LIBERIA’S Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Musa Dean, and Solicitor General, Syrenius Cephas, are at loggerheads over the controversial decision to take the leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), Alexander Cummings, to court following allegations of forgery within the opposition grouping, the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
The allegations were levelled against the ANC in January this year by one of the parties within the CPP, the All Liberian Party (ALP), led by Benoni Urey.
Urey claimed that Cummings forged the ALP leader’s signature on sections of the Framework Document that was supposed to map out the CPP’s election strategy.
Cummings has always denied this, but the matter was, never the less, taken to court in a move many Liberians see as a politically motivated action in a bid to negate the ANC leader’s growing popularity.
Since then, there has been much legal toeing and froing over the issue, culminating in the discovery that whole pages of evidence had not been submitted to the court.
One report claimed that the government’s lawyers had dropped the case against Cummings, but this was quickly rebutted.
On Sunday, things came to a head when Cephas apparently sent a text message to a radio station contradicting the prosecution.
He said that he was not responsible for omitting key evidence nor having the case thrown out in the first and that it was Dean ‘who ordered the re-issuance of the writ of arrest…after it was first quashed’.
Under pressure from local media to elaborate on his claim, Cephas’s initial response was that the message could have been sent by someone else.
Pushed further, he turned to the fallback position of politicians – equivocation – by replying: ‘I will neither deny nor confirm until I know the recipient of this message.’
But a day later, Dean’s office issued an official statement calling on Cephas ‘to furnish’ the Attorney General ‘with the proper evidence which provides the basis for the prosecution’ of Cummings and others.
The statement added: ‘The minister cautioned that henceforth, the prosecution of all cases must be approved by his office; and prosecutors are advised to furnish the office of the minister with the proper evidence in support of any and all prosecutions.’
The reaction of Dean to the Cephas message clearly indicates that the text was genuine, and that the Attorney General must have confirmed this before releasing a statement from his office.
What the tussle between the government’s two senior lawyers has shown is the dysfunctional nature of the law department.
A source told Africa Briefing that it would appear that Cephas was not sure about getting a conviction if the Cummings case went to trial.
‘I think a statement of this nature by the SG is significant, given he, as the lead prosecutor, is indicating that he doesn’t believe in the evidence against Mr Cummings,’ the source said.
The source also pointed out that there was a conflict of interest in the case
‘The Minister of Justice and Attorney General is, or was, a partisan of the Unity Party, one of the parties accusing Mr Cummings of forgery.
‘In fact, the ANC standard bearer, Mr Cummings, was challenging for the CPP standard bearer position, which the UP leader, Joseph Boakai, was also going for.’
For many Liberians these days, the disjointed manner in which President George Weah’s government has been running the country has not gone down well.
What is emerging, as the political parties gear up for crucial presidential and legislative elections in October 2023 is that Cummings’ popularity among ordinary Liberians is constantly rising.
This could be down to his experience as a senior executive at Coca Cola where he performed excellently.
‘Liberians are looking for a leader who would manage their expectations in a productive manner so that they see an improvement in their living standards,’ the source in Monrovia told Africa Briefing.
‘In fact, this was the reason why supporters of the UP in a district in Monrovia cited when they decamped to the ANC last week.’