The decision on whether several candidates who did not resign prior to the enforcement of the Code of Conduct (CoC) will contest the 2017 presidential and legislative elections now rests with the Supreme Court.
The court will make the determination on Monday, July 10. On March 3 of this year, however, in a majority decision (3 for and 2 against) the Supreme Court pronounced the Code of Conduct legally binding and compliant with the Liberian Constitution.
The Supreme Court’s latest intervention is the result of a complaint filed by Abu Kamara, Assistant Minister for Administration at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication, and District#15 representative aspirant.
If the Supreme Court denies Kamara’s request, it means that the electoral commission will be given the power to disqualify several candidates for failing to comply with all the provisions of the CoC.
On the contrary, if it decides against, it will mean that the Supreme Court will at least relax its position on the CoC, which it had initially described as “constitutional.”
These are some of the legal issues that the five justices of the Supreme Court will be deciding on Monday, as part of their commitment to adequately address future election disputes.
In his complaint, Kamara argued that the National Elections Commission (NEC), without any legal basis and support consistent with the process, denied and rejected his application on grounds that he is prohibited from contesting public office by the Code of Conduct.
Section 5.9 of the code provides that “Any public official, after due process, who is found guilty of violating any provision of this section, should be immediately removed from the position or office held by him/her and thereafter no part of the funds appropriated by any law for such position or office should be used to pay compensation to such person.”
Kamara also argued that there was no due process accorded him for the NEC to disqualify his application to contest as a representative aspirant for Montserrado County District #15.
PART XV, Section 15.1 of the Code of Conduct on sanctions for infringement states: “Sanctions for any breach of this Code of Conduct shall be those prescribed by the Standing Orders of the Civil Service or any other laws governing the public service.”
Notwithstanding, depending on the gravity of the offense or misconduct, one or more of the following penalties may apply: dismissal; removal from office in the public interest; reprimand; fine or making good of the loss or damage of public property/assets; demotion (reduction in rank); seizure and forfeiture to the state of any property acquired from abuse of office; and interdiction/suspension from duty with half pay.
Kamara argued that those enumerated sanctions made no mention of exclusion from participating in the elections.
He claimed that the action and grounds used by the NEC to reject him were inconsistent with the laws and standing order.
“The ground for disqualifying me was vague and ambiguous on the face of the notice of rejection and that the notice also failed to state specifically the provision of the Code of Conduct for public officials that was alleged to be violated by me,” Kamara put his defense forward. “Therefore, the court should declare NEC’s decision unlawful as well as arbitrary and unconstitutional.”
Kamara said though he had not resigned two years prior to the 2017 elections, “it does not warrant disqualification to contest as a candidate in Section 15.1 of the CoC.”
Section 5.2 (a) of the Code of Conduct, states that “Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Directors General, Superintendents desiring to run must resign 2 years prior to the election; and section 5.2 (b) states that any other officials appointed by the president, holding a tenured position must resign 3 years prior to the election.”
Before Kamara’s disqualification, NEC chairman Jerome G. Korkoya said the NEC would strictly enforce the Code.
“What the NEC will be doing is to comply strictly with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Code of Conduct… whatever the Supreme Court says will be followed to the letter,” Cllr. Korkoya said.