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Judiciary sidelined in US$9m budget

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-Chief Justice freezes President Weah’s signing

Liberia’s Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., has instructed Finance Minister Samuel Tweah that President George Manneh Weah should not sign the government’s supplementary budget of some US$9m “until it is revised” and it reflects allotment for the Judiciary branch, after noticing that the judiciary has been sidelined.

“… For you to allow the president to sign the budget as is and then find something in there for the Judiciary, it doesn’t work that way,” Chief Justice Korpor said Thursday, 11 March in the Chambers of the Supreme Court during inquiry with Minster Tweah.

Chief Justice Korkpor ordered Minister Tweah to meet with the judiciary, “know what our priorities are, consider them and put them to the president, and [the] president should not sign the budget until it is revised.”

“We insist that you consult with us, we decide what our priorities are. We are not here saying whatever is given to, divide the thing in equal parts, no. It can’t be that way,” he says.

Chief Justice Korkpor says the Judiciary called Minister Tweah, accompanied by the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, so that he can tell the Justices of the Supreme Court why is it that the Autonomy Act of the Judiciary is not being followed.

He explains that while at some point one branch of government may need more resources than the other, but it doesn’t mean that there should be no allocation for the other branch of government.

But Justice Korkpor notes that the Finance Minister allocated amounts specifically for the Executive and Legislative branches in the supplementary budget, but nothing is captured there for the Judiciary.

At the commencement of the meeting, the Chief Justice first instructed the Clerk of the Supreme Court to read to the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, the section of the Judicial Autonomy Act, and then asked the Minister if he was aware of the instrument.

Section 21.3 of the Judiciary Law, Title 17, Liberia Code of Laws revised, says, all appropriations of funds to be expanded by the Judicial Branch of the Government for salaries, equipment, supplies, including stationery, and services other than personal, shall be included in that section of the national budget which provides for expenses of the Judicial Branch.

The law says further that the disbursement of such funds to the several courts shall be administered by the Judiciary Branch.

Chief Justice Korkpor notes that Act is not being followed by the Ministry of Finance, noting that he understands that the supplementary budget has been sent to the president without consultation with the judiciary on what its priorities are to consider them in the budget.

He reminds Minister Tweah that following the harmonization program here, staff of the Judiciary accused the justices of the Supreme Court of cutting their salaries.

The matter which is being referenced by Chief Justice Korkpor witnessed a series of protests by judicial workers on the grounds of the Temple of Justice and the protest leader, Mr. Archie Ponpon set himself ablaze when he was due to face investigation on the basis of the Chief Justice’s complaint.

The Chief Justice reminds Minister Tweah that besides the imposition of fines on lawyers, the Judiciary is not a revenue generating agency of the government like the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) or the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and should not be judged on the basis of how much revenues it contributes to government.

He wonders if it is because the Judiciary does not know the sources of funding that it is being left out in the allocation of resources in the supplementary budget.

The Chief Justice says he is surprised that Minister Tweah did that because he is a friend of the bench, pondering if it is because of that “y’all don’t take us serious.”

“When there’s scarcity, we understand,” the Chief Justice says, questioning Minister Tweah why the judiciary cannot take part when there’s windfall.

He explains that if the importance of the judiciary is not seen, it makes its work difficult, stating that Justices of the Supreme Court have to [borrow] money to go out of town on official duties.Justice Minister Dean says he takes note of the concerns raised by the Justices, but he asks that Minister Tweah should address them because the subject is a technical one.

Responding to the Justices’ inquiry, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah says that the real envelop is some US$9m, stating that he will brief the president “that we breached the law.”He admits that it is an error that has to be corrected, in reference to the law, adding that going forward, there won’t be reoccurrence of the error.

He promises that the law will be followed, informing the Justices that the Judiciary is captured in the supplementary budget under goods and services.

He assures that as fiscal agent of the government, he will develop a regulation and advise the technicians if there is means to revisit.Associate Justice Jamesettta Howard Wolokolie says this thing about keeping the in the back doesn’t help the country.

Also speaking, Associate Justice Sie – A- NyeneYuoh asks if there can be a way forward on how the entire process can be revised, noting that the Judiciary has continuously been strangulated.

Justice Yuoh explains that each of the Justices supervises certain courts, and the Supreme Court deems it necessary to rotate judges which requires provision of allowances.

By Winston W. Parley

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