The Rise & Fall Of Priscilla Schwartz
By Sorie Fofana
President Julius Maada Bio on Monday 6th July sacked his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz and appointed a safe-pair of hands, veteran Lawyer and Bio-loyalist, Anthony Brewah as her replacement.
Pa Brewah’s return to the Cabinet has been overwhelmingly celebrated by party loyalists. He was first appointed as Minister of Local Government and Rural Development. He got sacked nearly a year later.
Not much is known about Priscilla in SLPP circles. She got appointed as Attorney General and Minister of Justice just by a stroke of luck. She never fought or lobbied for the job.
Priscilla returned from the UK to lobby her predecessor, Charles Margai to recommend her for the job of Director of the Law School. Her CV was already at State House when Charles Margai was axed by President Bio.
In search of an urgent successor to Charles Margai, Priscilla’s CV was brought to the attention of the President by one of his advisers at State House. President Bio wasted no time in appointing the first woman Attorney General and Minister of Justice in post-Independence Sierra Leone.
Some of us have always argued that the office of Attorney General and Minister of Justice should be separated. The Minister of Justice can be a Politician, not necessarily a Lawyer. Even in the United Kingdom, the Minister of Justice (or Secretary of State for Justice) is normally not a Lawyer. The Attorney General must be someone with a wealth of experience in legal matters.
In the UK, even though the Attorney General is a member of the Cabinet, they do not have voting rights in Cabinet.
Priscilla, The Academic Lawyer
Priscilla has impressive academic qualifications. She is not known to be a practicing courtroom Lawyer. She lacks the charisma of her predecessor, Charles Margai.
Charles Margai is a courtroom bully. His presence in courtrooms is always felt through his blustering appearance.
Priscilla’s downfall came as a result of her decision to charge Maj. (Rtd) Alfred Palo Conteh and two others with fourteen counts of Treason. Many legal luminaries have argued that the decision to charge Palo Conteh with Treason was not well thought out.
The Jury in the trial returned a verdict of not guilty against Palo Conteh on Treason charges. That verdict made Priscilla’s position as Attorney General and Minister of Justice untenable.
It is reported that before her removal from the Cabinet, Priscilla had fallen out with a lot of staff members in the Law Officer’s Department including the Director of Public Prosecutions.
It is further reported that her former deputy in the Law Officer’s Department, Lawyer Abdulai Masianday Bangura (Legal B) had to celebrate his transfer from the Law Officer’s Department because he could no longer work with his former boss. He is now the Chairman of the PPRC (Political Parties Registration Commission).
Priscilla’s failure to secure a guilty verdict against Palo Conteh was a great embarrassment to the government of President Maada Bio.
Former AGs Since 1996
After his election as President in 1996, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah appointed veteran Lawyer, Solomon Berewa as Attorney General and Minister of Justice. He served in that position until he became Vice President in 2002. He was highly-respected by his peers in the legal profession.
After the 2002 general elections, President Kabbah appointed another veteran lawyer and SLPP member, Eke Ahmed Halloway as Attorney General and Minister of Justice. He held the position until 2004 when he was replaced by Frederick Carew. Carew served in that position until the SLPP was voted out of office in 2007.
When Ernest Bai Koroma was declared President in 2007, he appointed veteran Lawyer, Abdul Serry-Kamal as Attorney General and Minister of Justice. He served for three years. He was replaced by another veteran Lawyer, Frank Kargbo. Kargbo held the post for five years (2010-2015). He was sacked in 2015 for advising the President not to sack his elected Vice, Chief Alhaji Samuel Sam Sumana.
Frank Kargbo was succeeded by the Commissioner of the ACC, Joseph F. Kamara. He held the baton until the APC lost the Presidential run-off elections in March 2018.
As Attorney General, Solomon Berewa was Kabbah’s hatchet-man. He was so powerful that he once persuaded Kabbah not to extend the appointment of Desmond Luke as Chief Justice after he reached the age of retirement.
Berewa fell out with Desmond Luke because he (Desmond Luke) refused to allow Berewa to usurp his role of assigning cases to Judges and the transfer of Judges from one district to another.
Presidents have always appointed loyal supporters to key positions in government. Some Presidents have even gone out of their way to defend people loyal to them, no matter the consequences.
Some of us have always argued that President Bio should appoint loyal people to serve in some key positions in his government. Not people who believe that they got appointed because of their academic qualifications. There is no need to have disloyal technocrats at the heart of Government. Let them find jobs elsewhere. Period!