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Budget cut row at S/Court

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BudgetThe Supreme Court of Liberia Chambers sitting under Justice Kabineh Ja’neh has invited Finance and Development Planning Minister, Amara Konneh, and members of the Liberian Senate for a conference on Monday, 15 February, following contempt battle between both branches of government.

Minister Konneh, currently battling contempt charge before the Liberian Senate, Wednesday, February 9 narrowly escaped jail sentence after he hurriedly filed a petition to the Supreme Court of Liberia, praying the highest court of the land to, among others, order the Senate to release him and stay all further proceedings, as well as issue the alternative writ and grant unto him, the petitioner, such further relief as it (Court) may consider just and legal under the facts and circumstances of the case.

The Senate had described as direct affront and a mind-set, a January 21, 2016 letter from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning under the signature of the Deputy Minister Fiscal Affairs, Dr. James Kollie, with an ultimatum to the effect that, “… if you do not respond with regard to said distribution by 4P.M. on Wednesday, January 27, we will use our discretion to reallocate the amount appropriately and proceed with the processing of allotment for the remainder of 3rd quarter.”

The letter in question was sent to the senate, informing the august body of a proposed budget cut from US$15,306,416 to US$14,043,570 as a result of impact of global economic downturn on the Liberian economy thus, necessitating a downward revision of the revenue forecast for FY2015/2016.

But in his petition, Konneh argued that writing a letter is a form of freedom of expression, a right guaranteed by Article 15 of the Constitution of Liberia, and that words used in a letter is based on how the writer thinks and the freedom of thought that is also protected by Article 14 of the Constitution of Liberia.

He further argued there is nothing in the letter that amounts to the obstruction or impeding of the functions of the Senate; hence, their action against him is based on the misinterpretation of Legislative Contempt and is therefore, inconsistent with Article 44 of the Constitution of Liberia.

Political observers have described Wednesday’s Supreme Court’s prohibition obtained by Minister Konneh as a test of power, showing the lawmakers that he has claws under the law to fight, something which, by any account, the senators may not accept kindly.

On the other hand, others are saying the lawmakers should be very circumspect, because they too would need the wisdom of the High Court in future electoral disputes, particularly as the nation goes to presidential and legislative elections in 2017.

By Jonathan Browne

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