The Senators’ Request And The Issue Of Precedent

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Prior to going for the year-end break, known as the “Agriculture Break,’ one of the issues that the Liberian Senate was faced with was that which concerned the behavior of the Director of the Liberia National Police, Chris Massaquoi who reportedly carried large number of “armed” police officers on the grounds of the Capitol Building where he was summoned. The presence of the many reported armed men did not go down well with members of the Senate, for which some of them called on the President, who has the appointing power to “disrobe” the Director for such an act.

Initially after brainstorming on the issue before the break, it was reported that the Senate called for the dismissal of the Director. But later it was gathered that this was not the decision of the Senate, as a body, but some Senators.

Upon their return from their break, it was reported that the President in a communication to that body, suspended the director for two days and ordered that he apologizes to that august body. But that did not go down well with some of them, who are still insisting that the President “disrobes” the Director of Police. Sources told this paper that the Senators are unhappy over the failure of the President to act on the recommendations to disrobe the Police Director, Col.  Chris Massaquoi, after the body passed a vote of no confidence against him.

The sources went on to explain that during Thursday’s session, the Senate Plenary viewed the President’s communication of suspending Col. Massaquoi for two days as insulting and an attempt to undermine the function of the Senate, and have vowed to put on hold the confirmation of new nominees from the President’s desk for lack of action against Col. Chris Massaquoi.

And so to accentuate their demand, these Senators have called for a halt to all confirmation hearing until their demand is met. Today that body remains divided on the issue, with some still demanding that the President ‘disrobes’ the Director, while others do not support the disrobing of the Director. Yesterday, this paper reported that for about two weeks now, normal sessions at the Liberian Senate had always been held behind closed door for several hours. It is believed that the issue surrounding the Director is what is being deliberated upon by the Senators.

It can be recalled that late last year; the Plenary of the Senate wrote a communication to President Sirleaf requesting her to ‘disrobe’ Col. Chris Massaquoi because their investigation revealed that he committed mutiny (uprising, sedition) against that August Body. Based on that, the Senate at the time reportedly passed a “vote of no confidence” in the Police boss for taking along a group of police officers when he was invited at the Capitol Building.

According to the report, the police officers arrived on the grounds of the Capitol chanting anti Senate slogans in favor of their boss, Col. Massaquoi, who had gone to answer the Senators’ query. The Director was summoned by the Senate based on a result of a communication from Gbarbpolu County Senator, Armah Jallah, complaining that the Police Boss insulted him in a traffic that he (Massaquoi) claimed that Sen. Jallah violated while driving to work.

Meanwhile, it is believed that the situation has now created a row between the Senate and the Executive Branch, thus resulting to a halt on all confirmations, including that of the newly appointed head of the Armed Forces of Liberia. Because of the seriousness of the situation,  Vice President, Joseph N. Boakai who is also President of the Senate called a special meeting with Senators after the Senators themselves had a closed door session for several hours last week Thursday, January 30,2014, debating whether President Sirleaf’s letter should be accepted or not.

I take interest in this matter because of the issue of precedence. I really do not know as to whether such a situation has worked anywhere, where a group of Senators or the Senate as a body, insisted on the dismissal of an official of the Executive Branch, who was appointed by the President. While I stand to be corrected on this, I am only concerned because of the issue of precedent.

Today, it is the Director of Police who is accused of misconduct; tomorrow, it would be another official of the Executive Branch on similar issue, with a request to have him or her dismissed. My concern is that should it happen today, a stage would be set for it to perpetuate.

What I had thought in such matter is that the Senators would complain to the Appointing Power- the President- about whatever unbecoming behavior by her official and leave that with the President to decide on the next course of action or punishment. But the way it is now, by requesting disrobing or dismissal, whether such is feasible politically is something I wait to see, as it is often said, “one turn deserves another.” Frankly, my fear is whether or not setting such precedent would be healthy for our democracy, especially the doctrine about the Separation of Powers.

Precedent refers to “anything that serves as an example or rule to authorize or justify a subsequent act of the same or an analogous kind.” Also, it is “a parallel case serving as an example.” As for the 8th Edition of Black’s Law Dictionary (P-1214), it defines precedent as, “decided case that furnishes a basis for determining later cases involving similar facts or issues.”

And so you see, to make long matter short, should the President disrobe the Director, a precedent would have been set that would be used as a reliance or example in cases of similar nature.

For me, this is the sticky issue in this whole rigmarole between the Senators and the President. Let me also say that while I am concerned about the issue of precedent, I should not be seen as suggesting that these Senators have no right to complain or raise whatever issues against the presence of the police officers on the grounds of the seat of the Legislature in such a reported manner, especially on the issue that the officers at the time chanted Anti-Senate slogans on the grounds, something I believe does not augur well for the country’s police. My concern is the request to ‘disrobe’ or dismiss the Police Director.

As I always said, while this country enjoys an unfettered press, sometimes it is administratively advisable and prudent to discuss some issues in camera because whenever such matter comes to the fore, it makes negotiation very difficult, as no one wants to be seen in the eyes of the public as being weak. This may not only be for those in government. Even in our little organizations, clubs or movements, getting things to the media, may create unnecessary bottlenecks, thereby undermining efforts to resolve a particular matter or issue.

Who knows, perhaps President Sirleaf will succumb on grounds of the issue of confirmation hearing and then set a precedent for years to some. This is my fear. I Rest My Case.

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