Supreme Court gives NEC 48hours to prescribe penalties, not rejection
The Supreme Court yesterday declared that the National Elections Commission erred in its action by rejecting the nomination of two vice presidential candidates, Mr. Harrison Karnwea of the Liberty Party (LP) and Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), from contesting the October presidential and legislative elections.
The court said both Karnwea and Sulunteh were in substantial compliance with the Code of Conduct (CoC) Act, contrary to the NEC’s contention that both men were in violation.
The court’s opinion (ruling) in favor of the Karnwea and Sulunteh were delivered separately by Associate Justices Philip A.Z. Banks and Jamesetta H. Wolokollie.
Justice Wolokollie’s ruling on Sulunteh was not made available yesterday to the press, and his (Sulunteh’s) earlier rejection by the NEC was also reversed.
Delivering Karnwea’s ruling, Justice Banks said that he was in substantial compliance with the code and that his violation of the act was not egregious in nature suggesting that “as the term was determined, interpreted and applied by the Supreme Court in the case Serena Mappy Polson versus the Republic of Liberia, which held the CoC to be constitutional.”
Polson challenged the constitutionality of the code, but the Supreme Court ruled 3 in favor and 2 against, thereby making the code constitutional.
Polson currently serves as superintendent of Bong County, the position she held when she challenged the constitutionality of the code. Justice Banks emphasized that “the case of Abu Kamara v the National Elections Commission which elaborated upon the application of the term and the penalty of disbarment is not applicable to Karnwea.”
“Karnwea’s case is remanded to the NEC to expeditiously conduct a due process of law by hearing his application and to make a determination, within 48 hours of receipt of the mandate of the Supreme Court of the level of penalty that will be commensurate with the magnitude of the violation – to be imposed on Karnwea from the ranges of penalties outlined in the code that fall below the penalty of disqualification, which is applicable to only egregious violation of the code,” Justice Banks ruling stated.
Kamara currently serves as assistant minister for administration at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, which post he also held when he was rejected by the NEC, the decision he challenged at the Supreme Court.
According to Banks, the standard laid down, being that where an applicant has resigned his position prior to filing an application before the NEC to contest an elective public office and thereby showing substantial compliance with the code, as of the date of the decision of the Supreme Court, in the Polson’s case, “the violation is not to be considered egregious and that the NEC shall apply only the applicable penalty laid in the code, short of disbarment or disqualification,” the justice explained.
“Henceforth all violations of the CoC must be investigated by the NEC consistent with the due process of law and that any decision emanating therefrom must be signed by the majority of the Board of Commissioners in accordance with the applicable laws,” Banks warned.
Further to Justice Banks’ ruling, he said, that when the parties, NEC and Karnwea’s legal team argued, and when they reviewed the records of the case, they were satisfied that Article 5.1 and 5.2 of the CoC were applicable to Karnwea, as managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).
Articles 5.1 and 5.2 of the Act provide that “All officials appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia shall not (a) Engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices (b) Use government facilities, equipment or resources in support of parties or political activities. It also says such persons cannot (c) Serve on a campaign team of any political party, or the campaigns of any independent candidate.
5.2 says “Wherein any person in the category stated in section 5.1 desires to canvass or contests for an elective public position, the following shall apply.
“(a ) Any Minister, Deputy Minister, Director-General, Managing Director and Superintendent appointed by the President pursuant to article 56 (a ) of the Constitution and a Managing Director appointed by a Board of Director, who desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post at least two years prior to the date of such public election.
“(b) Any other official appointed by the President who holds a tenured position and desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post three years prior to the date of such public election.
“(c) However, in the case of impeachment, death, resignation or disability of an elected official, any official listed above desirous of canvassing or contesting to fill such position must resign said post within thirty days, following the declaration of the National Election Commission (NEC) of the vacancy.
Banks also noted that Karnwea also admitted, as appeared on the form he filled and subsequently filed with the NEC, that he had not resigned said position in accordance with the two years’ timeline, prior to the ensuring the October presidential and legislative elections prescribed by the CoC, he was in violation of the code.
“The court having taken cognizance of the fact that Karnwea was nevertheless in substantial compliance with the code in resigning said position with the FDA, shortly following the decision of the Supreme Court delivered on March 3,” Banks Stated, “he did not commit an act of egregious nature against the CoC, as to warrant the maximum penalty of disqualification prescribed by egregious conduct.”
Besides, Banks said, the NEC failed to conduct a hearing and thereby afford Karnwea’s guaranteed due process of law an opportunity mandated by the constitution, statute and case law of the Republic to determine the penalty to be imposed upon Karnwea for his violation of the CoC.
“The records in this case lacked any evidence that the final decision of the NEC in rejecting the application of Karnwea and barring him from contesting the vice presidential position on the Liberty Party ticket in the ensuring elections was done by the Board of Commissioners,” Banks’ ruling added, “But, rather, that same appears on the record to have been done on the lone and sole signature of the chairman of NEC.”
Minutes after the court’s ruling, Karnwea in interviews with journalists described himself as “pace setter.”
“I have set the pace and so all candidates who were contemplating to not apply to contest the forthcoming elections, because of the CoC, can now rush to do so,” Karnwea said.
Before reversing the NEC’s decision, supporters believed to be members of the Liberty Party (LP) stormed the premises of the Supreme Court, demanding entry to the courtroom, but, they were prevented from entering by officers of the Liberia National Police.
Meanwhile, the ANC has congratulated the Supreme Court for its decision to clear its Vice Standard Bearer, Amb. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh, to contest alongside Mr. Alexander B. Cummings in the October 2017 elections.