Lewis Browne’s Reaction To Christiana Tah’s Press Statement

My fellow Liberians:

Many had hoped that time would heal but sadly, since the suspension of her license to practice law in the country, the former Minister of Justice has been bitter and angry — bitter with the Supreme Court and angry with the President. In her own words, she experienced the height of “personal pain when my hard-earned professional asset was suspended and my credibility called into question”. It may prove to be in the best interest of the country that she has finally mustered the courage to exercise her prerogative to resign.

How else are we to characterize assertions by the former Minister of Justice and Dean of the Supreme Court that the decision of the Supreme Court to suspend her license was a “parody of justice” claiming that her counsels were “browbeaten into offering an apology to appease the judiciary”? How else are we to characterize the former Minister’s allegation that at least four months after she tabled her prerogative to resign, the Minister of Information who was unaware of such action was preempting the resignation or retaliating for same?

All the Minister of Information sought to do conscientiously was draw public attention to the dissimilar exercise of presidential powers in which for suspending the license to practice law in the country, a former President immediately returned his Justice Minister to office and removed members of the Supreme Court Bench while, in this case, the current President permitted the decision of the Highest Court in the land to stand after, as the former Minister admitted, the available appeal process was exhausted.

Unarguably, while one action effectively undermined the authority of the courts, and mistakenly reaffirmed the presidency as the singular source of power and authority in the country, the other unapologetically reversed this precedence, and may have informed a new sense of equality before the law, as well as reestablished the respect, integrity and independence of the courts, as our system of governance intended it to be.

This is why we agree with the former Minister that “. . .the interest of our nation is bigger and paramount over any personal or partisan concern(s).” But sadly, as we now see, sometimes when personally involved, this can be easier said than done. The harsh truth then is that we can only pursue the bigger interests of the nation when we substitute I and what makes ME feel better for WE and what makes US become better.

It really is easy to ask others to show respect for the decisions of the courts when they fall to the sword of its judgments. But as leaders, determined to teach by good examples, we, too, must also demonstrate public respect for the decisions of the courts when we fall to its judgments.

This does not necessarily mean the courts will always be right. It simply means that WE will be freer – that our society becomes better and our environment becomes safer — when we continuously enable the courts to remain the proper venues not merely for the adjudication but also for the resolution of legal causes and disputes.

This, also, is what is meant by leadership being an ‘art in self-transcendence’. ot 1- transcendence is that uncommon ability to reach beyond self-interest and to embrace the collective good. It is when we are able to be truly engaged in the art of self-transcendence — to prioritize the ‘collective good through thick and thin’ — that we find the calmness in spirit, and the depth of courage to endure, as many of us now do in public service, the ‘slings and arrows’ even from those we simply wish to serve.

And even though the former Minister may be deeply beholden to the human emotions of bitterness and anger, and will obviously disagree, for many who have borne the marks for change from practices of executive interference to equality of all citizens before the law, the collective good was best served in preserving the sanctity of the Supreme Court from presidential interference. It may still prove to be amongst the finest moments of this administration, and a proud legacy for the institutionalization of rule of law.

My fellow citizens:

The former Minister of Justice superintended the rule of law, by her own count, for nearly six years. Exercising the prerogative to resign the office, she inquired rhetorically: “What is the “rule of law” if a duly appointed Minister of Justice with oversight for security has grave concerns about what her volitional resignation will mean for her own personal security and freedom as a Liberian citizen?”

Again, this is sad. Six years after what many believed was dedicated service to reforming and institutionalizing the rule of law in the country, on her scale of justice, the rule of law is being measured only by her safety and her freedom? Of course the former Minister knows that she is safe and free. But perhaps for six years, we have misunderstood each other as regards the rule of law because for the government, as important as the tree is, our collective duty is to care for the forest.

This is why for the Liberian Government, adherence to the rule of law is more than rhetoric — it lies at the heart of the value of our stewardship. It represents so much more than singular concerns for just public officials and or former officials. For the government, it also means showing concerns for those who have as well as enabling those who don’t. It is that all, in peace and safety, will pursue their dreams, will care for their families, and will exercise the right to think and speak freely. It is affording unto each Liberian the true value of their citizenship by which we punish justly and reward equitably. These remain the true measure of our commitment to the rule of law.

This, then, is why, where serious doubts are expressed by contending parties either because of the nature of the case or the predisposition of the Ministry of Justice, upon consultations, the President has always felt obligated by dictates of conscience as well as demands of the rule of law to call on the services of reputable citizens to assist. The same is true in the ongoing investigation of alleged fraud involving the National Security Agency.

Here again, this policy and practice is not about trust for the Minister or Ministry of Justice.

Having served for nearly six years as Minister of Justice, and on countless occasions as Acting Chairman of the Liberian cabinet, it is hard to make a reasonable case for the lack of trust by the President in the former Minister or the Justice Ministry.

And so, the real point to be made is that in the interest of upholding the rule of law, it is not good enough that the President simply trusts the Minister and the Ministry of Justice to conduct independent investigations. But that the contending parties whose interests are at risk trust that the investigation will be independently conducted, as well as seen to be fair to all sides.

Where reasonable concerns are raised and validated, it seems equally reasonable that the President would act to allay such validated concerns without prejudice to and in consultation with the Ministry of Justice. Accordingly, Counselor David A.B. Jallah, Dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, has been asked and has accepted to head the ongoing investigation with which all sides are currently cooperating.

Finally, on Saturday, October 4, the former Minister of Justice, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Information participated in a meeting called by the President with all of the leaders of the government’s corruption watchdog institutions including the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, the General Auditing Commission, the Public Procurement Concession Commission and the Internal Audit Agency. The President was troubled about the current state of the anti-corruption fight in the country.

She drew attention to the fact that the lack of prosecution of cases made the administration seem unserious — that at home and abroad, the perception of losing the fight against corruption was rising; that the image of the country was suffering on account of this; that the only measure of performance of these institutions had to be in their respective abilities to fight corruption through speedy investigations and prosecutions for which there are to be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”; and that unless they came up with measures to do so, her confidence and that of the people would wane in their respective abilities and integrities.

The various heads of institutions responded. Amongst other things, they generally conceded that the lack of prosecution of corruption allegations presented a serious problem which was contributing to the lowering of public perception and confidence about the seriousness of the administration to fight corruption. It was also generally conceded that the Justice Ministry was overwhelmed.

To this end, insofar as corruption is concerned, the institutions resolved to support and pursue with the relevant functionary, the grant of prosecutorial powers to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission. Obviously, the various leaders of the government anti-corruption groups were desperate to save their reputations, if not their jobs.

However, as the Justice Ministry is statutorily responsible for prosecution, this effort which the President placed before the Legislature at least two years ago, if materialized would invariably amount to slicing the powers of the Ministry and Minister of Justice. Other than the former Minister, no one would have imagined that a meeting to call urgent attention to national duty would become the proverbial straw to break the camel’s back.

On Monday, resigning the office, the former Justice Minister said

. . . it has become unbearable to me to persevere in name as the dutifully appointed Minister of Justice of the Republic of Liberia when in reality concrete actions indicate a determination to systematically undermine and gut the portfolio of relevance and effectiveness.

Once again, and by these assertions, it is difficult not to reasonably conclude that the national perspective was not being narrowed to self-interest.

Were others wrong to be concerned about and explore even unorthodox ways to rescue the soiling image of the country on account of the lowering perception about the seriousness of the administration to fight corruption? What about the reputations of friends and colleagues in public service who are honestly striving to serve and now have their names smeared with the broad stroke of corruption because no one is being prosecuted? What about the impression of Liberians about the true values of public service?

Hopefully, all of us have come to public service knowing that it is not enough that we are dutifully appointed Ministers of Information, Justice or State. As the circumstances of our recovering nation unfold, and the landscape of our portfolios change, as they must, so, too, must we demonstrate the unerring ability to adjust and to adapt. The prevailing feature across the public bureaucracy is that each day, and with each change, we are called upon to extend the curve of our capacities and competencies.

Lagging behind as we have been for so long, strained for resources, and desperate to catch up with the rest of the world, this must be the new character of leadership by which we will sustain the continued relevance and effectiveness of our portfolios.

To many in the room, the meeting with the government anti-corruption groups was a chance presented to lead, follow or get out of the way. The former Minister made her choice.

We welcome and respect the decision of the former Minister. And we recommit to soldier on knowing that leadership is not about how much power we can each muster, or how much control we can each command. It is about how diligently, we can each answer, as best as we possibly can, the call to serve our fellowmen — the call to serve the higher purposes of our nation. We wish the former Minister all the best.

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