Liberia: Elections Magistrates to Sue Gov’t If…
... “It is not that we are afraid to call our names but we are waiting to see if the House of Representatives will concur with the Senate on this. The President signing it into law will lead us into action — going to court to seek redress,” the magistrates added.
The government of Liberia might soon find itself in court defending a legislative amendment to the country's election law which, magistrates believe, violates their employment rights.
The threat of a lawsuit comes as the country’s 15 elections magistrates have warned the legislature from enacting into law a Senate amendment to the New Election Law, which called for their removal 90 days after the amendment becomes law.
Section 2.24(a) of the amended law states: “90-days after the passage of this Act, all Elections Magistrates in the 15-Counties must be removed and positions considered vacant. This section also gives the right to those removed Magistrates to re-apply.”
Such changes, the magistrates told the Daily Observer, would not go scot-free as they could sue the government for tampering with their civil service status. Some of the magistrates, in an interview on the condition of anonymity, bluntly condemned the Senate’s move and warned the House of Representatives to not follow suit, as doing so could lead to legal action.
“We are civil servants and can’t be treated like common contractors who are hired and fired at any time, even if there is no proof of any wrongdoing,” said one magistrate. “Some of us were recruited in 2005 by the UN as efforts were directed towards ensuring our country return to democratic rule.”
“The highest academic credential needed for one to be qualified for appointment by the Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC) is a first or undergraduate degree. Next to the degree is good behavior with proven credibility and an independent mind.”
NEC former bosses
The Senate amendment, according to James Fromayan, a former Chairman of the NEC is unfortunate and that the Legislature has embarked on tampering with the elections law for the wrong reason, rather than for the good of the country.
Fromayan alleged that there must be an ulterior motive associated with the ongoing amendment and, if care is not taken, NEC might not have the independence it ought to have in the conduct of elections in 2023 and beyond.
“I am surprised why it should be so. Are you telling me the President sent that Bill to them or someone or a few Senators decided to influence the system for a satanic agenda? I feel so sorry for our country because we are fast retrogressing on upholding the available laws than one can ever think of,” he said, adding that Liberia’s problem now is not the lack of good laws but respect for the ones available and ensuring they are protected and promoted.
Fromayan said the magistrates have the right to go to court should the controversial amendment be done and signed into law by the President.
“The onus will be on the justice to do the right thing or fail the Liberian people. We are waiting to see what happens. magistrates are not employed by the Legislature and they do not even go for confirmation, but work under the direct supervision of the NEC Board of Commissioners, which falls under the Executive branch of government.”
“Magistrates are hired based on good conduct, proven credibility, and a first degree, as well as competence. They are only fired based on proven records of bad conduct or corruption. These are what I know. But hearing that a group of Lawmakers want their interest served and, as such, they have embarked on tampering with the Law is sickening and should be condemned,” he said.
Also, Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison, a former Chairperson of NEC noted that magistrates do not have tenure and she doubts if they are properly protected under the law.
“I don’t know if anything has changed but, when I was Chair on the NEC Board, we did not employ magistrates through the Civil Service. We employed them on the basis of good character, qualifications, and competence to do the job. I am not aware that magistrates were ever deployed through the civil service system,” Allison said.
Meanwhile, the magistrate added that over the years they have been subjected to rigorous civil service processes and have always done their best to stay within the confines of the Civil Service Agency (CSA)’s regulations as they work under the direct supervision of the NEC Board of Commissioners
The magistrates argued that they have excelled over the years and gained not only advanced academic credentials, for which they are not paid for as required by law.
“It is not that we are afraid to call our names but we are waiting to see if the House of Representatives will concur with the Senate on this. The President signing it into law will lead us into action — going to court to seek redress,” the magistrates added.
Any attempt on the part of the Legislature, which has no constitutional right to appoint magistrates, will not go unchallenged, the magistrates said. Magistrates are not subjected to confirmation before the Senate.
“We know they are politicians and they are always thinking about their personal benefits before the general interest of the country, but we are not cheap and should in no way be taken for granted. They make the laws but they are not above the law. They have done it with the LACC but it will not work in our case,” a magistrate, who sounded angry about the Legislators’ attempt, told the Daily Observer.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with the total number of magistrates in the country, which is 19 instead of 15. Nimba has two, Lofa has two and Montserrado has two.