MONROVIA – Former Grand Bassa County Representative Jeh Byron Brown has cautioned members of the 54th National Legislature against shunning or throwing out of hearing for improper dressing public officials invited to provide testimonies over cogent or critical issues raised by their colleagues at that August Body.
Mr. Brown is a former veteran lawmaker who served 12 years at the National Legislature on the ticket of the opposition Liberty Party (LP). He was the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules, Order and Administration during the 53rd Legislature.
According to him, the true essence of inviting public officials or witnesses to provide information or clarity on issues of national concerns will not be realized if lawmakers, especially members of the Liberian Senate, continue to send back witnesses for improper dressing.
He made specific reference to the decision taken by members of the Senate to send back the Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Samora Wolokollie, for improperly dressing to attend a hearing in the Chambers of the Senate.
Last week, Mr. Wolokolie was thrown out of session for being improperly attired. He won an open-collared white T-shirt designed with blue and red stripes and a navy-blue court with red, blue and white sneakers when he was invited by the Senators to provide update on the country’s domestic and foreign debts.
But speaking in an interview with FrontPage Africa newspaper via telephone over the week end, Mr. Brown claimed that Minister Wolokollie intentionally dressed wildly to shun the Senators from asking the hard questions relative to what he was invited for.
He pointed out that Minister Wolokollie’s decision was also a smart political game to “buy time” to prevent Senators from taking decisive actions at the time his boss, President George Manneh Weah was out of the country.
During the incident, President Weah and few other government officials were in Senegal to grace a ceremony marking the official dedication of a stadium worth over US$230m by the Senegalese government.
He noted that the Senators should have played a blind eye towards the dress code of Minister Wolokollie and asked the relevant questions for the unearthing of the clarity needed.
He claimed that Minister Wolokollie dressed improperly because, he never had anything substantive to provide to the lawmakers in his testimony
“The incident between the Senate and the Deputy Minister of Finance where he was put out because they said he was not properly dressed was very, very wrong. The dignity and the rules that govern both Houses are only for the members. If you are invited in any legislative process, you are a witness. Minister Wolokollie knew that he never had anything good to provide to the legislators, and so, he came in that form so that the people will say ‘go back home and go dress properly’. His action was intended to buy time because his boss man was out of the country”.
Mr. Brown further claimed that Minister Wolokollie may have been coached by some lawmakers of the governing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) to frantically dress and appear before the Senators so he could be sent away in order to “buy time”.
Mr. Brown claimed that the decision taken by the Senators to prevent Minister Wolokollie from providing the necessary information also deprived Liberians of their constitutional right to know.
“What they should have done is that, they should have made him (Samora) to appear, take his photo in that dress code and make him to publish it in four or five local dailies and apologize to the Plenary of the Senate. My argument is not that Samora’s dress code was in line with where he went. Once invited by the Senate, he should have taken into consideration that he was meeting the elders of the state. But my point is; people will similarly use that to evade situations”.
He continued: “They (Senators) deny the public the right to know because; we were not looking at dress code. It was not important because, the Minister only reduce himself to public disrepute”.
Mr. Brown emphasized that despite the wildly dress code of Minister Wolokollie which he claimed was done to intentional “overlook” the Senators, members of the Liberian Senate also failed to stick to the core values for the invitation by sending him out of session even though they didn’t realize or get the actual information they wanted.
He noted that issues that Liberians are yielding and depending on their Senators to intervene and find solutions would not be met, if lawmakers continue to reject invited witnesses or public officials based upon their reckless appearances.
Serving as Judges
“Many people will calculate the Senators’ action cleverly by dressing improperly when they are summoned to appear to say something in the interest of the Liberian people. Once the Senate invites someone, they are performing a quasi-judicial function; they become Judges. There is nowhere in a court of competent jurisdiction that you will disqualify a witness on the stand because the witness is not dressed properly”.
He said those serving as witnesses can only be fined due to improper dressing, but questioning or testimonies needed cannot be cancelled.
“Once you are placed on the stand, you are indeed a witness. Witnesses can only be disqualified based upon their incapacity or when the person is not sound. But when the person is sound and even wore dress and went for the hearing- and you can’t wear dress to go there, they will find you for wearing dress or we give you time to go and change to come, or we fine you and proceed”.
He predicted that most government officials, including Ministers, Managing Directors and Heads of other autonomous agencies will dress improperly to appear before members of both the House of Representatives and Senate if they are not prepare to provide testimonies on critical or national issues.