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Liberia’s Justice Minister Resigns

  • James Butty

FILE - Liberian Minister of Justice Christine Tah (center right) observes a moment of silence with a senior female police officer at a 2011 ceremony for fallen peacekeepers.

FILE - Liberian Minister of Justice Christine Tah (center right) observes a moment of silence with a senior female police officer at a 2011 ceremony for fallen peacekeepers.

Liberia’s Justice Minister, Christiana Tah, has resigned. In her letter of resignation Monday, Tah said she could not be the Minister of Justice and not supervise the operations of the security agencies under her department.

The letter cited her lack of independence to investigate allegations of fraud against the National Security Agency.

She also said it had become “unbearable” to continue as minister amid “determination to systemically undermine and gut the portfolio of relevance and effectiveness.”

In a brief statement issued late Monday, the Executive Mansion said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has “received and accepted the resignation” of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General.

Tah said she first submitted her resignation in March this year, but President Sirleaf delayed acknowledging it, and as a result she stayed on, particularly in light of the national security crisis created by the Ebola outbreak.

“I think it was the appropriate thing to do. In fact, I resigned since March 31, 2014. The president did not accept my resignation at that time. So I waited until the six-month suspension was over, and then in July I wrote to her and told her that it had been lifted by the court. She asked me to return to work which I did. We were at the height of the Ebola crisis and I thought it would be very insensitive to take any such decision. My personal matter would be secondary to what was going on in the country,” she said.

In January this year, the Liberian Supreme Court suspended Tah’s license to practice law for six months after holding her in contempt for granting “compassionate leave” to Rodney Sieh, publisher and managing editor of FrontPage Africa newspaper.

Sieh had been jailed by the Supreme Court for failing to pay a $1.5 million fine for libeling then-Agriculture Minister J. Chris Toe.

Tah used strong language in describing the Ministry of Justice under her leadership and the presidency, saying the department had been undermined repeatedly.

“I think one of the examples I gave, there were some allegations of fraud against the NSA, and the ministry under the National Security Act should investigate that. But it was taken away from us and given to an independent committee because they didn’t feel that we would be impartial in that matter,” Tah said.

She said all this indicates that the organization and management of the justice ministry took a different turn during the six months she was serving the suspension of her law license by the Supreme Court.

Tah said the justice ministry under her leadership did a commendable job in upholding the rule of law, although she it could do better.

“For me I need full cooperation and support; I need resources and moral support to do my work,” she said.

Tah said she had no knowledge of Vice President Joseph Boakai being investigated by her department for being part of an alleged effort to form an interim government overseas.

The publisher and managing editor of the Liberia National Chronicle told VOA last September that he was in possession of a September 3 letter written by Police Director Chris Massaquoi seeking permission from the Justice Minister.

“The answer is simply 'no.' The Ministry of Justice was not investigating the Vice President. I don’t know what you mean about the police investigating the Vice President. I know he (Police Director Massaquoi) visited the Vice President and they had conversation and that was all. But I don’t know anything more that. You have talk to the director police,” Tah said.

Tah said corruption continues to be a major area of concern for the public and the government of President Sirleaf. She defended her department’s role in the fight against corruption, but Tah said her ministry was handicapped by the lack of resources.

“I think there was the will, and I think the ministry of justice under this administration did a lot to fight corruption. I think one of the things the public doesn’t realize is that the ministry has a broad mandate. We had huge capacity problems. We had less than 100 lawyers across the country. You need resources and you need well-trained lawyers,” she said.

Tah would not say what’s next for her, including whether she would like to run for president. But she said she will continue to help Liberians whether she’s in the private or public sector.

“I will do whatever is asked of me to help in the fight against Ebola because I think this is a very serious scourge on the country and we all should be committed; we all should work together to see that this malady is eradicated from our country,” Tah said.