From Sinoe To Nimba: The Issue Of The “Three Separate Coordinate Branches” Of Government: What Does It Mean?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

The constitution, considered as the organic law of the country provides the basis upon which laws of a country are to be made and also more specifically how the country is to be governed. The phrase organic law means that all other laws to be made by the country should in no way be in contravention of provisions of the Constitution. In short, it is the fundamental laws of the country. Like many other constitutions which speak of the unitary nature of the government, the Liberian Constitution also provides for the kind of government and its various branches that must work together for the government to be able to smoothly and uninterruptedly carry on its functions.

For this reason, the Liberian Constitution in ARTICLE THREE speaks of the unitary nature of the government, especially on the separation of powers. In that Article, the constitution succinctly states, “Liberia is a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes. The form of Government is Republican with three separate coordinate branches: The Legislative, the Executive and the judiciary. Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches shall hold office in or exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the two branches except as otherwise provided in this Constitution; and one person holding office in one of the said branches shall serve on any autonomous public agency.”

Indisputably, this provision of the Liberian Constitution provides the type of government and the three branches comprising the government: the Legislative which makes the law; the Executive which enforces the laws and the Judiciary, which interprets the laws. This distinctly sets the basis for each branch to be aware of its functions to avoid usurpation or overlapping of the functions of other branches of the government.

However, realizing the importance of working together for the smooth functions of the government, the constitution makes it clear that these branches of government although “separate,” must “coordinate” for the running of the affairs of the state. This is why the constitution stresses the essence of what is known as “three separate coordinate branches.” By the phrase, three separate coordinate braches, means that the three braches have to coordinate.

The word, coordinate, as used in this context, according to one definition, as an Adjective, means, ‘being of equal order, or of the same rank or degree, not subordinate; to place in the same rank; to make of equal value. As a noun, coordinate means, “a person or thing of the same rank with another and working or employed to the same end”.

From these definitions, it means that persons who find themselves in these branches must treat each other with high respect and courtesy. It means no one should engage in acts to undermine or impede the function of any of the other branches. Additionally, they should avoid act that has the propensity to bring other branches to public ridicule and disrespect. Although they have separate and distinct functions, if there is no coordination, this would actually paralyze the function of the running of the government.

For example, the Legislature must approve the budget, and that the Executive branch must generate the needed funds to support the budget. Likewise, if the Executive arrests a person for a crime, it expects the Judiciary to conduct the hearing to decide in the matter. To say it the Liberian way, each branch needs each other to function. This can be likened to the various parts of the human body that must work together for the body to function properly.

Disappointingly, it seems that this essence of the separation of power or coordinate branches is not being practiced by some individuals, especially in the Executive and Legislative branches of the government, for which there have always been rigmaroles between some lawmakers and officials of the counties, especially the superintendents. This has even led to some local officials held for contempt by the legislature. In some instances, some have been incarcerated.

It is an open secret about the situation between Sinoe County Representative, good friend, Matthew Zarzar and the Superintendent of the county, my former schoolmate, J. Milton Teahjay, which led to the imprisonment of Superintendent Teahjay for contempt. Prior to that, there were other instances of misunderstanding between the Superintendent and some lawmakers of the county.

As I stated in one of my articles on the bad blood between the superintendent and some lawmakers in the county, it was one of the contributing factors that led to the cancellation of the July 26 Independence day celebration which should have been hosted by the county and Grand Kru people. Today, I still maintain that this bad blood indeed played a major part to an extent that what should have been done by the county, did not take place, as it is said, “there can be no success in the midst of confusion.”

Many times people attribute this misunderstanding to the misuse of power and authority. As someone said one day, “Everybody wants to show power and authority.” As a result of this, the kind of coordination and respect expected from some individuals in the various branches are not exhibited, thus sowing seeds of discord, misunderstanding and unnecessary acrimonious exchanges in some instances, thus retarding progress in those counties, as had been in the case of Sinoe.

Today, I take on similar situation because of what I heard again between some lawmakers and the Superintendent of Nimba County. According to information, the lawmakers have invited the superintendent and internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly for what is termed as “disrespect.” Two persons from the superintendent’s office in the county who appeared on TRUTH FM yesterday, denied the Issue of disrespect on the part of the superintendent. They believe that as scrap deal may have ignited this whole misunderstanding and not the issue of financial report or disrespect.

For me whatever the situation, this piece is not intended to pass judgment, but to say such a bad blood among county officials is unhealthy and would only do more harm than good. Instead of doing the people’s business for which these lawmakers were elected and superintendents appointed, the constant misunderstanding of people in various branches is diametrically opposite of the essence of the issue of separate coordinate branches.

It is disgusting at this time when efforts are being made to fight this Ebola virus that has also claimed the lives of citizens of the county while leaders of the county are now at loggerheads, something I believe would hamper the fight against this deadly disease in the county.

Again, individuals in these three branches of government should know and believe that they belong to the same unit, and must exhibit high degree of coordination, cooperation, mutual respect, courtesy, tolerance and shun any act that has the propensity to bring other officials to public disrepute, ridicule and disgrace.

Sometimes my blood simmers in me whenever I hear of some officials behaving contrary to their societal status quo. It is said in Liberia, all of them belong to the same boat; if it sinks, they all would fall; if it sails well; they all stand to vaingloriously brag about their success. Indeed, to move this country forward, there MUST be respect for each other or one another. Until this culture is respected, I REST MY CASE.