RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHMV #1210/01 2851334
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 121334Z OCT 07 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY MONROVIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9356
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MONROVIA 001210
DEPARTMENT FOR AF/W PDAVIS, INR/AA BGRAVES
E.O.12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV PHUM ELAB LI SUBJECT: LIBERIA: IN TEST OF SEPARATION OF POWERS, AUDITOR GENERAL SUES THE SENATE
1. (U) SUMMARY. Auditor General John S. Morlu, III took the Liberian Senate to the Supreme Court over a LD$4,999.99 (less than US$100) fine the Senate imposed on him for refusing to obey an order to reinstate 78 employees dismissed by the General Auditing Commission (GAC). In response, the Supreme Court issued a stay order on the payment of the fine and halted further proceedings against Morlu pending its review of the case. The case is set to go before the Supreme Court on October 15, but the Senate failed to submit its brief to the court by the deadline, and may still choose not to contest. However, Solicitor General Taiwan Gongloe is keen on pursuing the case in order to set a separation of powers precedent. Although the dispute is unlikely to turn into a constitutional crisis, there are significant separation of powers implications. The case is another example of the AG's public persona and also demonstrates the political perils of right-sizing in the absence of job creation. END SUMMARY.
2. (U) Morlu has repeatedly explained that his decision to reduce the GAC workforce is in line with the need to right-size government agencies and ministries bloated with fictitious and under-qualified employees. Following the President's inaugural pledge to create a "small and efficient government," the Civil Service Administration has already dismissed or retired several hundred individuals. When Morlu took over the GAC in early 2007, he criticized the workforce for being overstaffed and incompetent. Morlu administered an aptitude test (published openly in newspapers) in July and said 78 out of 93 GAC employees failed the test. Morlu then wrote each of the 78 GAC personnel who failed the aptitude test letters of dismissal or retirement.
3. (U) In protest, the affected GAC employees took their complaint to the Liberian Senate for redress. The Senate summoned Morlu to explain the circumstances leading to the dismissals. The Auditor General responded that the Senate sanctioned the dismissal and retirement of GAC employees through its approval of the GAC workplan in which he pledged to streamline staff and institute necessary reforms. In response, the Senate ordered Morlu to reinstate the dismissed employees. When the AG refused, the Senate fined Morlu LD$4,999.99 for "Legislative Contempt" and again ordered him to reinstate the affected GAC personnel.
4. (U) Morlu then filed an appeal at the Supreme Court of Liberia on September 24 against the decision of the Senate, arguing that the Senate's actions were unconstitutional on two grounds: 1) a violation of the separation of powers clause between the legislative and executive branches, and 2) a violation of Mr. Morlu's right to due process. The Supreme Court immediately imposed a prohibition order on the payment of the fine and all further actions against the Auditor General by the Senate pending its inquiry into the case. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case on October 15, but the Senate failed to meet the October 4 deadline to file a brief in the case, and may choose not to pursue the matter further now precisely to avoid a precedent-setting decision. As Solicitor General Taiwan Gongloe indicated to Poloff October 11, he wants to use the case as a precedent to define the separation of powers and the boundaries for "Contempt" in the legislature. The Senate's authority is limited to countering the obstruction of the legislative process, Gongloe said.
5. (SBU) Some GAC employees have accused Morlu of a witch-hunt and of planning to employ members of his Gbandi ethnic group at GAC after sacking them. They also note that Morlu pledged in his workplan to hire 35 diaspora Liberians from the United States to serve at the GAC. Director General of the Civil Service Agency C. William Allen said the GAC did not inform the agency about an aptitude test or its downsizing plans.
6. (SBU) The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission criticized the Senate's decision to fine Morlu and reinstate the affected GAC employees, calling the action against Morlu "naive and ill advised." Former President of the Liberia National Bar Association and Associate Professor at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, Marcus Jones, also condemned the Senate for the action against Auditor General Morlu.
7. (SBU) COMMENT. Morlu enjoys strong support from senior members of the Executive in his battle to reform the GAC and the actions of the Senate may be a power-play over control of the commission. There are also rumors suggesting the GAC has the legislature at the top of his list of auditable targets. Morlu is not one to back down from a public fight and a Supreme Court decision in his favor would buttress the GAC's automomy and institutional reform. In addition, terms such as "separation of powers" and the "contempt" are often abused in Liberia's current political environment where taking umbrage at an opponent is the principle means of asserting authority. If the Supreme Court can provide legal clarification from this case, it may temper such excesses. Nevertheless, although the President and others in the GOL support the issue of rightsizing, they are also keenly aware of the political pitfalls if
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down-sizing is not matched by training and employment opportunities. END COMMENT.