Liberia: Weah’s Executive Order #117 Challenged at Supreme Court
— EFFL wants high court provides constitutional grounds for the President’s latest legal move
The opposition political party, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of Liberia, has requested the Supreme Court to put a halt to the implementation of President George Weah's Executive Order #117 (EO #117), which calls for presidential appointees desiring to contest the October 10 2023 to resign from from their respective posts not later than April 7, 2023.
The EFFL recently filed before the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition, challenging the constitutionality of the President’s move which, the group says, seeks to undermine the Code of Conduct (COC), that piece of legislation that guides the conduct and behaviors of public officials.
The writ, filed before Associate Justice Yamie Quiqui Gbeisaye, Chamber Justice of the Supreme Court, seeks the justice to issue a preliminary injunction, blocking the Weah administration's effort to create a way out for presidential appointees to contest any elected position during the coming elections.
The President Weah on Tuesday, March 14, 2023 issued EO #117 mandating all appointed officials of the government aspiring to contest elective positions in the impending October 10, 2023, Presidential and Legislative Elections to resign on or before April 7, 2023.
The President’s instruction (EO #117), which is an amendment made to the 2014 Code of Conduct that was signed on March 14, 2023, is in compliance with Section 5.2 but left out Section 5.8, which prohibits all employees of the Executive from taking an active part in political campaigns.
However, the issuance of the order is a partial implementation of the COC, which calls for presidential appointees to resign a year prior to elections. EO #117 has therefore been described in many quarters as unfair, unjust and an outcome of poor judgment. Critics say it is meant to protect cronies of the President who are political appointees.
In its suit, the EFFL called on the Supreme Court to declare the EO #117 illegal and that it should have no force and legal effect.
“We, request Your Honor to declare the Executive Order #117 illegal and should have no force and legal effect. It is the contention of the petitioner that laws are not retroactive and therefore not applicable to anyone appointed by the President of Liberia of this point in time, since the publishing date December 29, 2022 and the election date October 10, 2023 is ten (10) months and, as such, ten (10) months cannot be equated to one year threshold,” EFFL said.
“It is also the contention of the petitioner that the December 29, 2022 Act amending Section 5.2 and 10.2 of the 2014 Code Conduct has prospective effect and therefore cannot be equated to any governmental appointees in the pending October 10,2023 General and Presidential Election,” the EFF's suit claims.
The objective of the Code of Conduct is to dissociate the fiduciary duty of trust, integrity and loyalty owed by public officials to the people from their personal desires to contest elections at the expense of public resources.
The Act provides that all officials appointed by the President including all cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials, both military and civilian, pursuant to Article 56(a) of the 1986 Constitution and others who desire to canvass or contest for an elective public office within the Government of Liberia, shall resign his or her position one (1) year before the date on which the election for the post for which he/she intends to contest.”
But the President has said that with just seven months to the conduct of elections on October 10, 2023, the amended Act can't prevent public officials from contesting in said elections and thus mandate the resignation of all such persons effective April 7, 2023 — his reliance being the constitutional power vested in the Executive Branch of Government to execute the Executive Powers.
It is against this backdrop that he issued the Executive Order, an action that should be taken either to meet an emergency or to correct situations that can't wait the lengthy legislative process.
But EFF’s lawsuit, dated March 28, argues among others that the Presidential Executive Order #117, is prohibitory, because it is against the plain meaning of the amended code of conduct Act, as it is only seven (7) months before the scheduled date of the October 10 elections.
Many believe that the condition under which the EO #117 was issued casts more doubt on the true intent of the President, if not to shield his lieutenants and appease current legislators promising him support for his re-election bid.
They also claimed that the time at which those appointees should have resigned has since elapsed and the EO #117, is only meant to give them a lifeline, and is in clear violation of the Code of Conduct. The EFFL therefore wants to ensure that the high court prevents those presidential appointees from contesting the October 10 polls, as doing so would render the COC toothless.
However, the EFF suit further argued that, as a political institution, it has an interest to ensure that laws of the land are strictly followed to safeguard its citizenry. “Addends of the months from March 14, 2023 up to and including October 10, 2023 is seven (7) months and seven (7) months is not one (1) year in the plain meaning of the stature of the amended Act,” the suit claims.
They also argued that the act was signed into law on December 22, 2022 and published into handbills by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 29, 2022.
“The one year requirement of the act began on December 29, 2022, and the election is scheduled around October 10, 2023, which falls short of the one (1) year threshold.”
The EFF argues that the phrase, “who desires to contest for any elected office” is directly repugnant to the executive order. They also argued that the law in this jurisdiction is that when the proviso of the constitution and the proviso of the statutory act are repugnant to each other, the constitution supersedes; similarly, when the statute and the executive order are in conflict with each other, the statute supersedes.
“The executive order #117 mandating any ministers, deputy ministers, director generals, deputy directors general, superintendents, managing directors and other officials of the Government of Liberia appointed by the President of Liberia, pursuant to Article 56 (a) of the Constitution, any managing directors, deputy managing directors of any corporation owned by the government of Liberia, any Commissioners, deputy commissioners who desire to contest for any elected office to resign shall have no legal efficacy and are therefore void ab initio.
The suit further argues that had the Act been approved in August or September of 2022, the executive order would have been consistent with the statute. However, the lawsuit argued that from December 29, 2022 to October 30, 2023 is less than one year and therefore the one year requirement cannot hold anyone who is in government under Section 5.2 of the amended Act.
“We request Your Honor to declare Executive Order 117 illegal and should have no force and legal effect,” the suit claims. “It is the contention of the petitioner that laws are not retroactive and therefore not applicable to anyone been appointed by the President of Liberia of this point in time, since the publishing date December 29, 2022 and the election date October 10, 2023 is ten (10) months and, as such, ten (10) months cannot be equated to one year threshold.
“It is the contention of the petitioner that the December 29, 2022 Act amending Section 5.2 and 10.2 of the 2014 Code Conduct has prospective effect and therefore cannot be equated to any governmental appointees in the pending October 10, 2023 General and Presidential Election.”