Op_Ed: Wettin Money Can’t Do?

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By: John H.T.Stewart

It is often said “when money talks Bullshit walks”. That saying appears to be holding true in the current situation involving the case of forgery and criminal conspiracy filed by ALP leader Benoni Urey against ANC leader, Alexander Cummings.

This is because just about every local media institution appear to be running away with narratives heavily slanted towards ANC leader Alexander Cummings. Some journalists(names withheld for now) in both the print and electronic media are alleged to have received bounteous gifts from Mr. Cummings that include amongst others, Mitsubishi Pajero jeeps, cash and other rewards for their services. 

Most of these institutions, according to a long serving and experienced journalist (name withheld) are performing what he called “gatekeeping services” for Mr. Cummings. And their role is to ensure that anything negative about Mr. Cummings is kept under wraps, kept away from the public.

An example of this, according to the journalist, can be seen in the various news headlines and reports in the media to reecho just what Cummings had often repeated that he was the victim of official state persecution simply because he is the most potent and most formidable challenger capable of unseating George Weah at the 2023 polls.

As to whether he is actually the most potent to defeat Weah remains debatable. But it is a sad fact that media institutions, all for the sake of the ALMIGHTY DOLLAR have unwittingly allowed themselves to become purveyors of lies and half-truths. This is indeed a strange kind of journalism-“survivalism” as some would put it.

Even publishers and editors have become fair game because they largely determine the content of what is presented to the public.   They receive payouts/bribes as gatekeeping fees while their reporters are forced to indulge in self-censorship, writing nothing that would incur the displeasure of Whoever Pays the Piper. 

This is an age-old practice(dating from the days of Tubman) laden with dangerous implications for the future of our democracy and the development and growth of a healthy culture of accountability including respect for the rule of law. 

The recent forgery and criminal conspiracy lawsuit filed against ANC leader Alexander Cummings by ALP leader, Benoni Urey and local media coverage of attending developments is a clear illustration of the title of this article, “Wettin Money Can’t Do. 

However let us look at a brief outline of facts and developments in the case that have obt change(s) made to the document did not benefit him personally.

  1. Urey who takes matters to Court charging Cummings and others for forgery and criminal conspiracy declares that Cummings without the knowledge and consent of the other parties in the Coalition, illegally inserted an Exit Clause, 8.5.2 which was not in the original Framework Document. 

  • Cummings appearing in Court declares that there is nothing such as the Original Framework Document and instead submits a photocopy of what he claims is the Original Framework Document containing the controversial Exit Clause 8.5.2

  • It is later discovered that the Framework Document entrusted to Cummings for notarization and submission to NEC in his stead as CPP Chairman was instead submitted by ANC Chairman, Daniel Naateng.

  • It is also discovered that the Document was first submitted to the NEC un-notarized on July 10, 2020 and subsequently withdrawn from NEC and resubmitted four(4) days later fully notarized. NEC chairperson Madame Davidetta Brown Lansanah testifying under oath submits a photocopy of the Framework document containing the provision 8.5.2 and insists that is what she(NEC) received into her custody.

  • Cummings, still maintaining his innocence, hires British lawyer and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to investigate and come up with findings to vindicate him. She submits report declaring in essence that the prosecution of Cummings is politically motivated.  

  • Solicitor-General Cephus declaring that he had enough evidence to convict Cummings announces a line-   up of 33 witnesses to testify in the case against him (Cummings).

  • Meanwhile NEC announces the holding of local by-elections in Lofa County. The NEC produces a list of candidates omitting the name of the UP candidate on the basis of 8.5.2 of the Original Framework Document quoted in the ANC/LP letter to NEC. Amongst others, this what the letter said.

As such, we hereby inform the Commission that we are invoking Section 8.5 (2) CPP framework document and requesting that the commission reject and deny any application from the ALP and UP to field candidates in their names in any election until the expiry of the 2023 elections, including up to six (6) months thereafter, same being the agreed contractual life of the CPP”.

  • UP excepts but the NEC junior Hearing Officer Atty. Fomba Swaray rules against UP.

  • The UP takes exception and appeals to the NEC Board of Commissioners.

  1. The NEC Board of Commissioners, save Commissioner Boakai Dukuly, rules against the UP in support of Bility and Cummings’ quest to bar the participation of the UP candidate on the basis of 8.5.2 of the contested Framework Document.

  1. But the UP excepts and appeals to the Supreme Court. 

Amongst others, this is what the Supreme Court had to say:

“From our careful perusal of the above quoted provisions of the Constitution juxtaposed with the purported Section 8.5(2) of the CPP Framework Document, we find that the purported Section 8.5(2) of the CPP Framework Document which prohibits a registered political party from fielding candidates is in gross violation of Articles 17 & 79 of the Constitution. 

Any agreement that prevents a political party from fielding a candidate, by extension, also prevents the supporters of that political party (the citizenry) from freely choosing their representatives. This act, in our view, disenfranchises the people and strangulates democracy”. 

And on the role of NEC in this imbroglio, this is what the Supreme Court said:

“So the role of the NEC, on receiving an instrument filed by a political party, entity or independent candidate in fulfillment or compliance of an electoral pursuit is not a mere routine or perfunctory act. In the case before us, had the NEC carefully perused the CPP Framework Document, it would have discovered that Section 8.5(2), if such provision was INDEED included, is manifestly against the letter, intent and spirit of the Constitution of Liberia and would have denied the filing of the CPP Framework Document until that Section is amended or removed”. 

But this is just what the NEC Board of Commissioners failed to do. They knowingly instead chose to ignore the Constitution ostensibly because they were bribed as alleged by NEC insiders (names withheld). 

Apart from Commissioner Boakai Dukuly, a lawyer, who disagreed with his colleagues and refused to append his signature, the rest proceeded in reckless disregard of the law even despite warnings by Justice Minister Musah Dean to the contrary.

 The Minister had openly cautioned against what he saw as attempts by the ANC and the Bility faction of the Liberty Party seeking to have the Supreme Court enforce an unconstitutional provision (8.5.2) of the CPP Framework Agreement. Don’t forget that there are two other lawyers ( Teplah Reeves, Ernestine Awar), both females serving as Commissioners of NEC.

Clearly, they must have been aware of the law and that includes in-house lawyer Teage Jalloh, NEC Junior Hearing Officer, Attorney Fomba Swaray. Why could they not see/notice/observe the unconstitutionality of Section 8.5.2 of the CPP which Cummings and Bility were attempting to enforce howbeit illegally?

The answer, according to most people spoken to especially NEC insiders, is because it is more likely than not that they may have received hefty bribes. Insiders further allege that conspiratorial Commissioners deliberately chose to keep Senior NEC Hearing Officer, Muana Ville away from presiding over the hearing for fear that he would have most likely taken a principled stance and rejected their overtures to sidestep the Constitution.

But their feigned ignorance of the law and Constitution of Liberia had consequences, adverse consequences for the ALP, UP, its candidate and his supporters as well, all things considered.

Additionally, had they succeeded in their nefarious attempt to abort the Constitution, we would probably not be sitting around here today. But thanks, a VERY BIG THANKS to the Supreme Court of Liberia for taking a decisive stand against such nefarious attempts.

Presidential aspirant ANC leader, Alexander Cummings, has consistently maintained that he did not insert Provision 8.5.2 into the original Framework Document as alleged by ALP leader Benoni Urey in his “forgery and criminal conspiracy” lawsuit.

Yet, until the recent Supreme Court ruling declaring Exit Clause section 8.5.2  of the CPP Framework Document unconstitutional, both Cummings and Bility , two peas of a pod, had remained steadfast and affixed to bogus and unconstitutional claims that the ALP and UP had violated the law on “Sanctity of Contracts”(Article 25 Constitution of Liberia) by declaring leave of the CPP without first exhausting laid out procedures for quitting.

But  the Supreme Court not mincing its words said emphatically:

 “where a contract violates the Constitution or any statute, such contract has no sanctity to be upheld, protected or enforced by a court of law and must be declared as such. It is when a contract is in compliance with the law that it has sanctity that can be upheld and enforced”

But, the question then arises, who placed/inserted provision 8.5.2 in the CPP Framework Document? It was for this reason, obviously, that Urey filed a suit of “forgery and criminal conspiracy” against Cummings. 

Note that the ANC has not denied that its leader was then the rotational chairman of the CPP. The ANC has also not denied that its leader Mr. Alexander Cummings in his stead as Chairman of the CPP received the Original Framework document for notarization and deposit with NEC.

The ANC, to the best of  public knowledge, has similarly not denied, that the Framework Document was submitted to NEC by a highly ranked ANC official, Chairman, Daniel Naathen and not by ANC Political leader, Cummings.

According to a well-known lawyer, during the NEC Chairperson’s appearance in Court, Madame Davidetta  Brown Lansanah testified under solemn oath to the veracity and authenticity of the CPP Framework document (photocopy) submitted to the NEC which she knew was not authentic without notarization but yet she received it. 

And she made no disclosure of the fact that her Commission had received a letter from Bility and Cummings seeking advisory opinion on provision 8.5.2 of that very document. 

However, the Supreme Court in its ruling left no doubt about where it stood on the matter.

We therefore disagree with, and reject the portion of the ruling of the Hearing Officer of the NEC, which ruling was confirmed by the Board of Commissioners of the NEC suggesting in effect that every notarized instrument submitted by a party to the NEC is presumed valid and legal. 

WHEREFORE and in view of the foregoing, the ruling of the Hearing Officer which was confirmed by the Board of Commissioners of the NEC is hereby reversed. 

The purported Section 8.5(2) of the CPP Framework Document, being manifestly against the Constitution, statutory laws and public policy, is hereby declared null and void ab initio. 

The appellants, ALP and UP having duly withdrawn from the CPP are free and at liberty to pursue any political interest in their names, including the fielding of candidates in the ensuing Lofa County Senatorial By-election, if they so wish.

The Clerk of this Court is  ordered to send a Mandate to the NEC informing that Body of the decision of this Court.

 IT IS HEREBY SO ORDERED.”

But just on the heels of the Court’s ruling came an announcement/pronouncement that the Government of Liberia(GoL) had dropped further prosecution of Mr. Cummings but with no prejudice to government in view of the decision of the Supreme Court 

This, according to legal analysts in effect means that Government at any stage could reopen the case and again commence prosecutorial action against Mr. Cummings.

But Cummings sees it differently and has since maintained that the case was dropped because of the lack of evidence to bring a guilty verdict against him.

But the question is can the Solicitor-General sua sponte absolve an individual of criminal charges while the trial in main has yet to commence? 

Not so according to legal experts including a former Circuit Judge because both cases were completely different in nature, according to him.

One case had to do with forgery and criminal conspiracy while the other centered on misinterpretation of the Constitution. 

Although different, according to the former Judge, a common thread ran between both cases. In the case of forgery and criminal conspiracy, Cummings is accused of forgery and illegally altering the Framework Document to include an Exit Clause provision, 8.5.2. which is still being tried.

In the other case the Supreme Court reverses the NEC Board of Commissioners decision declaring as unconstitutional its decision to bar the UP from participating in the Lofa County by-elections on the basis of the contested 8.5,2.

But nowhere on record, has the prosecution filed a “Motion for Acquittal” or “Nolle Prosequi “to drop charges and further prosecution against Cummings as the public is being led to believe.

Additionally, review of the case file shows no evidence of any Motion of Acquittal filed before Judge Jomah Jallah by private prosecutor Benoni Urey through State Prosecutors.

And hardly any “Pay to Play” local media has asked the hard question-whether or not the Solicitor-General’s pronouncement can hold water given two main facts:

  1.  That no Motion for Acquittal has been filed on behalf of the defendant by neither State prosecutors nor the private prosecutor.
  2. That private prosecutor Benoni Urey has on the record, filed no Motion for Dismissal of charges against defendant Cummings and neither has any said “Motion to Dismiss” been sustained nor dismissed by the Magisterial Court currently sitting under the gavel of Magistrate Jomah Jallah. 

Against this backdrop, it is presumptuous to claim that the case has been dropped for the lack of evidence when prosecution has yet to rest evidence. Prosecution witness UP Secretary-General Mo Ali, was already on the witness stand and had yet to complete his testimony when the case was suspended.

More to that, ALP Political leader Benoni Urey who filed the suit against Cummings, has distanced himself from the pronouncement of the Solicitor-General claiming he was not consulted.

Additionally, he has vowed to pursue the case even if it means hiring a private prosecutor to because according to him, he suffered injury and under the laws of the land he has a right to seek redress before the very law.

Seen from a legal perspective, according to a renowned lawyer, Cummings is not yet off the hook although the media is running away with another story supporting claims by Cummings that he was/is indeed being persecuted.

But as the lyrics to a popular song say, “Wettin Money Can’t Do”.?

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