The “Act to Stop Mills Jones from Running for President”

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A few months ago, the Liberian Legislature enacted into law a Bill whose more accurate title should have been the “Act to Stop Mills Jones From Running For President,” which is the authors’ surreptitious intent. Some of our legislators, like Speaker Alex Tyler, who harbor presidential ambitions, are fearful of competing against the Central Bank Governor, and believe that the best way to knock him out of the race is by dint of a legal coup d’etat.

Others feel that even though he is as yet an undeclared candidate, the Governor is dishing out loans in spades to market women, farmers, petty traders, homeowners and others in a bid to curry favor, and that what he is doing is using his position as custodian of the nation’s money to feather his political nest. The evidence they point to is the political rally type gatherings that accompany his visitations to open credit unions and microfinance institutions, complete with t-shirted, placard-waving crowds bussed in for the occasion.

They argue that he is dispensing public money for blatantly personal purposes. They detect a sinister motive behind his largesse: That he plans to run for political office and is using public money to further that end. But if that is the case, they are going about stopping him the wrong way. There are other legal remedies available to them. Crafting a law that targets one individual, that seeks to deny his constitutional right to seek public office, is not the way to go.

Governor Jones has not yet declared his intention to run for President in the 2017 elections. The law that was passed requires him to resign from his position two years before the presidential election or face disqualification. The election takes place in October 2017. That means he would have to resign from his position at about this time in order not to run afoul of the law. But his term does not end until April 2016.

So, if Governor Jones serves his full term and does not declare his candidacy until after his term expires, according to the law, he will not be able to run. But under our republican system of government, modeled after the US system, the Legislature may pass any law it wants. But a citizen may challenge the constitutionality of that law before our Supreme Court.

My guess is that Governor Jones will declare his candidacy after his term expires and that, should the National Elections Commission or anyone else attempt to stop him from running, he will institute a lawsuit at the Supreme Court, arguing that the law passed by the Legislature is an unconstitutional infringement on his civic right to run for political office. On the face of it, his case will have powerful merit. Under the Liberian Constitution, only convicted felons can be disqualified from running for public office. Governor Jones, as far as I know, is not one. He would have to be tried and convicted of a crime in a court of competent jurisdiction before the election in order to meet that test. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks that will happen.

Governor Jones is not the only one being targeted by the Legislature. The Code of Ethics that was passed into law forbids anyone in the Executive Branch from running for office, on the presumption that they would be using public resources to do so. How about the lawmakers? Do they not use government vehicles, stationery, staff paid for with taxpayers’ money, to run their re-election campaigns? Why should the prohibition against the use of public resources, for what is essentially private campaign purposes, be limited to ministers, deputy ministers, heads of autonomous agencies and public corporations?

That prohibition should apply to ALL public office holders. As a practical matter, the best way to achieve that objective is to require public office holders to reimburse the State whenever they use public resources in this manner. For example, President Barack Obama uses Air Force 1 (a public asset) on his campaign junkets. But he reimburses the Federal Government for such use. Rules can be made to determine how much public officials should be charged for private use of public resources, and those rules applied across the board. That is the best way to deal with this matter. Using the blunt instrument of infringing upon public officials’ constitutional right to run for public office is not the way to go.

The writer is a certified public accountant and a businessman. He can be reached at .

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