Lawyers representing both Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh and the Liberian Senate are appearing before the Supreme Court of Liberia today, Tuesday, 16 February at 10:00AM for a conference over a controversial letter written by the ministry to the senate for a proposed budgetary cut that has sparked row between Konneh and the senators.
Minister Konneh is being represented by his lawyers, Counselor Tiawan Gongloe, while Cllr. Jonathan Williams is representing the Senate in what many here have described as a contest of test of power between the Legislative and the Executive Branches of the Government.
The Supreme Court Chambers, sitting under Justice Kabineh Ja’neh last week invited both parties to a conference. Minister Konneh, currently battling contempt charge before the Liberian Senate, Wednesday, February 9 narrowly escaped jail sentence from the Senate 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 Deputy Minister 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 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 petitions, 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 is protected by Article 14 of the Constitution of Liberia.
He maintains there is nothing in the letter that amounts to the obstruction or impeding of the functions of the Senate; hence, the august body’s action against him is based on 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 obtain by Minister Konneh as a test of power as the minister showed the lawmakers that he has claws under the law to fight, something which, by any account, the senators are not accepting kindly.
On the other hand, others say 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.