Appearing as expert witness in the ongoing impeachment trial of Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh, Liberia’s most recent retired Associate Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, III, says any action taken by the Senate [regarding impeachment] can be challenged legally, citing procedural errors.
His expert testimony on Thursday, 21 March appears to brush aside suggestions by some Senators and Representatives that the impeachment process is political and must go ahead in spite of claims by Justice Ja’neh that his due process rights are not observed by lawmakers.
In providing further clarity to the Senators, Justice Banks says when the new Constitution was written in 1984 and came to use on January 6, 1986, impeachment proceedings was removed from political to legal.
Expert witness Banks clarifies that if what the House of Representatives did in the impeachment is illegal, any action taken by the Senate which serves as trial of facts can be challenged legally on constitutional grounds.
He bluntly tells the hearing that the actions taken by the House of Representatives to carry on the impeachment without concurrence with the Senate, and by not respecting due process are unconstitutional.
Retired Justice Banks explains that before the Legislature can begin with any impeachment proceeding, there must be in place rules or procedures to govern the impeachment.
Article 43 of Liberia’s Constitution requires that “The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law.”
Justice Ja’neh is standing impeachment trial at the Liberian Senate for alleged proved misconduct, abuse of public office, wanton abuse of judicial discretion, frauds, misuse of power and corruption.
One of the cases which triggered his impeachment trial relates to a land dispute involving the embattled Justice and a private citizen, 94- year-old Madam Annie Yancy Constance.
Justice Ja’neh has been accused by lawmakers of using his influence as Associate Justice to secure a ruling in his favor at the Supreme Court to take possession of a land being claimed by Madam Constance.
But he denies the charges.
Expert witness Banks indicates that if there is no due process of law in any impeachment, than the proceeding lacks legality.
The witness explains that because there was no rules to govern the impeachment process, the ad – hoc committee set by the House to investigate the matter did not issue out any writ of summon to Justice Ja’neh to have him appear for investigation.
According to the witness, there is no way to proceed with impeachment if there are no uniformed rules as directed by the Constitution.
Additionally, Justice Banks observes that the petitioners [including Reps. Acarous Gray and Kanie Wesso] who filed the writ against Justice Ja’neh have served as witnesses and are actively participating in the impeachment hearing.
According to him, in the Judiciary, the complainant of the matter doesn’t determine the matter.
But he says this is not also observed by the lawmakers because there were no rules or procedures governing the impeachment.
Had there been rules or procedures, Justice Banks notes, the House would have been obligated to ensure that the impeachment is being legitimized.
He testifies that the Legislature comprises of two Houses and those allegations in the Bill of impeachment should be defined by both houses rather than a single house.
He notes that if the House of Representatives wanted to impeach any official, the two Houses – Senate and House of Representatives – should be aware.
In addressing the road funds issue that is stated as one of the counts for impeaching Justice Ja’neh, the witness says he (Justice Banks) issued the writ of prohibition against the funds when “a group of incompetent people who appeared before me to tell me that the writ should not be issued”.
He says the issue with the road funds was heard at the Supreme Court during the regime of former President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf, and not the regime of President George Manneh Weah.
Justice Banks testifies that a petition was filed by Srimex, an oil and gas company before him as Justice in Chambers.
In Srimex’s petition, he notes that allegations were made that the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation (LPRC) had leased certain facilities to it (Srimex) for a royalty of three cents per gallon of fuel that will be stored in the facilities.
“I ordered the writ of prohibition because they were not acting according to law,” he says.
Justice Banks raises questions as to why should fifty cents United States Dollars of the Liberian people’s money be taken without an Act.
According to him, that decision couldn’t just be made when then President Sirleaf and her Ministers sat in a retreat and “tell us what to do without law.”
-In impeachment trial
By Ethel A. Tweh –Edited by Winston W. Parley