Did Ngafuan Resign Too Soon?

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Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan’s recent announcement of his resignation may have been accepted by many in good faith since he based his decision on compliance with the Code of Conduct Act passed in 2014 at the National Legislature.

While the timing of Mr. Ngafuan’s resignation runs almost exactly two years to the October 2017 elections, it nevertheless has created apprehension among other potential candidates who are still holding on to their positions and there are questions regarding who would be the next to resign.

A survey conducted in Monrovia suggests that there could be a very good reason among potential presidential aspirants that are still in government to be jittery. After all, Section 5.1 of the Code of Conduct requires that a person appointed by the President may not engage in political activities such as canvassing or contesting elected office, should not use any government facility or serve on any campaign team, political party or be an independent candidate. The code of conduct further states that if such a person holds a ministerial position and has any desire to contest any elective public office, the person should resign his/her position at least two years prior to the date of holding elections.

Section 5.2 states that if any person affected holds a tenured position, that person should resign at least three years prior to the date of the elections. The Act exempts the President, Vice President, Senators and members of the House of Representatives.

However, a group, calling itself Citizens Solidarity Council (CSC) last year filed a petition in the Civil Law Court for Declaration Judgment, requesting the court to declare Sections 5.1 and 5. 2 of the Code of Conduct “unconstitutional.”

Information gathered suggests that the government opposed the Petition and the case was forwarded to the Supreme Court and it is now awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision. Hence, many legal minds who spoke to the Daily Observer suggest that Minister Ngafuan may have made a hasty resignation.

“If the Supreme Court later decides that the Act is unconstitutional, then Minister Ngafuan would have acted hastily since no Minister or anyone affected by the Act could be expected to resign,” said a legal expert who asked not to be identified.

Accordingly, he said, “If the Supreme Court decides that the sections of the Code of Conduct that are challenged are unconstitutional, then any cabinet minister or director could hold on to the position for as long as necessary.

“This can go on as long as necessary until the person declares an intention for the elected political office and is accepted by the Elections Commission as a certified candidate,” they said.

The Daily Observer has learnt that one of the major contentions of the CSC is that the Code of Conduct is “discriminatory” and therefore a violation of the Constitution by infringing on the rights of officials.

“Because it tries to have an incumbent violate a contract which he or she entered into with the institution that employed such a person or a position anyone is appointed to,” our source said, noting that the Supreme Court must decide the legality of the Code of Conduct.

Another legal source said, “All eyes are now on the Supreme Court, which has been dealing with constitutional issues, to deal with the matter.”

It was learned that other incumbents who are still holding on to their posts are waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on the case before they decide on what course of action to take.

A lawyer described it as a “smart and wise decision” and therefore no one should need to resign at this stage while the matter is still before the Supreme Court.

“If anyone resigns now,” the lawyers said, “on account of the Act whose constitutionality is still in doubt and waiting for the Supreme Court to decide, the resigned officials cannot be reinstated.”

What is clear is that some of those interviewed, including lawyers told the Daily Observer that, lawmakers who have the desire to run in the next presidential race will be highly disappointed if they are prevented from running for the nation’s top office, if the Act that many consider as discriminatory is not changed, as it is being pursued at the Supreme Court.

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