... Says the Minister of Justice… agreements that seek to contract away constitutional rights are unconstitutional and violate public policy
The Minister of Justice, Cllr. F. Musa Dean, has rejected criticism that his legal opinion involving the complaint filed by the Alternative National Congress and the Musa Bility faction of the Liberty Party requesting the National Election to bar two other opposition parties from fielding candidates in any election is wrong and prejudicial.
Minister Dean, while relying on Chapter 22 of the Executive Law, title 13, Liberian Code of Laws Revised — noted that his office had declared that there can be no restriction on the enjoyment of constitutional rights, except during an emergency declared in accordance with the Constitution.
Chapter 22 of the Executive Law requires the Ministry of Justice to serve as the principal institution of the Executive Government charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with and respect for the rule of law and, among other things, to provide opinions on legal matters to the Ministry’s attention and give services to the President of Liberia and to all other government agencies requiring the legal skills of the Ministry.
As a result of such authority, Minister Dean has warned that while the country is under an obligation to guarantee the inviolability of contracts, agreements that seek to contract away constitutional rights are unconstitutional and violate public policy, “hence unenforceable”.
As it relates to the complaint filed by the ANC and Bility-faction of the LP, asking the National Elections Commission (NEC) to invoke Section 8.5 (2) of the CPP framework document as a means of rejecting and denying “any application from the All Liberian Party and the Unity Party to field candidates in any future elections, Minister Dean says: “The right to freely associate with or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions, and other organizations, is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 17 of our Constitution. No contract can inhibit the exercise of this fundamental right.”
Despite criticism that this legal opinion is disadvantageous to the complainants, Cllr. Dean continues: “Article 1 of our Constitution guarantees the people the right to freely elect leaders of their choice through free, fair, and democratic elections. In the process, political parties are guaranteed the right to field candidates; while individuals may register as independent candidates.”
Therefore, regardless of whether the NEC rules in favor of the complainants or the parties that have abandoned the CPP, the Minister’s comments give the deserting parties an upper hand as complainants search for other legal arguments to hold their former collaborators. But he says the Ministry does not represent the NEC, which is an autonomous agency.
“NEC is an independent entity, with its legal team. The Ministry of Justice does not defend the NEC. We simply stated the law. NEC is at liberty to proceed as it sees fit, subject to review by the Supreme Court.”
Article 17 of the 1986 constitution states that “All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions, and other organizations.
While Article 1 says that “All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require. In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner, as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments.”
Recently, the ANC and Bility-faction of the LP, had written NEC to invoke Section 8.5 (2) CPP framework document as a means of rejecting and denying “any application from the ALP and UP to field candidates in their own names in any election until the expiry of the 2023 elections, including up to six (6) months thereafter, same being the agreed contractual life of the CPP.”
The complainant argued that “Section 8.5 (2) of the CPP framework document states that: Constituent Party desiring to withdraw from the CPP shall first exhaust the dispute resolution mechanism stipulated in the framework document,” the letter disclosed. “If the Constituent Party which has satisfied the dispute resolution mechanism is not satisfied with the outcome, it shall file a resolution to withdraw from the CPP signed and duly executed by two-thirds (2/3) of the membership of the National Executive Committee, it is being understood, however, that a party withdrawing from the alliance prior to the next presidential, legislative and local elections shall not field candidates in its name.”
In their complaint to NEC, the two political parties contend that they have not received any official communication from the two parties indicating their exit from the CPP.
The Liberty Party, in which Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence serves as a political leader, is split between factions loyal to her and its Chairman, Musa Bility, whose leadership is still being legally recognized by the electoral body along with the Senator.
The complaint by ANC and Bility’s LP faction came after the UP and the ALP both withdrew from the CPP on allegations that the CPP Framework Document was tampered with by the political leader of the ANC, Alexander Cummings.
Cummings has repeatedly refuted the allegation and is presently on trial for alleged forgery and criminal conspiracy. He argued that the allegation against him is sponsored by the Weah administration which, he believes, would benefit from the splitting up of the CPP.
The CPP was formed with the intent of forming a formidable single force that would outs the Weah-led government in 2023 but collapsed after the UP withdrew from the collaboration “due to Cummings’ failure to attend meetings” that were intended to resolve an impasse over alleged framework tampering, Boakai said in a statement.
However, the ANC rejected the former vice president's claims, blaming his ‘inability’ to unite and reconcile the CPP as the primary reason for its collapse.