Smear Of Injustice: His Excellency Ambassador John Gbedze Responds To The Dorbor Jallah Investigation
- Published on Monday, 04 February 2013 08:28
- Written by Ambassador John Gbedze
The recent highlight of allegedly unlawful activities has raised a lot of concern both in the international community as well as locally. On [date], the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia released an exclusive report on the timber sector.
This was immediately followed by a Presidential moratorium on timber exportation and a presidential panel investigating the timber industry. As the Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB}mentions Ambassador John Gbedze for sanctions, we offer this legal respond as his lawyers.
Who is Ambassador John Gbedze?
John Walter Gbedze is a Liberian citizen who holds a Master of Science Degree in Agriculture from the West Virginia University in Charleston, West Virginia, USA. Before then, he had obtained a Bachelors of Agriculture from the University of Liberia. After completing his education he worked as a public servant at the Liberia Produce Marketing Company (LPMC) in various capacities including Manager responsible of cocoa, coffee and oil palm development and Director of Planning, Evaluation and Monitoring for cocoa, coffee and oil palm.
In 1995 he joined the private sector as CEO/Chairman of the Board of the Liberian British and Malaysian Concession Company, a logging concessionaire which provided employment for over 1,000 Liberians. The activities of this company were soon interrupted by the civil crisis.
Since 1996 he has served as Ambassador at Large, assisting in fostering new diplomatic and business relationships for Liberia and serving on government delegations to the United States, Europe, the Far East and Africa. He has also served as consultant to various international logging conglomerates.
Ambassador John Gbedze is unarguably the foremost Liberian expert in the private sector on logging and forestry and is recognized in the international community as such.
Relationship to Forest Venture, its Subsidiaries and Affiliates:
In 2009, Ambassador Gbedze and several Liberian partners formed Forest Ventures, Inc. with the objective to recruit international investors willing to develop the timber industry where value added goods were being produced. This approach would provide improvement for Liberian skill labor and provide local content for in an area of the economic heavily dominated by foreign interest.
Unable to meet this objective, Ambassador Gbedze sold majority of his shares in Forest Venture for a nominal fee, retaining five (5) per cent of the shares and a contract as a consultant for the company. He briefly served as CEO of another Forest Venture affiliate, Atlantic Resources, where he served as consultant. During his 2 month stint as CEO, he presided of the transfer of Atlantic's PUP permit to Forest Venture.
At all relevant times herein, Ambassador Gbedze acted as a technical consultant and never engaged in the practice of law nor usurp any power of Government officials. Like any innocent business person and professional he fully abide by the laws and relied on the actions of the government to enforce its regulations and ensure that companies licensed to do business in Liberia were complying with the Laws of Liberia.
The UN Panel of Experts
As the Report of the UN Panel of Experts did not specifically name Ambassador Gbedze as being culpable for any wrong doing, we devote no time to the specific facts and circumstances therein. Nevertheless, we are concerned that implications made in that report about companies or businesses in which Ambassador Gbedze has interest have the tendency to impugn his reputation and place him in a false light. It is our hope that this response would lead the Panel to reexamine those allegations.
The Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB)
Pursuant to alarming concerns in the logging industry especially regarding Private Use Permits(PUPs), the President of Liberia commissioned the Special Independent Investigative Body, SIIB for short, to investigate and come up with recommendations on restructuring the timber sector. Their report, now derogatorily dubbed the “Dobor Jallah Report,” issued sweeping indictment against Ambassador John Gbedze. The portions of the report related to the Ambassador raises the specter of a rush to indict rather than a serious and sober attempt to derive at the commission's objectives.
In their very report, the commission makes the following statement:
“We must clearly state that the Body's investigation did not include criminal investigations into alleged the actions of individuals or entities. This Report identifies alleged instances of professional misconduct, fraudulent activities, violations of the forestry and other laws, and failure of individuals in their roles as fiduciaries. We have made no conclusions as to the criminality of individual conduct. Due to the complex nature of the issues involved and time constraints, the SIIB centered its investigation on the review of PUPs and providing guidance for resolution of the legal and policy issues identified in order to move the forestry sector forward. Where fraudulent activities have been uncovered, the SIIB recommends that the Ministry of Justice and Liberia Anti-corruption Commission (LACC) conduct further investigation and take appropriate legal action.” Special Independent Investigative Body Report on the Issuance of Private Use Permits (PUPs). The Special Independent Investigative Body,(2012) p3.
Moreover, the SIIB identified its process and activities as follows:
“Reviewing legal authorities, records publicly available, and records provided by government entities, companies, communities, and individuals.
Interviewing stakeholders from all sectors related to PUPs including relevant ministries and agencies, PUP holders, companies operating PUPs, community members, and advocacy groups. A complete list of all interviewees is included as Annex 4.
Publicly requesting any records or documents related to PUPs that were issued; sixty-three (63) PUPs were received and reviewed
Presentations by subject-matter experts” ibid at Legal & Constitutional Flaws
In contravention and contradiction to its objective and processes cited above, the SIIB issued the following recommendations regarding Ambassador John Gbedze:
Amb. John Gbesie, Messrs. Augustus Abram and Ben Kofie be barred from engaging in commercial forestry activities in Liberia and prosecuted by the Ministry of Justice for fraud, violation of Section 20.6(a) of the NFRL. Ibid at p. 49
This indictment, trial and punishment are as astounding as it is grossly illegal and unconstitutional. In Annex 4 of its Report, The SIIB listed 38 persons who were interviewed; not one of them was name John W. Gbedze.
The constitution and case law of Liberia frown vehemently on this kind of tactic by government or by extension, its appendages. Article 20(a) of the Constitution of Liberia reads in relevant parts:
“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law.” Const. of Liberia, Article 20(a), 1986
The rights of life, liberty, security of person, property and employment are fundamental rights protected by the Constitution of Liberia. To bar Ambassador Gbedze from engaging in the his business or profession and pursuit of his happiness, without due process of law is a gross constitutional violation. Moreover, the Supreme Court of Liberia has specifically expounded on this issue.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, in its final report recommended that the President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and others be barred for years certain in participating in politics and government in Liberia for unproven allegations of war crimes. Mr. Archie Williams, who was not even called by the Commission sued to vindicate his due process right. The Supreme Court of Liberia in a strongly worded opinion struck down the section of the report which listed persons to be barred as unconstitutional. It held:
This Court has held in a long line of cases that no person shall be adjudged guilty and deprived of any of the protections and rights provided by the Constitution unless he or she is accorded guaranteed constitutional and statutory due process of law. The protection of this nation and its entire citizenry, the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the high and the low, of any and all ethnic backgrounds, and of any religious or political affiliation, rest upon the scrupulous adherence to and respect for this principle. And even when the forum is one as respected and as delicate as the TRC, and which is a significant outgrowth of the quest for peace and reconciliation of our people, it is held to the same standard and subjected to the same scrutiny and the same principle laid in the Constitution and which was, from the very birth of this nation, and remains today the bedrock of this nation. This Court espoused, as far back as 1937, in Wolo v. Wolo LRSC 12; , 5 LLR 423 (1937), that the nation's institutions, whether legislative, executive or administrative, must adhere to the due process of law principle and that there can be no exceptions. In the Wolo case, a Harvard graduate had sought a divorce from his illiterate or uneducated wife, but rather than utilizing the avenue of the courts, as would have accorded his wife opportunity to exercise her due process right, he sought and obtained, by legislative fiat, a resolution divorcing him from his wife. Mr. Chief Justice Grimes, speaking for this Court, said of due process:
"It is a law which hears before it condemns; which proceeds upon inquiry, and renders judgment only after trial. . . . It extends to every government proceeding which may interfere with personal and property rights, whether the proceeding be legislative, judicial, administrative, or executive. . . . It relates to that class of rights the protection of which is peculiarly within the province of the judicial branch of the government. . . . [It] means . . . that there must be a tribunal competent to pass on the subject matter, notice, actual or constructive, an opportunity to appear and produce evidence, to be heard in person or by counsel, or both, having been duly served with process or having otherwise submitted to the jurisdiction. . . . In fine, to deprive even an official of office, be said official legislative, executive or judicial, or to deprive any person of his property or other right, without notice, an opportunity to appear and cross-examine witnesses adduced against him, to produce witnesses in his own behalf, and to be heard in person, by counsel or both, is to deprive such official of office, or person of his property or other rights, without 'due process of law', and is therefore unconstitutional [emphasis supplied].  LRSC 12; 5 LLR 423, 427 (1937). Williams v Tah. et al  LRSC 12 (21 January 2011)
The Court continued:
“The TRC can be held to no lesser standard, as respectful and formidable that institution may have been and may still be. The constitutional standard we expect of the Legislature and the Executive, and even of the Judiciary, must be the same standard that the TRC must comply with and conform to.” Williams v Tah. et al  LRSC 12 (21 January 2011)
This case is analogous to the TRC case. A government appointed body proceeds to indict a Liberian citizen and deprive him of rights and privileges without due process of law. It was wrong for the TRC to do that to President Sirleaf then and it is wrong for the SIIB to do that to Ambassador Gbedze now. The highest Court in the land, backed by the supreme law of the land, prohibits that.
We now call on the President of Liberia, through the Minister of Justice, to expunge that offensive section of the report which deals with Ambassador John Gbedze and clear the good name of this outstanding citizen of Liberia.