The Liberian Legislature is notorious for sending officials to jail

By Peter Quaqua

In 2006, the Liberian Senate sentenced Morris Saytumah, then Minister without Portfolio and then Deputy Finance Minister, Francis Karpeh to 72-hour in jail at the Monrovia Central Prison for fiscal management issues. Saytumah is now Senator.

In 2008, the House of Representatives held Darius Dillion, then assistant to Senator Jewel Taylor in contempt and sentenced him to jail for six months for expressing his views. Dillon is now a Senator.

In 2013, the House of Representatives voted to send Montserrado County Superintendent Grace T. Kpaan to jail for contempt. It took Monrovia City Mayor, Mary Broh and a group of women to obstruct Kpaan’s imprisonment.

In 2013, the House of Representative sent Sinoe County Superintendent Milton Teahjay to jail for 48 hours at the Monrovia Prison for reportedly assaulting Representative Matthew Zarzar at a community radio station in Greenville Sinoe County. Teahjay is now a Senator.

In 2014, then Finance Minister Amara Konneh had to run to the Supreme Court to stop his imprisonment after the Liberia Senate voted to jail him for attempting to reduce their budget.

In 2018, Deputy Information Minister for Press and Public Affairs, Eugene Fahngon would be jailed for contempt, after a heated argument with then Bomi County Representative Edwin M. Snowe. Snowe is now a Senator. Mr. Fahngon was sent to jail by the House against Article 44 of the Constitution, which says in part “…Disputes between legislators and non-members which are properly cognizable in the courts shall not be entertained or heard in the Legislature.”

Now, I heard the Liberian Senate is considering sending to jail the entire [five] Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission for not resolving elections dispute cases in time? And freshman Senator of River Gee County, Senator Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie, should already be considered a ‘tough’ Senator as he’s the movant for the jail sentence. He must be learning fast. You want to jail the whole elections management body for not working within the constitutional timeframe? Really?

You see, these are just a few of the instances where our lawmakers have been keen on locking people up to show their power. I am afraid, if these people had the power, they would probably jail the President of the Republic for contempt. But how many of them have gone to jail for nonperformance? Just concern!

Let me submit quickly that I am not against the powers of contempt in so as it is exercise in a measured way to preserve the dignity of our institutions and not left at the discretion of an obsessive and influential few. When contempt becomes frequent and marred by ferocious jail sentences, then you all should be accused of weaponizing it.

I refer you to Article 74 of the Liberian Constitution, which says: “In all matters of contempt of court, whether in the Supreme Court or in other courts, the penalties to be imposed shall be fixed by the Legislature and shall conform to the provision on Fundamental Rights laid down in this Constitution.” Has the Legislature given effect to this very important clause of the Constitution? Don’t forget, we are talking about an issue that borders on fundamental rights that should never be left to the discretion of a compromised judge or a group of partisan lawmakers.

Maybe Davidetta Brown-Lansanah and her team of Commissioners should start thinking about challenging at the Supreme Court any attempt to send them to prison.

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