As part of electoral reforms, residents of Bong County, central Liberia, have called for judicial powers independent of authorities of the National Elections Commission (NEC).
Liberia’s 2017 elections were a milestone achievement, with many lessons learned. Observers flocked to the country from the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United States, The Carter Center and National Democratic Institute (NDI).
Their observations resulted in a series of reports on the national electoral process, including voter registration, civic education, poll site procedures, etc., and recommendations addressed to stakeholders, including the National Elections Commission (NEC), the Legislature, the Liberian National Police (LNP), and political parties.
Liberian observers were also active, with the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), a network of civil society organizations, deploying over 2000 trained observers across all 73 districts. Altogether, observer missions and organizations offered over 100 recommendations, some of which will require changes to existing laws such as the National Code of Conduct to NEC regulations, and to our constitution.
In an informal survey to review the ECC conclusion that, “one of the hallmarks of a credible election is a responsive and harmonized legal framework that sets the parameters, standards and procedures for the conduct of the NEC, political parties and candidates,” the Daily Observer found that from the perspective of many Bong residents, a trustworthy and credible elections process would mean removing judicial authority from NEC entirely.
According to human rights activist James Saybay, it would be prudent for the government to create a neutral and independent body that would oversee all electoral cases.
“You cannot have the NEC hearing disputes when the commission is part of the dispute. A judicial body separate from the Commission will support the country’s democratic development, and in fact, demonstrates the level of credibility in our electoral process,” Mr. Saybay added.
Civil society activist Jesse Cole, agreed that constituting an independent body outside of the NEC would add value to our civic framework, and restore local confidence in the electoral system.
“NEC should not be referee and player at the same time; an independent body should be established that every political party can subscribe to and trust,” Cole said.
“There has been a lot of public outcry. People have the thought that if you take up an electoral matter with the Commission, and it is the same NEC that will hear their own matter, and make a determination, then it will be hard to get justice,” he said said.
Meanwhile, NEC Magistrates Daniel G. Newland and Barsee Kpangbai (Upper and Lower Bong) have stressed that electioneering is a professional enterprise, and furthermore, electoral dispute resolution is different from ordinary court dispute resolution.
“Establishing an independent tribunal to handle all electoral related cases is not necessarily a bad idea, but those people should be knowledgeable as to the national election laws, and guidelines,” the two magistrates said.
Seventeen months after Liberia’s last presidential and representatives’ elections, and 17 months to the October 2020 senatorial elections, Attorney-at-Law, Lester Paye, former Bong County Representative of Electoral District has said, “Article 83 (c) of the Liberian Constitution that confers judicial power and authority to the NEC creates conflict of interest. It does not reflect transparency and impartiality in adjudicating electoral grievances and petitions in cases wherein NEC is a respondent.”
Of the one 144 election related complaints the NEC received, Mr. Paye was involved in two. “In the 2017 elections, I filed a post-election tabulation or counting related complaint against the NEC, and it was the Magistrate of Upper Bong County, against who I had an earlier complaint hearing was the one my complaint and making the determination,” Paye said.
“The process to adjudicate electoral disputes is very time consuming. If you have a complaint against the NEC, the first step is going to the magistrate, before getting to the NEC Board of Commissioners (BoC), and the next step is to the Supreme Court, if you choose to appeal. But if you established an independent tribunal of electoral law, experts can go directly to that body, it will save time as well as return the confidence of politicians, political parties and citizens in the process itself,” Paye said.