Lawrence Williams: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 October 2022:
The Tribunal set up by President Bio to investigate the country’s Auditor-General and her deputy, following their suspension last November resumed yesterday after a lengthy adjournment.
In the proceedings, the matter of contention between the State and lawyers for the defendants was whether the Tribunal has or lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine the facts of the allegations made against Lara Taylor Pearce and her deputy, Tamba Momoh.
The two sides have been at odds regarding this issue. The State argues that the Tribunal was duly constituted and has the competent jurisdiction while the defendants’ lawyers counter with case laws, constitutional provisions, and statutory legal provisions.
Lawyer Pa Momoh Fofanah representing Tamba Momoh raised strong jurisdictional objections contained in an application by Notice of Motion dated 6th June 2022. The application was supported by an affidavit, as well as exhibits of correspondences from State House, the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL), and the Ombudsman’s conclusions regarding Tamba Momoh’s complaints of maladministration against the ASSL.
He submitted that the defendant was appointed by the ASSL Board pursuant to Section 3 of the ASSL Act of 2014. Furthermore, lawyer Momoh referred to provisions in the ASSL Employees Handbook and Terms of Reference. These provisions require the Board to investigate, discipline, suspend or remove any employee found wanting for infractions listed therein.
He argued that the functions of the Board are relevant to Tamba Momoh’s present circumstances and advanced plausible reasons as to why the statutory functions of the ASSL Board cannot be revoked or usurped by any other authority, not least the Tribunal.
State Counsel from the Office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Osman Kanu, files an affidavit opposing the papers already filed by lawyer Fofana and argues, though less convincingly, that nothing in the latter’s documents strips the Tribunal of its jurisdiction to hear and determine the case.
Lawyer Momoh replied that the State has failed to adequately address the objections raised. According to him, the establishment of the Tribunal is based on specific constitutional and statutory directions that are reinforced in the Practice Directions of the Tribunal.
At some point during the proceedings, Mr. Lahai M. Farma, a member of the panel as well as a government legal consultant in the Attorney-General’s office, made some remarks which lawyer Momoh Fofana construed to be provocatively prejudiced against his application. He also retorted.
However, Justice Nyawo Finda Matturi-Jones, chair of the panel was swift to dismiss Farma’s statements as purely subjective and unrepresentative of the objective consideration of the panel. She then advised counsel to treat them as such. According to her, the panel will rule on the applications at its next sitting.
Taking the cue from counsel Fofana, the defence attorney for Lara Taylor Pearce, Roland Wright Esq., also indicated to the panel that he has some jurisdictional objections to raise at the next adjourned date.
“While some jurisdictional objections would require constitutional interpretation, others might call for personal introspection,” he pointed out to the panel.
He stated that objections that would require constitutional interpretation invariably impose a duty on the panel to go to the Supreme Court for construal. Furthermore, lawyer Wright indicated to the panel that he may file an application for recusal of some members of the panel who are deemed unqualified and whose appointment to sit on the panel was unconstitutional.
Wright had earlier filed an Originating Notice of Motion to the Supreme Court on 21 December 2022 requesting for the constitutional interpretation of sections 119, 122, 124, 125, and 137 and other provisions that apply to the office of the Auditor-General of Sierra Leone. This application however did not see the light of day.
The panel indicated that those objections bordering on constitutional interpretation may not be entertained. However, Wright was adamant that under the present circumstances the panel is obligated to seek the leave of the apex court for redress.
Justice Jones then remarked that: “We will cross each bridge when we get to it.” She said notice of the next adjourned date will be communicated to both parties in due time.