In Superintendent Grace Kpan's case, House action, legally, debatable, but Acting Mayor Mary Broh's action criminal, wrong and threatens the peace and stability of the Republic of Liberia

By Tiawan S. Gongloe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
Posted March 9, 2013

The Action of the House of Representative to order the imprisonment of Superintendent Grace Kpan of Montserrado County for contempt for being not satisfied with her responses to questions asked by members of the House of Representative sitting plenary is, legally, debatable. The House of Representative has the power and authority to hold anyone in contempt and impose reasonable sanction if the action of such person obstructs a legislative function, or obstructs or impedes members or officers of the Legislature in the discharge of their legislative duties, provided that the person affected is accorded due process and his fundamental rights are not violated. The source of the contempt power of the Legislature is article 44 of the Constitution of Liberia. For the purpose of understanding the ongoing debate over the House’s action against Superintendent Kpan, it is important to quote the entire Article 44 of the Constitution of Liberia verbatim. Article 44 provides,

“Contempt of the Legislature shall consist of actions which obstruct the legislative functions or which obstruct or impede members or officers of the Legislature in the discharge of their Legislative duties and may be punished by the House concerned by reasonable sanction after a hearing consistent with due process of law. No sanction shall extend beyond the session of the Legislature wherein it is imposed, and any sanction imposed shall conform to the provisions of Fundamental Rights laid down in this Constitution. Disputes between legislators and non-members, which are properly cognizable in the courts, shall not be entertained or heard in the Legislature.”

The debatable issue is whether Superintendent Kpan’s action obstructed any legislative function of the House of Representatives or whether it obstructed or impeded members or officers of the House in the discharge of their legislative duties. If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, then the next issues are whether the sanction imposed by the House against Superintendent Kpan was preceded by due process and the observance of her fundamental rights as laid down in the Constitution of Liberia. An additional question that must be answered is whether Superintendent Kpan was insulting and disrespectful to members of the House when she appeared before them. The Supreme Court of Liberia has said that whenever it is shown that the Legislature of Liberia or any of its houses is insulted or disrespected by anyone, it will approve any sanction imposed by the Legislature or the house affected, against such person. In the case: John Morlu versus the House of Senate (June 28, 2008) the Supreme Court held, “…this Court will not tolerate any official of Government, the Auditor General not excluded, who offers insult or disrespect to constituted authority. Where properly verified, this Court shall be firm and unbending in its decision in confirming disciplinary actions taken against any such official.” It should be noted, however, that in the Morlu case, the court did not find that Morlu’s action obstructed legislative functions, or obstructed or impeded members or officers of the legislature in the discharge of their duties. The Court did not find Morlu’s action to be insulting or disrespectful to the Senate.

In the instant case involving Superintendent Kpan, the best way to find out whether the House was right or wrong in its action against the Superintendent is for her to seek a legal redress. This is what happened in the Morlu case. John Morlu filed a petition for a writ of prohibition questioning the legality of the action of the Liberian Senate in holding him in legislative contempt. The Supreme Court granted his petition, holding that his action was not contemptuous of the Senate. The same process is available to Superintendent Kpan. If she believes that the House’s action against her has no legal basis, she should file a petition for a writ of prohibition. This writ can prevent or undo an unlawful action taken by a statutory authority or tribunal or a court against anyone in the Republic of Liberia. Superintendent Kpan should have filed a writ of prohibition against the House, if she felt that their action against her was wrong. Her failure to do so meant that she was prepared to accept the punishment imposed on her by the House of Representatives.

Was the action of Acting Mayor Mary Broh in preventing Superintendent Grace Kpan from going to jail, legal? The answer to this question is no. Acting Mayor Broh’s action was not only wrong, but criminal. What she did was in violation of section 12.1 of the Penal Law of Liberia, the crime of Physical obstruction of government function. Section 12.1 of the Penal Law provides, “A person has committed a first degree misdemeanor if, by physical interference or obstacle, he purposely obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law or other government function.” It is a notoriously known information that Acting Mayor Mary Broh physically interfered with, created physical obstacle to, physically obstructed, physically impaired and perverted the administration of law and a government function by the Sergeant at Arm of the House of Representatives, in physically preventing him from executing an order by the House of Representatives to commit Superintendent Grace Kpan to jail at the Monrovia Central Prison.

The only way under the laws of Liberia to question the unlawful action of an institution or agency of government, authority, or any public official is by seeking redress through the courts of the Republic of Liberia, not by any act of gangsterism or hooliganism. The only way to keep Liberia peaceful, safe and progressive is for those who feel powerful, either by their official positions, close relation relations with the President of Liberia, or social or economic status is to respect the laws of Liberia or be made to respect the laws of Liberia. Otherwise, Liberia might become gangsterdom, similar to the situation that the Republic of Somalia experienced for many years with a myriad of gang-like groups called clans. Three hundred thousand Liberians did not die for Liberia to descend to such low level. Therefore, all Liberians should condemn what Acting Mayor Mary Broh and her followers did a few days ago to the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives at the Monrovia Central Prison. The court, not force is the avenue for legal redress provided by the Constitution and statute laws of Liberia.

© 2013 by The Perspective
To Submit article for publication, go to the following URL: