Having made a payment of US$10,000 as portion of the judgment settlement of the over US$1 million that the Supreme Court mandated the Lofa County Senator-Elect, Brownie J. Samukai, to pay after he was convicted of misapplying the money from the pension account of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the question is whether the court is going to accept the argument by the opposition political party, the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC), not to certificate Samukai.
The MPC has contended that, though the Supreme Court affirmed the guilty judgment of the lower court, Criminal Court ‘C’, against Samukai and two others, the law prevents convicts from ascending to any elected public position until after five years of serving the punishment of which the person was cinvicted.
In most of the Supreme Court’s recent opinions (judgment), it has said that only persons directly affected by an action or decision may have the legal standing to file a complaint before the Supreme Court.
But, if the person directly affected does not take advantage of the law to file the complaint, then the law presumes that the affected party waived his/her right to be heard.
More besides, the person has shown no standing to raise the issue on behalf of the affected party.
“The court has opined that legal standing is a concept utilized to determine if a party is sufficiently affected to ensure that a justiciable controversy is presented to it,” the Supreme Court’s law of standing noted.
Intresentingly, in the case of the MPC, it never had any candidate in the December 8, Special Senatorial Election, but, based on their compliant the Supreme Court had placed a stay order on the certification of the Lofa County Senator-elect, Samukai.
The matter is pending undecided before the Supreme Court, while the certification of Samukai remains on hold.
Besides placing Samukai’s certification on hold, the court had suspended the two-year prison term it approved for Samukai and his two colleagues, until they can pay fifty percent of the over US$1 million within six months period beginning March, 2021.
Again, Article 21 (C)(ii) of the 1986 Constitution privides that, “Excessive bail shall not be required, non-excessive fines imposed, nor excessive punishment inflicted.”
With these constitutional provisions, will the Supreme Court accept the argument by MPC not to allow the NEC to conduct the certification of Samukai, since Samukai is already serving another punishment, that is, to pay the fifty percent within six months?
Let us watch and see what decision the court will take — maybe to ignore its own opinion about legal standing.
Initially, the Supreme Court instructed the NEC to take jurisdiction over the Samukai’s certification case, after the court denied a complaint filed by some citizens of the county, claiming electoral fraud.
By then, the court, in its ruling, said, the citizens or complainants, not being a political party or candidates who participated in the 2020 Special Senatorial Election, lacked legal standing to institute the action to challenge the results of the election.
The question is, how does the MPC have any legal standing to file the compliant that led to the imposition of the stay order on the NEC’s Certification of Samukai?
Another argument by the MPC is based on The election law Section 5.1, which states that all eligible citizens may vote or contest in an election except one who has been judicially declared to be incompetent or of unsound mind or who has been barred from voting as a result of his/her conviction and imprisonment for an infamous crime which disenfranchised him/her as a voter and has been restored to full citizenship.”
The Election law also gives the NEC the authority to look into post-election disputes and if parties disagree, they have the right to file appeals to the Supreme Court, whose duty is to put to bed all matters by its final rulings upon review of pieces of evidence and witness testimonies where necessary.
Samukai’s certification situation came to the spotlight when the Ministry of Justice, represented by the Minister, Cllr. Musa Dean and the Solicitor General, Cllr. Syrenius Cephus, sent a letter to the NEC asking that electoral body not to certificate the Lofa County Senator-elect because of his conviction for misapplication of pension money belonging to the Armed Forces of Liberia. Samukai was convicted at Criminal Court “C” along with two of his deputies for misapplication of over one million United States Dollars.
But, the NEC, threw out the accusation against Samukai’s certification and subsequently set the date for the exercise that was later stalled due to the MPC intervention that led to the stay order.
Prior to Samukai contesting the senatorial seat in Lofa County, the NEC refused to accept another argument from the Consortium of Lofa Citizens, requesting that former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai be barred from contesting the midterm senatorial election, has no merit and, as such, the request is denied.
In a majority ruling, the electoral body said that the complainant case against Samukai has no merit, therefore, the group’s request for NEC to deny the former defense minister the opportunity to contest the pending December 8, 2020 election cannot be granted under any circumstance.
It was that judgment that permitted the NEC to place Samukai’s name on the listing of candidates that participated in the December 8 Special Senatorial Election in Lofa County.
However, the NEC Board of Commissioners, upholding its chief dispute hearing officer’s ruling, explained that the acceptance letter of Co-Appellee, Brownie J. Samukai, of the Collaborating Political Parties, qualifying him and placing his name on the listing of qualified aspirants/candidates to contest the December 8, 2020 midterm elections, “is hereby confirmed and affirmed.”
Reading the board’s decision, the NEC’s Co-chairperson, Cllr. P. Teplah Reeves informed the complainants that their action to deny their request was based on the criminal procedure law of the Liberia, which prohibits the enforcement of any court judgment, while an appeal has been filed at the supreme court.
“Section 24.6 of the Criminal Procedure Law states that the taking of an appeal shall stay the enforcement of the judgment, sentence or order from which the appeal is taken and arrest all further proceedings pending a decision on the appeal,” Cllr. Reeves said.
According to Cllr. Reeves, the Board of Commissioners’ decision was in conformity with a Supreme Court interpretation of Article 20 of the Liberian Constitution, which states that on “announcement of an appeal of a judgment, nor shall any proceeding be taken for its enforcement until final judgment is rendered.”
Article 20 of the Constitution states that: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment, consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law. Justice shall be done without sale, denial or delay; and in all cases not arising in courts not of record, under courts-martial and upon impeachment, the parties shall have the right to trial by jury.”
Prior to the NEC’s ruling, the electoral body chief dispute hearing officer, Cllr. Muanah Ville, ruled a fortnight ago that the Consortium of Lofa Citizens had no constitutional or legal basis as claimed in their petition filed for the NEC to disallow Samukai from contesting the December 8 polls.
Cllr. Ville said his decision was based on the fact that the Consortium of Lofa Citizens was in no way a legally registered organization as they portrayed themselves to be, and that Samukai is not a convict because he is not in jail. Cllr. Ville added that the fact that the former defense minister is paying back what he has been found guilty of misusing, means there was no reason to deny him from contesting the December 8, 2020 elections.