MONROVIA, Montserrado – The Supreme Court of Liberia has ruled against Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor’s decision to suspend elected members of the Liberia Marketing Association leadership.
In 2018, Howard-Taylor suspended the LMA’s president, Alice Yeebahn, it’s Vice President Abraham Barchue, and Assistant Secretary Lawuo Hiama on allegations of financial malpractices. The suspension of the three officials spurred a longstanding dispute at the association.
Civil Law Court Judge Scheaplor Dunbar earlier ruled and ordered that the vice president reinstate the suspended officials. Dunbar said Howard-Taylor failed to convince the court that the officials, who were duly elected and aggrieved by her actions, do not have the legal capacity to seek redress before the court.
Howard-Taylor, however, rejected the ruling and filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. The suspended officials also requested the Supreme Court conduct a judicial review of the matter and reverse the vice president’s decision to have them suspended and replaced with an interim leadership without the knowledge of the association’s board.
In its ruling on August 22, the Supreme Court described the suspension of the three officials as unconstitutional and a complete violation of the LMA Act of 2010.
Howard-Taylor had justified that her office has oversight responsibility over the LMA, and that her decision was based on several complaints received from members alleging that the officials were involved in acts of malpractices. She said her decision was in line with the law, pending the outcome of a General Auditing Commission of the association. She also argued to dismiss the petition filed before the Supreme Court.
“The dismissals of the alleged suspended LMA officials should stand because the court does not have the jurisdiction to hear the case and that the suspended officials also do not have the capacity to sue there,” she said.
The vice president reminded the court that the LMA is benefiting from the government’s funding directly through the budget of her office. However, the court said this in no way cancels the constitutional guarantee for due process.
“Nowhere in these governing instruments is there a provision for the vice president being a part of the structure of the LMA; it suffices to say that a budget law is an appropriation,” Justice Yussif Kaba said while reading the court’s opinion.
He said appropriation of subsidy for the LMA under the office of the vice president in no way confers authority on the Howard-Taylor to impose sanctions and take judicial decisions as she did.
The court also ruled that protest by aggrieved LMA members in several places did not warrant the vice president to flout the law and the organization’s by-laws and constitution governing the management or administration of the association, as well as the constitution of the country.
According to Justice Kaba, the proper course of action available to the aggrieved member of the association would have been to utilize the court, the governing instrument, including relevant laws. Hence, the trial court did not err when it ruled and ordered the reinstatement of the suspended officials with immediate effect.
“Wherefore, and in view of the foregoing, the final ruling of the trial court is affirmed. The clerk of this court is ordered to send a mandate to the court below to proceed in accordance with this opinion and it is hereby so ordered,” Kaba read.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah