Source: FrontPage Africa
DILLON VS. BALLOUT: A letter dated November 18, 2010, from a Senate Committee called for a 90-day suspension of Dillon without pay as a result of what it described as ‘disrespectful statements’ made against Maryland County Senior Senator John A. Ballout, Sr.
A controversial decision by the Leadership Committee of the Liberian Senate rendered the ground of the Capitol Building a scene not seen in as long a time as anyone can recollect early Friday morning.
Members of the Liberia National Police (LNP), under the command of its Assistant Commissioner of Police, Darlington George, barricaded the home of the National Legislature in an attempt to prevent Darius Dillon, the Chief of Office Staff of Bong County Senior Senator from entering the compound based on a directive of the Senate’s Committee. The arrest was however prevented by dozens of Dillon’s supporters, coupled with staffers from various offices of the Capitol Building who ensured that he entered his office amidst the police presence, a situation said to be increasing Dillon’s political relevance and popularity.
Dillon and supporters leave the Capitol Building
Dated November 18, 2010, the Committee’s letter called for a 90-day suspension of Dillon without pay as a result of what it described as ‘disrespectful statements’ made against Maryland County Senior Senator John A. Ballout, Sr.
The letter said, “By directive of the Leadership Committee of the Liberian Senate you are informed that based on complaint brought before the Leadership against you by Senator John A. Ballout for ‘disrespectful statements’ made by you against his person which has brought the status of the Senator into disrepute and public ridicule coupled with your refusal to retract said statements within 72 hours relative to a communication dated November 8, 2010 and addressed to Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, your immediate boss, in which the Leadership brought to her attention your behavior, you are hereby suspended for a period of 90 days without pay effective November 19, 2010”.
The letter further threatens Dillon’s dismissal if he refuses to retract said statements as of the time of the expiration of his suspension with no further notice.
In addition to the three months suspension, further punishment calling for Dillon to “stay clear” of the premises of the Liberian Senate while his suspension lasts was the basis for Friday’s showdown as a defiant Dillon overcame a long-positioned group of policemen who had taken to the Capitol hours prior Dillon’s arrival at about 9:30AM.
A re-enforced police team later arrived just as Dillon was being provided ‘maximum security’ by friends and supporters as he prepared to leave for daily lunch when Assistant Police Commissioner George, with his men behind him, said “You have to go with us, Sir, to the Headquarters of the Liberia National Police”.
Dillon who said he had seen no arrest warrant from the police then replied, “If it is an invitation, I could go to the Police Station but upon whose order am I being invited?”
In no time, his supporters and other staffers immediately began to shout his ‘no arrest’ slogan as they escorted him back to his office just when an impatient Commander George had ordered his men to “move on him and have him arrested”.
The situation were later calmed as other legislators, including River Gee Junior Senator Nathaniel Williams, Sinoe County Senior Senator Mabutu Nyepan, Montserrado County Representatives Rufus Neufville and Moses Tandopolie intervened as led by Senator Nyepan.
Dillon who later got in the Sinoe County lawmaker’s car went to the LNP Headquarters under the company of Senator Nyepan as a jam-packed police pickup sped after it. At the LNP Headquarters, another violent scene broke up between a protesting group of Dillon’s supporters and police of the LNP’s anti-rioting unit, the Police Support Unit (PSU) which witnessed some supporters being jostled.
Few minutes later, the former senatorial aspirant walked a freed man out of the LNP Headquarters after “few minutes of questioning”.
Speaking earlier before the arrival of the re-enforced police team, Dillon said it was a mere joke that a personal staff of one Senator is being ordered suspended as a result of another senator’s personal problem with him.
“This personal staff works at the will and pleasure of Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor and no other senator or representative from another office should be asking for my suspension”, he said.
“This is disappointing, the way and manner in which our country is heading because another staffer from another senator’s office who doesn’t know Senator Ballout or even if he or she knows him but meets him and doesn’t speak to the Senator in the marketplace he just might complain that person and the Senate Committee will suspend such staffer too. This is a bad precedence which must not be encouraged!” Dillon exclaimed.
The decision of the Senate Committee is said to contravene its standing Rule 26 which discusses the issue of payment of employees affected by death, expulsion or resignation of a senator under which he or she works. It says that the personal staff of any discontinued senator shall be deemed terminated at the expiration of the 90 days….and until such time, the staffer works at the will and pleasure of his or her boss (senator).
The scene outside the Capitol Building Friday after standoff between Senate Staffer Darius Dillon and police.
A heavily divided membership of the Senate sees more senators condemning the Leadership’s decision.
An angry Margibi County Senator, Roland Kaine, added, “I thought that by this time, we should be ending the orientation at the Liberian Legislature. We should be doing things that represent us.”
Senator Williams of River Gee County described it as a “bad move” while Montserrado County Representative Neufville equated the decision to ‘foolishnes’: “If I had control of the English dictionary, I would describe this as a complete foolishness”, adding, “This is complete legislative tyranny”.
‘Stand By Our Decision’
However, some members of the Committee defended their actions. Cape Mount County Senior Senator Abel Massalley told journalists that several intervening efforts were carried out between Dillon and the Maryland County lawmaker but “Dillon refused to appreciate that. So, let the public know that we personally intervened. No other senator will be happy to see another senator’s staffer addressing him or her like that.”
The Grand Cape Mount Senator however frowned on the manner in which Senator Ballout behaved in the public. “We all are statesman. You must be very refined when you go up there which I told my colleague, Senator Ballout.”
Lofa County Senior Senator Sumo Kupee added, “We had personal interventions with Dillon but he refused. So, I support the measure taken by the Leadership”.
The Lofa County lawmaker noted that the Committee’s decision is not an issue with Dillon and Senator Ballout. “This is about a staff in one of the offices of a senator insulting another senator”.
The Ballout-Dillon Feud
The Ballout-Dillon saga began as a result of a Jacob Town gathering graced by the both men at which it was reported that the Senator referred to members of the Democratic Alliance (DA) with whom Dillon associates as “dangerous people”.
Media reports indicated that during the Jacob Town political function Senator Ballout reportedly told participants that members of the DA, if given state power, would destroy Liberia.
According to the report, an infuriated Dillon, taking the stand to make remarks, reportedly rubbished Senator Ballout's statement, referring to him as 'one of Liberia's most wicked lawmakers’ with further claims that the Maryland County Senator is practicing “modern slavery” at the Capitol Building.
Dillon was further quoted as alleging that instead of 14 persons who should be employed in the office of each senator, Senator Ballout has only four persons actively employed, while the rest were “bogus” names on government payroll. He reportedly maintained that Senator Ballout has 'no moral ground' to question the integrity of members of the DA of Liberia since in fact, the Senator’s “hands were not clean”.
Senator Ballout subsequently complained Dillon to the leadership of the Senate which led to a 72-hour ultimatum for retraction as the National Legislature is currently on its constituency break.
A defiant Dillon refused, insisting that he be given a chance to provide his side of the story.
His boss, Senator Taylor, in an official response to a Senate's communication said she was taken aback that the leadership of the Senate has chosen to be conclusive in a matter of which merits and demerits have not been looked at.
Senator Taylor, in her November 9, 2010 letter responded to the Senate’s Committee: “The ambiguity of the communication raises more questions than answer. For instance, what did Mr. Dillon say or not say about or against Sen. Ballout which has been termed as disrespectful statement? What prompted the alleged statement? In what capacity did Mr. Dillon make such statement and at what occasion and venue?”
Dillon’s boss also demanded a copy of an investigation conducted by the Liberian Senate which led to the conclusion that she must demand a staff in her office to “retract within 72 hours for comments” he allegedly made against the Maryland County lawmaker.
Dillon’s Legislative Trouble
Dillon’s trouble with the National Legislature has come a long way. Then aide to former House Speaker Edwin Snowe, he was sent to jail after the House Plenary found him guilty of contempt and placed him in a common jail at the Monrovia Central Prison where he spent four days. Dillon was released when his lawyer made a presentation to the Supreme Court, informing the country's highest court that his client was illegally detained and was not accorded the necessary due process, something the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dillon against the House of Representatives.
Thursday’s letter is Dillon again pointed to what it said was his continual feud with the Senate, something Dillon challenged as he clarified that he has not been involved in any feud with the Legislature’s Upper House.
The letter: “It (the decision) is about your posture to continuously breach the canopy of the ethics of administrative behavior of a junior employee showing disrespect to a senior employee or a staff disrespecting a senator.”
But Dillon said, “Let them point to acts that show my ‘continual’ breach of the Senate’s canopy of ethics.”