Justice ministry defends sacking sec. at Janneh Commission
The ministry of justice has issued a statement justifying their decision relieving the former secretary of the Janneh Commission Alhagi Kurang following standoff with counsel Amie Bensouda.
Below is the ministry’s entire statement:
The Ministry of Justice notes the concerns expressed in some quarters regarding the removal of Mr Alhaji Kurang as Secretary to the Janneh Commission. The Ministry had reviewed the petition filed by Mr Kurang, and wishes to make the following clarifications for the general public.
Mr Kurang has not been victimized. His actions fell well below the standard expected of a person entrusted with such important responsibilities. He was relieved in order to ensure the integrity of the Commission and for the continuation of its smooth operation.
The Janneh Commission operates like a civil court in many respects. Similarly to a civil court, the role of the Commissioners is similar to that of the judge; the role of Counsel Amie is similar to that of counsel for the plaintiff; former President Jammeh and his close associates are the presumed defendants; and the role of the Secretary is similar to that of the Registrar of the court. As in a court of law, each of these positions carries certain responsibilities which are clearly delineated.
The Commissioners, in their role as judge so to speak, are exclusively responsible for making orders suo moto or on the application of the plaintiff or the defendants or witnesses or any other interested parties to the proceedings. The Commissioners have the final say as far as the proceedings before the Commission are concerned.
Counsel Amie is not a Commissioner and does not make any orders. The Attorney General hired her services to represent the interests of the State and she carries out work that should have been carried out by staff of the Ministry of Justice. She works for the State and her role is to assist the Commission establish the facts.
The Secretary Mr Kurang is responsible for the administrative aspects of the Commission’s work such as recording the proceedings, keeping documents, summoning witnesses etc, and acts under the direction of the Commissioners. He is basically the executioner. As Secretary, performing the role of Registrar, his position is one of neutrality between the parties to proceedings before the Commission.
Essentially, Mr Kurang makes three major allegations against Counsel Amie: (1) that Counsel Amie engaged in wasteful spending of Government resources on foreign trips and Commission activities; (2) that Counsel Amie is conflicted given her past association with some of the organizations that are the subject of the Commission’s enquiry; and (3) that she colluded with her brother Secretary General Habib Drammeh to frustrate and stop the sale of tractors by the Commission. We will address these issues in turn.
On the issue of expenditure and foreign travel, all foreign trips are for the purpose of international investigation and are approved by the Ministry of Justice and not Counsel Amie. The composition of the investigation team of police officers is decided upon by the Ministry. Such travel includes investigators and counsel and are strictly for investigative purposes which remain privileged and confidential until further notice.
The second point to note is that Mr Kurang, as Secretary to the Commission (similar to the position of Registrar of the court), has no legal standing to raise issues of potential conflicts of interest between the parties. It is for the parties to the proceedings before the Commission or witnesses or other interested parties to raise such matters for the consideration of the Commissioners. In fact, there was an earlier attempt to do so by one of the witnesses who appeared before the Commission. By so doing, Mr Kurang had descended into the arena and acted beyond the confines of his administrative responsibilities as Secretary. Notwithstanding, the Ministry went ahead to determine the veracity of his allegations and concluded that they are unsubstantiated for the reasons given below.
This Inquiry is for the benefit of Government institutions. Such institutions are not under investigation. It is the dealings of former President Jammeh with these institutions that is under investigation.
Counsel Amie’s past engagement with some of the organizations appearing before the Commission was disclosed and known to the Ministry at the time of her appointment and has always been a matter of public record. At the time of her appointment, the Ministry enquired and was assured that Counsel Amie has never worked for or been engaged in any manner with former President Jammeh or taken instruction or been in any way involved in any transaction either directly or indirectly between former President Jammeh and the said institutions. This, and her knowledge of Government institutions, among others were precisely the reason she was chosen for such an important assignment.
The issue of conflict of interest does not arise by virtue of such engagement alone. Among other things, it must be demonstrated that Counsel Amie derived personal benefit from her position as Counsel to the Commission vis-a-vis her past engagement with the said organizations or that she was instructed by a potential adverse party in connection to a matter currently under investigation. This is not the case and Mr Kurang failed to demonstrate this in his complaint. A mere allegation on the basis of perception is insufficient to warrant further consideration.
There is in fact one instance where the issue of potential conflict of interest arose and the Ministry had instructed another Counsel to take over that matter before the Commission. Counsel Amie had been so informed, infact she is the one who drew the attention of the Attorney General to the potential conflict and sought directions from him. Both Counsel Amie and the Attorney General agreed that out of an abundance of caution another counsel should handle that matter. The Ministry had already engaged Counsel Musa Batchilly to consider taking over this matter and he has agreed in principle subject to terms. This shows that both Counsel Amie and the Attorney General are mindful of their professional obligations in this regard. Issues of conflict of interest and bias are ethical matters of extreme concern and the general public may be assured that every case file is reviewed in this connection.
Regarding the allegation that Counsel Amie colluded with her brother Secretary General Habib Drammeh to frustrate and stop the sale of tractors by the Commission, this also merits no further consideration. It is not all allegations that warrant formal investigations. There has to be a minimum evidentiary threshold to warrant such action. Let us look at the facts in respect of this allegation:
The said tractor sale was announced in local media by the Commission without notice to the Ministry or the Government (which demonstrates the level of independence the Commissioners operate with). This public announcement of tractor sale came to the attention of the Government and the matter was raised in Cabinet. Cabinet then decided that a request should be made to the Commissioners for the suspension of the sale of the tractors as the Government is considering giving the tractors out to farming communities across the country in view of the imminent rainy season. This Cabinet decision was conveyed to the Commissioners from the Office of the President through the office of Secretary General Habib Drammeh who happens to be a brother to Counsel Amie. In so far as the Ministry is concerned, this is the only basis upon which Mr Kurang alleges collusion between Counsel Amie and the Secretary General Habib Drammeh. In the Ministry’s view, this alone is insufficient to warrant further action.
Furthermore, it is important to underscore that Counsel Amie has no authority to order or suspend any sale. This is the exclusive preserve of the Commissioners. Even when Counsel Amie makes a request to the Commissioners, the ultimate decision lies with the Commissioners to grant or not grant her request. Therefore, the allegation that Counsel Amie colluded with her brother the Secretary General to frustrate and stop the sale of the tractors lacks merit.
Moreover, there is inherent inconsistency in Mr Kurang’s allegations in this regard. On one hand, Mr Kurang alleges that both Counsel Amie and her son, the Mayor of KMC, Mr Talib Bensouda, had enquired about the sale of the tractors and expressed interest in purchasing same. On the other hand, Mr Kurang alleges that Counsel Amie frustrated the sale of the tractors in order to stop the sale. The Ministry finds these allegations largely inconsistent and contradictory.
It must also be noted that Mr Kurang works under the direction and supervision of the Commissioners. If he had any concerns about any of the issues before the Commission including any perceived interference in his work by Counsel Amie, the proper thing for him to do was to bring his concerns to the attention of the Commissioners for their reaction. He did not do so. Instead, he only copied the Commissioners in his correspondence to Counsel Amie. That was improper.
Therefore, as the entity that hired Counsel Amie for this work, the Ministry finds nothing in Mr Kurang’s allegations that merit further consideration or action such as initiating a formal investigation. In our view, the allegations by Mr Kurang against Counsel Amie do not meet the minimum evidentiary threshold to warrant a formal investigation. There is no prima facie case so to speak.
Finally, having made these unsubstantiated allegations against Counsel Amie, it will be unreasonable to expect the Commission to function smoothly thereafter. Mr Kurang’s actions have clearly engendered mistrust and a lack of confidence by his conduct. In consultation with the Commissioners, it was agreed to relieve him of his responsibilities as Secretary and His Excellency, the President, acted accordingly.
The Commissioners and Counsel Amie have exhibited a high degree of competence, professionalism and integrity throughout the operation of the Commission. We remain satisfied in the manner in which they have conducted their work with diligence, adherence to due process and fairness. Their work speaks for itself.
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