Judgment Day is Imminent
Whilst President Bio has been gaining International recognition for his governance policies, some appointees of the President are bent on throwing spanners into the works, a typical example being the case between Jaffa Zehir (SKM) Vs Leon Oil, where judgment on the matter has been delayed above the constitutional timeframe stipulated for the delivery of judgment on any matter that has been heard, and the file withdrawn for final judgment (section 120 of the 1991 Constitution refers), allegedly as a result of political interference from people in the corridors of power.
Many concerned citizens and business people following the case are of the opinion that this situation will not only discourage other investors, but has the potential to pervert justice. It is their view that a true democratic situation exists where there are clear separation of powers, where the Executive does not interfere in the operations of the Judiciary, as well as the Legislature. The current situation renders Bio’s promises of Justice, irrespective of one’s status in life, as mere rhetoric.
It could be recalled that His Excellency has, time without number, said that under his watch, justice will be upheld, regardless of tribe, political affiliation, race, religion, connection or status. He promised to stand for the less privileged against the strong and well-to-do, and that no one will suffer injustice whilst he is President. Unfortunately, the reality is that some of his officials do not share his vision, and have taken upon themselves to throw spanners into his good work in maintaining sanity in the judiciary. This outright challenge against the President has been seen by many following the case of Jaffa Zehir (SKM) Vs Leon Oil, as a deliberate attempt to expose the President to public ridicule.
This apparent interference in the operations of the Judiciary by the Executive arm has been described by many following the case, as a blatant refusal to conform with the desire and utterances of the President to ensure that justice is done in every matter, irrespective of race, tribe, religion or political affiliation. The Jaffa Zehir (SKM) Vs Leon Oil case has dragged on for far too long, just like the case of the over 300 customers and Edmond Abu that have taken the Mobile operators and the regulatory body to Court. In both cases, the Judges have heard all the arguments, listened to the final submissions of the legal parties on all sides and even withdrawn the file for judgment, but after months of waiting, these judges are yet to deliver their judgment on any of the matters, even when the Constitution of the country directs a 3 month period for the Judges in such matters to deliver their judgment within 3 months (Section 120 of the 1991 Constitution refers). This is in violation of the provisions of the country’s constitution, as well as a direct challenge to the commitment of the President to uphold justice, especially as he had taken oath to protect the Constitution at all times.
According to our investigation, the learned Judge in Jaffa’s case, a fine Gentleman, Justice Samuel Taylor, is ready and willing to deliver his Judgment, but his hands seem to be tied by the political interference from above. But who are those deliberately challenging the President’s authority to protect the Constitution? It is clear that the Judge has completely heard both sides of the argument, as well as final submissions by both legal teams, including a date set to deliver his judgment, which has been delayed, allegedly by behind the scenes activities of people close to the corridors of power, who are determined to frustrate the administration of justice.
Investigation mounted by this medium into the delay over the delivery of Judgment on the matter has revealed that there has been political meddling in the matter, and many Sierra Leoneans, who have been following this case, say that such interference in matters of this nature by people high up in the governance structure, has the potential of killing investor confidence, and derailing the progress made by the President and the Chief Justice in building trust in the Judiciary, as well as rebranding the image of the country internationally. This matter has generated so much public interest, especially as the whole matter has to do with financial transactions between a dealer and an Oil Marketing Company, which has been seen as a tussle between an ordinary man and a rich corporate institution. In their view, this simple sale of goods transaction is like any other financial transaction, where the right of a buyer is infringed upon by a corporate institution with impunity. Many are patiently waiting to hear the outcome of this case and make their opinion on the independence of the Judiciary, and its ability to deliver fair Justice in the face of political interference.
This situation brings to discredit the words of President Bio to protect investors and build up investor confidence. It is also a blow to the commitment of His Excellency to ensure an increase in service delivery and revenue collection, as the said delay has further jeopardized the government’s revenue generation drive, since what the government would have been gaining from the sale of fuel from Jaffa has been drastically reduced.
The facts of the case is that Jaffa bought a consignment of fuel to the tune of Le1.2 billion from Leon Oil at the very peak of the COVID-19 Pandemic, when the government imposed inter-district travel ban, which virtually prevented travel across the country. This situation hit the dealers of petroleum products, especially most of them doing business across the whole country, of which Jaffa was one. Barely days after paying for and receiving receipts for his consignment of fuel, the price of fuel was then increased. Since it was very difficult for inter-district travel, due to the ban by the government, Jaffa and others had to get a permit from the government to allow them to transport their fuel to their respective stations across the country. It was during this delay that the fuel pump price was increased, and upon getting the necessary permit to transport his fuel, Leon Oil decided that Jaffa should pay the difference in the new price. This was stoutly rejected by the dealer, and the Petroleum Regulatory Agency, (PRA), was then brought into the picture. After conducting their own investigation, the PRA then issued their own position, which is that the dealer should be given the consignment already paid for before the increase in the price of fuel. This decision was rejected by Leon Oil, which is an open challenge to the regulatory body by the oil company, and an affront to government, as it is a government agency charged with the power to regulate the industry.
After several sittings in Court, the Judge, a very eloquent and up-right Legal Luminary, is yet to deliver judgment, allegedly due to interference from orders from above. Even an injunction slammed on Leon Oil was vacated, allegedly on ‘orders from above’. Today, Leon Oil is carrying on its business without hindrance, whilst Jaffa is still licking his wounds from the delay of Justice.
President Bio has on several occasions reiterated that he is determined to ensure that justice is served to all, regardless of their race, tribal links or political affiliation. This is a test case for the President, as citizens and other concerned individuals watch if the President’s words are taken with a pinch of salt or they are respected as a state policy.
Concerned workers are calling on President Bio to ensure that Jaffa gets justice, otherwise his commitment to see that justice is done to everyone will suffer a serious blow and may even discourage other Sierra Leoneans who may want to invest in the country. For in the eyes of the law, everyone is equal and should be treated on equal terms, regardless of their wealth or status in society. It is for such advantage that Sierra Leoneans voted for President Bio, especially as they see him as a disciplined Retired Brigadier and savior of the less privileged.