Authorities of the Ministry of Justice in Monrovia on yesterday placed a ban on ‘unauthorized’ public assembly in any manner or form. The ban was instituted in the wake of public announcements by leaders of the Student Unification Party (SUP) of the University of Liberia calling on the public to participate in a protest demonstration against what they say is the failure of Government officials, including President Weah, to declare their assets as required by law enshrined in the Code of Conduct.
Section 10.1 of the Code of Conduct, entitled, “Declaration of Assets and Performance Bonds”, reads as follows:
Every Public Official and Employee of Government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types shall sign performance or financial bonds and shall in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter:
a. at the end of every three years
b. on promotion or progression from one level to another
c. upon transfer to another public office; and
b. upon retirement or resignation.
Against the backdrop of the Code of Conduct, the students noted that President Weah has, since his assumption of office and, in apparent violation of the Code of Conduct, commenced renovation on some of his private properties without having declared his assets, leaving the public to speculate, rightly or wrongly, that the President is indeed dipping into the nation’s coffers to underwrite these ongoing personal projects.
It was for such reasons, according to the students, they called for a public protest demonstration.
But in its reaction, the Justice Ministry issued a stern warning to any group of people who might want to demonstrate to abandon their quest, “because the ministry will not issue permit to any Liberians, be they students and or a political organization to implement such desire, which has the undertone to disrupt the country’s peace.”
The MoJ’s statement, issued on the eve of this year’s Independence Day celebration stated: “The general public is warned that, consistent with the Act Requiring the Obtaining of Permits for Public Marches and Demonstrations, approved February 10, 1975, and Section 22 of the Liberia National Police Act of 2015, any person or group of persons wishing to stage a march or demonstration must first obtain a permit from the Ministry of Justice before staging such a demonstration.
The statement, signed by Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean, notes that to date, no application or request for a permit to demonstrate or to hold a march has been made by any person or group of persons. The MOJ wishes to stress the need for all Liberians to abide by the laws of Liberia in the exercise of their right to peaceful assembly, so that there is no disruption of normal traffic, business activities, and free movement of people. We encourage all persons or group of persons desiring to stage a peaceful march or demonstration to strictly comply with the law relating to public marches and/demonstrations,” the statement declared.
But observers here say the move by the Justice Minister banning demonstrations and public assembly is but a veiled attempt to return to the country’s draconian past where arrests, jailing of political opponents, and torture was the order of the day.
According to a legal practitioner, (name withheld), Article 17 of the Constitution of Liberia guarantees the right to orderly and peaceful assembly to consult upon the common good and not a single line in this Article requires citizens to obtain prior consent of the Justice Ministry to assemble. Article 17 reads:
“All persons at all times , in an orderly and peaceful manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations”
The reported protest planned by the leadership of the SUP, a University of Liberia (UL) campus-based political student movement, was said to have been scheduled on July 26 to coincide with this year’s Independence Day celebration.
The protest was announced in a release listing a litany of missteps on the part of the six-month-old government led by the former international soccer star, now President George Manneh Weah.
SUP added, “in this pro-masses pursuit, we call on all Liberians to wake-up and join SUP to demand good governance on July 26, 2018. If President Weah does not declare his assets before or on July 25, there will be a mass protest on July 26, 2018. We call on marketers, pen-pen riders, motorcyclists, taxi drivers, and the masses to join us on July 26, 2018. If you cannot join us, we call on you to boycott the National Independence Day Celebration,” SUP said in its statement prior to the holding of yesterday’s event in Monrovia.
SUP also called for a national boycott of the 171st Independence Day celebration, “because it is worthless. There is nothing to celebrate when extreme poverty, economic hardship, and police brutality are on the increase.”
President Weah and the entire cabinet have failed to declare their assets since ascending to power in January this year. Section 10.1 of The National Code of Conduct requires that “Every Public Official and Employee of Government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types shall sign performance or financial bonds, and shall in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter…”
President Weah came under immense criticism during his first 100 days days in office for carrying out simultaneous construction and face lifting of three of his private properties, and has yet refused to declare his assets.
Public condemnations of his refusal were recently reignited when media reports of the President of neighboring Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, declared his assets before the Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Francis Ben-Kaifala. Maada Bio did so in line with Section 119 (1) of his country’s anti graft Act of 2008.
The said section stipulates that: “Every public officer shall, within three months of becoming a public officer, deposit with the Commission a sworn declaration of his income, assets and liabilities and therefore, not later than March 31, in each succeeding year that he is a public officer, deposit further declarations of his income, assets and liabilities and also while leaving office.”