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Supreme Court of Liberia rules in Mary Broh’s favor

By: Moses Owen Browne, Jr.            Mary T. Broh

 

When President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made the hasty decision a year ago to suspend from office then-acting Monrovia City Mayor, Mary Broh for actions many said were incompatible for a public official, there were those who believed the president’s decision was right, because “Mary Broh was a difficult leader.”

That perception was proven wrong by the Supreme Court, which ruled in Broh’s favor in a long-standing case involving the House of Representatives and the former acting Mayor.

The Broh-Kpan Saga

In February 2013, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf suspended from office Acting Monrovia City Mayor, Madam Mary Broh and then-Montserrado County Superintendent Grace Kpan, a day after an attempt to detain Mrs. Kpan was obstructed.

The House of Representatives had ordered Madam Kpan jailed for failing to adhere to instructions passed onto her including the payment of a fine, the reinstatement of the Chairman of the Project Management Committee of Montserrado County, and placing under one account all monies under the County Development Fund (CDF). The money which was part of the County Development Funds for Montserrado County, was directed to projects that didn’t go through a sophisticated and well-established process.

As a result, Mrs. Kpan was instructed by members of the House of Representative to also reinstate the Montserrado County Chairman of the Project Management Committee whom she had laid off when confusion ensued over funds appropriated for county development.

Superintendent Kpan told the lawmakers that she used the money on the construction of schools for girls, but her assertion was discredited as it was said to be done unilaterally in the absence of members of the Montserrado Council Development Council.

But as the Sergeant-at-arms of the lower house who led Kpan to the Monrovia Central Prison approached the compound, group of women led by the Mary Broh, emerged and allegedly prevented Madam Kpan from going to jail. According to news sources in Monrovia, fighting ensued among officers of the Monrovia Central Prison; and the women who had allegedly attacked the Sergeant- at- arms, according to reports, managed to get their subject away from the scene.

Reporters on the scene noted that the women who fought with the Sergeant-at-arms forced Madam Kpan in a black jeep and drove her away. The entire saga involving members of the House of Representatives incarcerating Madam Kpan drew public discussions, with many suggesting she did not act in isolation, and it might have been instructed from above; as others condemned the actions of the legislators.

President Sirleaf, who according to news sources was at the time in neighboring Sierra Leone attending the second inauguration of President Ernest Bai Koromah, wasted no time by hastily ordering the suspension of Madam Kpan and Madam Broh.

A statement issued by the Information Ministry quoted the president as frowning on the actions of her officials, and promised to calm down the tension upon her return. The suspension of the two public officials at the time many thought was the end of their services; with the exception of Madam Broh who was later appointed at the General Services Agency September 2013, as GSA Director General.

The Decision of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Liberia on 25th January 2014 handed down its opinion in the case involving the House of Representatives and Former Monrovia Acting City Mayor Mary T. Broh, after nearly a year of conspicuous silence. According to the court’s ruling, the House of Representatives and the Ministry of Justice violated the rights of Ms. Broh.

The Court said Madam Broh’s refusal to be incarcerated for days at the Monrovia Central Prison was not unlawful because the lower House does not have the jurisdiction to imprison an individual for contempt. The court argued that contempt can be turned over to the judiciary for punishment. It can be recalled that Representative Richmond S. Anderson wrote the House’s Plenary during it second sessions for contempt to be clearly defined by the 53rdNational Legislature.

According to Mr. Anderson, the House should recommend punishment for contempt based on the act allegedly committed by an individual or institution. But the communication is still in committee. The House of Representative last year accused Madam Broh of obstructing justice by preventing the imprisonment of former Montserrado County Superintendent Madam Grace T. Kpan, in a controversial “you eat I eat” saga; with Rep. Edward Forh accusing Madam Kpan of unilaterally disbursing Montserrado County Development Funds.

Broh, A True Leader

Despite the insults and sufferings this public servant has endured from members of the Legislature and the public, she never gives up. When she was first nominated by President Sirleaf to serve as Mayor for the City of Monrovia; her nomination was rejected by the Senate.

At one point she was accused by the members of the National Legislature as being“ unlawful, “arrogant, disrespectful and disobedient” to that august body – all these allegations are yet to be proven. Her service at the Monrovia City Hall, as “Acting Mayor”, came to an abrupt end as a result of the many controversies that characterized her stewardship there.

Broh’s Legacy

Mary Tanyonoh Broh born September 15, 1951 is the current Director General of the General Services Agency. She first served the Liberian government in March 2006 as the Special Projects Coordinator for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s executive staff. In 2007, she was promoted to direct the Passport Bureau in a successful attempt to curtail and eliminate corruption and bribery within the division.

In 2008, Broh became the Deputy Director of the National Port Authority. In February 2009, she was selected to serve as Acting Mayor of Monrovia in place of the previous mayor, Ophelia Hoff Saytumah, in the President’s effort to legitimize the Monrovia City Corporation’s (MCC) administrative and financial management. Although Broh was seated in February 2009 by appointment rather than the usual democratic election process, she was not officially confirmed by the Liberian Senate.

Broh has worked to clean up the capital city with measures that include city-wide litter reduction campaigns aimed to increase public awareness of litter, sanitation, and overall public health. In October 2009, she implemented the revised City Ordinance No. 1, originally established by the MCC in 1975 to address public health, sanitation, and street vendors.

The revision sought to address issues that have accumulated in the capital over the last two decades such as overflowing and unsanitary trash, makeshift structures and unregulated street vendors who sell foodstuffs to locals and tourists alike. She has also worked closely with government officials to address squatting, political corruption, and overpopulation, mainly caused by internally displaced persons that flocked to Monrovia from the hinterland during the civil wars that erupted in the 1980s and 1990s under Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor.

Not long after her appointment as Acting Mayor of Monrovia by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Mary Broh struggled to gain the confidence of the Legislature as her prolonged “acting” status was called into question on several occasions. Mary Broh’s efforts to clean and improve the capital’s landscape through task force initiatives rankled various elements of the community.

In September 2009, Muslim residents in Monrovia expressed concern over the Special Presidential Task Force to clean the city streets after an incident at the Benson Street mosque created an inconvenience for worshipers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Despite remarkable progress in a short period of time, the Special Presidential Task Force was dissolved to make way for the Monrovia City Corporation to execute such duties.

The Monrovia City Corporation, the governing body of Greater Monrovia District through which the mayor’s office enacts, employs and oversees execution of municipal functions, laws and ordinances, vastly rehabilitated formalized waste management and public health initiatives since 2009 under Mary Broh’s leadership.

Her commitment to transparency and environmental consciousness garnered the support of the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and several other international aid organizations. Mary Broh’s controversial methods of creating a cleaner, safer Monrovia drew fans and critics alike from all walks of life in Liberia. Her hardline tactics even spawned popular tee-shirts with the caption “Don’t Raze Me Broh,” a salutatory nod to her zoning and ordinance-enforcing campaign throughout the capital.

More progress came to Monrovia in 2010 when Mary Broh enlisted her staff at the MCC to take on polluted beaches, install portable toilets and demolish dilapidated buildings left abandoned and bullet-ridden after the 14-year civil war. These efforts created a rift in public perception in Liberia and abroad; many found the acting mayor’s tactics heavy-handed and lacking empathy for poor and working-class populations of Monrovia. Mary Broh’s anti-corruption and transparency initiatives in the capital focused the spotlight on Liberian companies that often benefited from their connections to government officials.

Mary Broh was accused of steering contracts and business away from “corrupt” Liberian contractors, many of which lobbied the World Bank and the Executive Branch to intervene. A hallmark of Mary Broh’s tenure as mayor is the re-enactment of City Ordinance Number One, originally passed in 1975 under the Tolbert administration and revised in 1988 under the Doe administration. The MCC under Mary Broh revitalized the ordinance in an effort to enforce environmental standards for cleanliness and public health while allocating almost 30% of World Bank funds dedicated to Monrovia’s waste management issue.

Controversy followed Mary Broh throughout her tenure and came to the forefront in 2011 and 2012. Media reports focused on Mary Broh’s destruction of public market places, physical altercations with Senate staff members and heated verbal exchanges with legislators and journalists.

In February 2013, Mary Broh came to the aid of another embattled public official, Grace Kpaan, Montserrado County Superintendent, whom security officials apprehended as a result of bribery allegations she made against Representative Edward Forh (CDC-district #16 Montserrado County). Mary Broh was cited with obstruction of justice when she intervened in Grace Kpaan’s arrest and both were suspended by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Intense public opinion and collateral damage from previous legislative clashes created a difficult position for President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was away on government business when this situation developed. Mary Broh submitted her resignation to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, effective February 28, 2013.

Among a number of noteworthy statements issued in defense of Mary Broh and her impact on Monrovia, Ms. Deborah R. Malac, US Ambassador to Liberia, weighed in on what she perceived as the culmination of gender politics and an atmosphere of sexist hostility and violence towards women.

On March 5, 2013, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf tapped Mary Broh to head the Project Implementation Unit of the Omega Village Project. In coordination with the Ministry of Public Works, the Liberian government lead on the project, Mary Broh will manage the multimillion dollar development project for a large-scale community with residential housing, retail and municipal services. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority donated $500,000 in seed money to launch the Omega Village Project.

Moses Owen Browne, Jr. is a Development Communications Specialist with wide range of experience in Mass Communications, Journalism, Strategic Communications, Research and Planning and Media Capacity Development. He has worked in the Liberian Media for more than eight years. He is currently Radio Programming Specialist for USAID’s Food and Enterprise Development Program for Liberia. He can be reached +231886493370 browne.moses@gmail.com.

 

 

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