emergency. The constitution of other countries may have provisions for the appointment of an ambassador while the Senate is on recess. For instance Article II section 2.3 of the United States Constitution  provides “The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” But the United States Constitution cannot form the basis of any appointment of a public official in Liberia. The Constitution of Liberia controls how Liberia should be governed.

The voice of the Bar will be heard loudly on all contentious legal issues.  We owe a collective duty to our country as lawyers to provide clarifications on legal issues, as a way of sustaining the peace and preventing conflict. In fact, it is within our professional interest to do everything, legally possible, to sustain the peace. Lawyers are, perhaps, the only professionals, who cannot practice their profession in the absence of peace. As we experienced during our own civil conflict, the courts and law offices immediately shutdown at the first gun sound, but preachers continued to preach at displaced centers and refugee camps, medical doctors and nurses were practicing their profession at the clinics, including mobile clinics providing services for combatants and their victims and journalists were practicing their profession by reporting on the conflict. Therefore, our recent national experience has shown us that it is impossible for us to perform our profession when our country descends into conflict. That is why it is not in our professional interest to remain silent when decisions and actions are taken by public officeholders in the three branches of government that we know to be in clear violation of our constitution, statute laws, and international treaties to which our country is a state party.

We must NOT and should NOT be silent individually and collectively as members of the legal profession and confine ourselves to only issues brought to us by those who are able to pay us for legal services. While the legal profession is the means by which we earn the means to sustain ourselves, like the bars of other countries, the Liberian people look up to us for giving them counsel when they are confused about whether the actions of government and its functionaries are within the framework of the law or not. When we fail to take a professional position on illegal decisions and actions of public officials that have the potential of undermining the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights, we must take the blame for any conflict that results from our silence. Sometimes public officials sincerely believe that their decisions and actions are supported by law, when in fact, those actions are illegal. In a highly illiterate society like ours, the educated segment of our population has the moral responsibility to guide against actions of the government and its functionaries that are illegal. Lawyers must take the lead in the performance of such patriotic duty. The physicist Albert Einstein, once said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”  Because we lawyers have, largely, remained silent over the years on crucial national issues of governance that have negative legal implications, the general view of the people has been that we are part of the problem that has kept this country behind. We must change that perception by showing where we stand, as a professional body, on national issues that have negative legal implications. This is the best way to help our government and the people of Liberia.

My position on the new posture that lawyers in this country must collectively adopt is based on what bars of other countries like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and many other bars do in their countries. My position is also informed by the history of this country. It is not a secret and one does not need to do any great research to know that the civil conflict in Liberia was not rooted in religious or ethnic rivalries like Somalia or Rwanda. The Liberian civil conflict was the consequence of perennial bad governance by successive governments of Liberia based on corruption and wanton disregard for the Constitution and statutory laws of our country. Liberian history reveals that corruption and the lack of respect for the law were accentuated under the administration of three presidents of Liberia who were lawyers. Instead of using their knowledge of the law to lay afirm foundation for good governance, they used it for the purpose of perpetuating themselves in power and engaging in other forms of corruption.  The three presidents that I have reference to are Edward James Roye, Charles D. B. King, and William V. S. Tubman. They left very bad impressions on the minds of the people of Liberia and have made it difficult for the people to trust lawyers to lead this country.

President Edward James Roye, a lawyer who had served as Speaker of the House of Representatives and Chief Justice of the Supreme of Liberia before becoming President of Liberia, tried to manipulate the law in such a manner to allow him to stay in power longer than provided by the Constitution. In a special election held in May, 1870  for the amendment of the Constitution of Liberia to reflect a change in the term of office of the President from two years to four years, the members of the House of Representatives from two years to four years and the Senate from four years to eight years, President E. J. Roye took the following illegal actions: He announced the result of the special election and said that the amendment had been endorsed by the votes cast when it was not his place to do so, as the Constitution provided for the Speaker of the House to perform that role, and when the Speaker subsequently announced that the amendment was not carried, Roye stood his ground and said that his term of office had been extended by the votes cast in the special election and that he would remain in office. Therefore, he refused to hold a presidential election. Yet as a lawyer, Roye was aware that even, if the people had voted for the amendment, he could not have benefited from it as an incumbent President. Roye also obtained a loan from Britain in 1871 in the amount one hundred thousand pounds sterling. But before the legislature could approve the use of that money through the budgeting process, he took his share, gave some to others, and even purchased goods in London.

Delivering his annual message to the Legislature on December 4, 1871, Roye’s Vice President, James S. Smith, who succeeded him after he was forcibly removed from power for his unlawful actions, gave the following account of President Roye’s misconduct regarding the loan:

“No sooner was it announced in Liberia that the loan had been secured, then President Roye –before a single dollar been paid into the treasury of the Republic for any of the purposes specified in the loan act, and before the Legislature had either accepted the loan or taken any action in relation thereto –commenced to draw drafts against it for account of himself and others…All documents in our possession relative to the loan would be laid before you and as soon as others come to hand… Permanent among the amounts drawn we discovered $30,819 in favor of President Roye, and $4,376.02 for his Secretary of State.”

 

Smith then expressed regret for the woeful conduct of President Roye, in the following words:

“I exceedingly regret that the deposition of the President is connected to two very important and vital interests of our country, which are the introduction of money and the extension of the presidential term.” From this account it is clear that President Roye’s removal from power on October 26, 1871, was based on corruption and his disregard for the Constitution of Liberia.

Unfortunately, the removal of Roye, although for justifiable reasons, was also done without regard for the Constitution of Liberia. While the Constitution provided, as it does now, for the removal of the President of Liberia through the process of impeachment, some legislators met somewhere in Monrovia and issued a manifesto declaring the removal of President Roye. The process stimulated a constitutional crisis that ended with the detention, brutal treatment, and death of President Roye. The removal of Roye from office was the first brutal coup d’état in Liberia. It was a clear example of how corruption and disregard for the law by public officials can stimulate national crisis and civil conflict.

As if the Roye affair was not lesson enough to prevent corruption and disregard for the law by those who occupy government positions, Liberia witnessed similar misconduct in public office by Presidents King and Tubman. President Charles D. B. King, who had served as Attorney General and Secretary State before becoming the President of Liberia, acted in reckless disregard for the Constitution of Liberia and government’s obligation under international law. He rigged the presidential election held in 1927 in order to unlawfully remain in power. According to historical accounts of that election, in an election in which there were less than 15,000 registered voters, President King defeated his opponent T. J. R. Falkner by obtaining 243, 000 votes, which constituted 96.43% and his opponent obtained 9,000 votes. King also violated Liberia’s obligation under the League of Nations by selling slave labor to a Spanish plantation company located in Fernando Po, known today as Equatorial Guinea.

Similarly, President William V. S. Tubman, who had been a member of the Senate and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia before becoming President, used his legal knowledge to manipulate and control the other two branches of government, as well as, engage in massive violation of the fundamental rights of other Liberians, especially journalists and other politicians, as well as other Liberians, in order to perpetuate himself in power, in flagrant violation of the Constitution of Liberia and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I have accentuated the reckless disregard for the law and corruption under these three past presidents, in order to call the attention of my colleagues in the legal profession to the need for us to redeem the image of the legal profession in Liberia because it was wrongly used by past Liberian “leaders” who were members of our profession to violate the Constitution of Liberia and to hinder democratic governance and respect for human rights. While these lawyers were manipulating the law to perpetuate themselves in power, other lawyers were collaborating with them and except for a few, most lawyers remained silent.

Given this history of the legal profession in Liberia, we cannot remain silent and justify our silence with a narrow definition of our role as only providing legal services to our clients, in our offices and in the courtroom, and disregard current actions of government that could be inconsistent with governance by the rule of law. in government.  To maintain such a posture and believe lawyers will be safe and live in comfort while the rest of our fellow citizens bear the brunt of corruption and disregard for the law, is to have a very myopic view of the legal profession. Our national experience has shown that lawyers, eventually, become victims of bad governance like the rest of the people.  As I said earlier, at the sound of any gunfire, courts are the first public offices to be shutdown and they remain closed until order is restored. Therefore, it is clear that lawyers can practice their profession only when there is peace. That is why we cannot pretend to not see the early warning signs of conflict, which is the violation of the Constitution and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and international law.

We have an obligation to speak out about the actions of public officials that threaten the peace and hinder national progress. Article 15c of the Constitution of Liberia provides that the people have a right to know about their government and its functionaries. Interestingly, Liberian politicians only know the importance of this provision of the Constitution when they are not in power. When they get to power, and other Liberians begin to speak about their actions, then they change their emphasis from article 15c of the Constitution to article 15a which says “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof…” Most often those in power tend to give a narrow definition of the word abuse, in the context of free speech, to suit their situation. Most often a demand for accountability is considered as an abuse of free speech by public officials.

It is our role, as a professional body, to educate the governors and the governed that the people have a right to speak truth to the governors, and the governors have a corresponding duty to speak truth to the people about their actions. Mutual trust and respect based on unlimited flow of information between the people and public servants is the way to build a free, democratic and open society. This is the only way that public trust is gained and maintained. It is important for officials of government to know that public trust is the only protection that any government has, as no army, no police or other armed security forces, no matter how large in number, is adequate to protect a government and its functionaries in an atmosphere of mass discontent.  Liberian public officials, based on our recent history, should know this to be true better than anyone else.

Our history of misrule rooted in the lack of respect for the law and human rights by public officials, makes every government and its officials suspect until their record of performance proves otherwise. Liberians who are outspoken speak about our government the way they do because of the conduct of past governments and their functionaries. Those who lead today must understand that they are suspect until their records show a positive change in behavior or until their behavior and actions demonstrate transparency, accountability, and putting the security and welfare of the people above their personal interests Instead of getting angry for what their critics say, officials of government should demonstrate integrity by ensuring consistency between what they say and what they do. Overtime, the people will change and begin to respect and honor them. I advise government officials to consider criticisms, no matter how brutal, as a stimulant to do better than previous public officials, and not as a display of hatred or envy. Respect, most often, is a response to honorable conduct and not just merely due to the office a person occupies. Officials of government who are honest and conduct themselves in a respectable manner will always be respected. On the other hand, a public official who is corrupt, acts outside of the scope of the law, and violates the rights of others, should not expect anyone to respect him or her. The Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto you.”If you want to be respected as a public official, be respectful.

For a long time government officials have relied on laws that criminalize so-called abuse of free speech as a protection from criticism. These laws are sedition, criminal malevolence and criminal libel against the President. When I served as Solicitor General of Liberia, I told President Sirleaf that she could not say she believes in freedom of expression and allow laws that criminalize speech to still be part of our Penal Law. Therefore, I submitted to her a draft act to repeal sedition, criminal malevolence and criminal libel against the President. I understand that the House of Representatives has passed the repeal act and it is now before the Senate. I call upon the Senate to concur with the House in repealing these anti-speech laws without further delay. Democracy is rooted in the freedom to disagree, especially with officials of government, and this cannot happen where speech is criminalized. Free speech and its corresponding freedom of the press are the most effective tools available to the people for evaluating their government and its functionaries.

The LNBA, under our administration, will promote a culture of peace in Liberia by making its position known on the violation of law by public officials in the three branches of our government. We will remind public officials that prior to the assumption of their offices they made a solemn promise to the Liberian people, through their oaths to “support, uphold, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Liberia, bear true faith and allegiance to the Republic,” and that they “will faithfully, conscientiously and impartially discharge the duties and functions” of their offices to the best of their abilities. This is our way of keeping the peace, preventing conflict, and promoting sustained national progress and prosperity. My team is prepared to lead the LNBA in the performance of this role for our common good and in the interest of our collective security in Liberia, the Mano River Union and ECOWAS. This is how we understand the mandate you gave us. Our team is committed to dialogue within the LNBA when there are differences of opinion or interpretation of the law, we will try to always be available to you, and I assure you that we value the ideas and contributions that each member can bring. We seek the full cooperation of the entire membership of the LNBA, the government, the civil society, the business community, our international partners, and the larger Liberian society in the execution of our mandate. I thank you.

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