The much publicized verdict of the Supreme Court in the case Karnwea Vs National Elections Commission didn’t just split opinions amongst legal and political pundits, the intellectual class as well as partisans of various parties across the country, but it also found its way into the religious community—where an eminent member of that community has weighed in on the decision of the final arbiter of justice in Liberia. Dr. Herman Browne, Episcopal prelate and president of Cuttington University (CU), serving as Liberia’s 170th National Independence Day Orator, had his say on the issue, giving thumbs up to the Supreme Court for that historic decision.
It is no secret that the Court’s decision to clear Harrison Karnwea, who was barred by the NEC from contesting on the Liberty Party’s ticket as a vice standard bearer based solely on, what the NEC termed as the dictates of the Code of conduct, brought huge debate in the country—with split opinions (for and against.)
As a result of that verdict, members of the Supreme might have fallen in “hot water” with members of the National legislature who are preparing impeachment proceedings against the justices—though that process will officially begin when the Lawmakers return from the recess. But with such a favorite treat coming from such an eminent religious leader for the Supreme Court, who knows what might happen.
But Dr. Browne lauded the court for clearing presidential appointees who were caught in the web of the controversial code of conduct to contest in the upcoming general and presidential elections. He could not hold back praise for the nation’s highest legal body for what many have described as massive victory for justice.
The national Orator, in his oration, noted that the contentious section 5.1 of the of the CoC has an explicit purpose, the prevention of the abuse or diversion of state resources for personal gain by those with access and influence over public funds, goods and services.
He described the CoC is an exemplary instrument which ensures that a wide range of public values are upheld and ethical standards maintained in public service, but however indicated that it went to far to deny others of their constituted right and as such, the Supreme Court did the right thing by rescinding what appear to have been a dark cloud over the electoral process.
With a deep glance to his right, where the Lawmakers who many believe were the masterminds of that particular section of the controversial code sitting, Dr. Browne noted that, “Unless I am not reading the same act (only 22 pages long), the explicit stipulated penalty (in section 5:9) for not resigning as required (in Section 5:2a &b) fails to include, does not include, any disbarment from election to public office.
In this regard, Dr. Browne said, we commend our Judiciary for distinguishing itself in bringing a measure of clarity to this matter, specifically in the most recent cases. Having said that, I’m aware that in other quarters it is far from clear that the Code of Conduct has been uniformly enforced a matter admittedly, for the executive branch.
Lawmakers are ‘threatening’ to institute “impeachment proceedings” against Justices of the Supreme Court because of their recent Ruling concerning the Code of Conduct. Members of the legislature are accusing the Supreme Court justices for being biased or “unable to perform the functions of their offices,” for clearing the nomination of two Vice Presidential candidates, Harrison Karnwea of the Liberty Party (LP) and Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh of the Alternative National Congress (ANC).
The Lawmakers said, Article 71 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia gives the Legislature the authority to remove the Chief Justice and Associates Justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of subordinate courts of record because of “bad” behavior. The Constitution states that they may be removed upon impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on “proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office, or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.”
But it appears that these Lawmakers pending action would also be in contravention of another part of the organic—as Article 73 of the same constitution protects Supreme Court Justices in such a case.
Article 73 of the Constitution states, “No judicial official shall be summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally by or at the instance of any person or authority on account of judicial opinions rendered or expressed, judicial statements made and judicial acts done in the course of a trial in open court or in chambers, except for treason or other felonies, misdemeanor or breach of the peace. Statements made and acts done by such officials in the course of a judicial proceeding shall be privileged, and, subject to the above qualification, no such statement made or acts done shall be admissible into evidence against them at any trial or proceeding”.
It baffled one that Lawmakers would be talking about attempting to “impeach” these judicial officials for exercising functions within the scope of their constitutional duties.
This also brings about the question as to whether a Lawmaker could be interrogated or prosecuted on account of views expressed or votes cast in exercise of his/her duties and functions as a Lawmaker? “Aren’t they, too, covered under the closing sentence of Article 42 of the very Constitution?”
The Media has Become Tabloid
The 2017 National Orator also had some stern warning for the Liberian media, which he believes are turning into propagandists. He said globally, people rely often on the media to interpret happenings in relation to the public institutions “we fund and to which we rightly look for a leadership accountable to us for the services they render.”
“In this regard I commend media practitioners for their tenacity, for the commitment they demonstrate to public scrutiny and exposure of matters that should rightly concern the public (and only those!).”
I find it deeply concerning how propagandist we can easily become; and how, except for a couple of printed media, we are entirely tabloid.
Dr. Browne said Ill-informed assumptions far too often form the basis for public discussion that are transmitted directly into the homes. “For example, one cannot go up and down this country and take the view that ‘nothing has changed’. And mean it. And expect thinking people to take you seriously.”
“Worst still, a talk show host might likely to take this proposition for an hour discussion: “nothing has changed. Are you for or against?” and then open the phone lines.”
He urged the media to do better if it is to take its educational role seriously, adding that media practitioners’ analyses of public issues and events are often far too thin. “Our perspectives are not diverse, and often oversimplified, our interlocutors too few, and often grasp of various historical, economic or political trends unhelpfully minimal. I apologize if this seems hard on this sector of our civil life, but the media’s role in sustaining the peace is serious business, and far too important for us not to understand that when we read the papers, tune in to our radios, watch television, or endure talk shows, much more is expected from it than what we now receive..”