Budget Wahala -Judiciary Rejects Its Share, Citing Inequality

MONROVIA –  Liberia’s cash-based budget, the 2024/25 version not an exemption, is the National Cake to which all public servants, grouped into three branches—Executive, Legislature and Judiciary—that are co-equal, coordinate peers, fall heir. Each Branch has its own fiduciary and constitutional duties and responsibilities to provide the rest of the citizenry vital, quality services. The Judiciary, constitutionally apolitical, has often had little or no say in who gets what from the National Cake and why. The jamboree, more often than not, has been the prerogative of the other two, leaving the Judiciary on the mere margin of the National Dinner Table, left to groan in silence. It seems the “Sleeping Giant” is awake this year, either because the period of its sidelining has been long or perhaps because the “finger has pierced deep into its eye” in the consummation of the 2024/2025 fiscal budget. The Supreme Court is now speaking out on the vital matter, as The Analyst reports, barking loudly in protest to, and in rejection of, its share of this year’s budget.

The Third Branch of Government, the Judiciary, has alarmed over the dispensation of the 2024/2025 National Budget, stating that it finds itself at the lowest ebb of the receiving end while the other two—the Executive and Legislature—rewarded themselves handsomely.

As a tradition, the Executive drafts the national budget and the Legislature, after a ‘thorough scrutiny’, ratifies it, before the President, head of the Executive, finally signs it into law. The Judiciary, a co-equal is treated like other compartments of the other branches, are invited to public hearings, given a day to justify its budget, and the final decision comes without its expressed consent.

Regarding this current budget, it seems the Judiciary is not taking the process, particularly the ratified portion of the budget allotted to it lightly, stating in a release that it “has vehemently rejected 2024 budget allotted to them”.

In a press statement, the Judiciary, headed by Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, contends that the rule of law is part of President Joseph Nyuma Boakai “ARREST” agenda “but how will the rule of law be upheld when the Judiciary is receiving the lowest budge while the two branches of government receiving the lion’s share of the budget?”

Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, the Judiciary argues, 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; and no person holding office in one of the said branches shall serve on any autonomous public agency.

The Judiciary made it clear in a press release issued on Wednesday June 5, 2024 that it is not prepared to accept the appropriation or allocation of US$17M and one-off contingency amount of US$3M which constitutes 2.8% of the National budget.

Describing the 2.8% allotment as an “imposition by both Legislature and Executive Branches of government on a co-equal Branch of the same government,” the Supreme Court said it “acknowledges and upholds the power bestowed upon the Legislature to “make appropriations for the fiscal governance of the Republic” as enshrined in Article 34(d) of the Liberian Constitution (1986)” but, for this fiscal year, it is not prepared to accept the budgetary relegation.

“This court has also upheld the long-standing principle of constitutional interpretation which states in part, ‘the constitution must be interpreted in light of the entire document rather than a sequestrated pronouncement, as every provision of the constitution is of equal importance,” the Judiciary further contends. “None of the provisions of the Constitution should be interpreted to nullify or substantially impair the other provisions.’”

The released further indicated that it is within this legal context that Chapter VII of the Liberian Constitution (1986) and the supporting statuses within the New Judiciary law impose a legal obligation upon the Judiciary Branch to effectively and efficiently manage the Supreme Court of Liberia and all of its administrative units.

It stated that the units include 22 Circuit Courts across the fifteenth political subdivision of the country, along with judges and staff; 75 specialized courts across the 15 political subdivisions of this country with their judges and staff; 160 magisterial courts also across the fifteenth subdivisions of this country with their magistrates and staff in order to ensure that the rule of law prevails within the borders of the country.

The Supreme further asserts that the lack of adequate support to the Judiciary by National Government over the years have resulted to deteriorating infrastructures, lack of logistics and worsening conditions of service at the Judiciary and this is substantially impairing the duty of the judiciary branch of government as mandated by the provisions of Chapter VII of the Liberian Constitution.

The release noted that in the spirit of coordination and cooperation, meetings were held with the leadership of the Legislature and the presidency prior to the passage of this year’s fiscal budget in which the judiciary brought to the attention of its other two co-equal Branches of the Liberian Government that the constant violation of the Financial Autonomy Act of the Judiciary law which consistently relegated an entire branch of government to a mere department under the Executive Branch was not only undermining the Rule of law in Liberia but also debasing a coequal Branch of government.

“It appears evident, however, from the passage of the fiscal budget 2024, that both the Legislative and Executive Branches of the Liberian government are not prepared to regard the Judiciary as a co-equal Branch of the same government.

The Supreme Court also stressed that it is unfair and unjust the Executive and Legislative Branches have elected to appropriate a meager 2.8% of the National budget to the Judiciary (the 2nd largest Branch) whilst the same Legislative Branch (the smallest) allocates 13.84% to itself and 83.36% to the Executive Branch, despite assurances made that such serious concerns of the Judiciary was going to be addressed even if not in their entirety.

“The Judiciary views as unfair, unjust and an attempt by the other two branches of government to further reduce the Liberian Judiciary to nothing; a condition unacceptable to the Liberian judiciary,” the Supreme Court lamented.

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