Liberia: Supreme Court Threatens Tougher Punishment

-As Finance Minister Tweah begins judiciary’s salaries payments

Liberia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday threatened Finance Minister Samuel Tweah with a harsher punishment in keeping with the law if he ever delays and refuses to pay the Judiciary’s salaries in time.

The court issued the threat during Minister Tweah’s appearance before it Tuesday, 8 November 2022 to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for hindering the functioning of the Judiciary.

On Monday, the court ordered Minister Tweah’s arrest.

But following his appearance, payment for September 2022 salary was made, and Minister Tweah also committed to paying the October salary at the end of the week for the Judiciary.

Subsequently, the full bench of the Supreme Court through Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh purged Minister Tweah of the charge and declared him a free man.

However, Chief Justice Yuoh warned that a repetition of the act by the finance minister to delay the Judiciary’s salary payment would warrant harsher punishment in keeping with the law.

“Repetition of the act could warrant … harsher punishment in keeping with the law. The writ of arrest is quashed, and the Minister is free to go about his normal business as a free man,” Chief Justice Yuoh declared.

On his way to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Minister Tweah was escorted by the Assistant Minister for Codification at the Ministry of Justice Cllr. Nyanati Tuan.

During the hearing, Cllr. Tuan told the Supreme Court bench that he had appeared to represent Minister Tweah.

His presentation triggered Associate Justice Jamesettea Howard-Wolokolie’s question about who represents the court when the Justice Ministry represents the Finance Ministry in a case involving two branches of the government.

In response, Tuan said if any government entity has a problem, he should come to their defense.

But Chief Justice Yuoh rejected Tuan’s response and told him that the Ministry of Justice represents the government that has three branches.

She wondered who is representing the judiciary if Tuan is in court to represent an individual.

“If there is a problem between the two branches, the Ministry of Justice will come on the side of the law to give advisory opinion not to represent an individual. That’s what the law says,” said Chief Justice Yuoh.

“You can only escort him because of the writ but not to represent him on issues between [branches of the] government. Please make the proper representation and sit down,” the Chief Justice ordered Minister Tuan.

Following the legal ratification, the full bench proceeded with questioning Minister Tweah regarding what has been delaying the judiciary’s salaries.

The bench also informed Minister Tweah about the result and consequences of his action.

The bench also questioned Mr. Tweah on the Financial Autonomy Act which grants financial security to the judiciary and ensures the smooth operation of the judiciary.

The bench informed Minister Tweah that the Act mandates the government to pay the judiciary quarterly.

It said the government should provide salary and operation funding to the judiciary instead of the usual happening.

Justice Howard-Wolokolie also pointed out that other times for six months, there was no gasoline and operation funds for judges.

She noted that it’s not just about salary payment, but also operation.

According to Justice Howard- Wolokolie, the Government of Liberia, mainly the Executive, is responsible for the downward trend of the judiciary because of the lack of adequate support for it.

She added that if any branch of government should be paid first, it should be the judiciary.

The Associate Justice also reminded Minister Tweah of the supplementary budget for the government a few years ago, but the judiciary did not benefit.

She said the money was distributed by the executive and legislative branches, and the judiciary was excluded.

Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe also raised concern about the unilateral cut and slash of the judiciary’s budget when it’s presented to the government.

He warned that this is not good because it’s impeding the judiciary’s operation.

Responding, Minister Tweah said the delay in the payment of the judiciary’s salaries was due to a technical error.

Mr. Tweah said he regretted the incident which led to the non-payment of the judiciary’s salary for two months.

He assured the court that the Finance Ministry is working to make sure that the money is paid this week.

Explaining the technical error, Minister Tweah noted that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) normally gives Liberia US$23 to be placed in the country’s reserve at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL).

Mr. Tweah informed the court that when the money was paid in the government’s reserve, staff at the Central Bank mistakenly put it in the government’s revenue account.

He added that when the IMF realized the action, it mandated that the money be taken back to the reserve.

Minister Tweah said this caused a technical error and resulted in the delay of the judiciary’s salaries payment.

“The September salary of the judiciary has already been paid to the account as we speak. However, at the end of the week, we will pay October into the account. For the Act and all that you have said, we will look at the” Minister Tweah noted.

During his explanation of the technical error, Minister Tweah was quickly halted by the Chief Justice.

She said Tweah’s technical explanation was belated and he should have approached them earlier instead of waiting for a writ of arrest to be issued against him.

She said as far as she is concerned, the other two branches of government have taken pay, therefore, his explanation can’t hold.


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