President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has expressed hope that members of both the National Legislature and the Judiciary will follow the footsteps of the Executive and declare their assets in order to promote transparency and accountability.
President Sirleaf made the statement in the presence of Senate Pro-Tempore Gbehzohngar Findley and other influential lawmakers of the 53rd National Legislature when she signed the Code of Conduct Bill into law recently.
The Code of Conduct is one of the controversial bills signed to date; it languished in the corridors of the Legislature for over five years. It was just signed into law by President Sirleaf on Monday, May 12, 2014 at her Foreign Ministry office.
The Bill was submitted to the National Legislature in 2009 by the Executive Branch of government, and was passed by the Senate last year and sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence.
The House of Representatives in March this year concurred with the Senate but with some adjustments. The law comes into full effect upon being printed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs into handbills and distributed for public consumption.
The new law, which demands “integrity checks”, requires government employees’ activities to be conducted lawfully and in consonance with the highest ethical standards, with each employee acting with personal integrity as well as coming forward and raising concerns should they become aware of any questionable activity involving officials.
The Executive Order, which has been issued twice, has been binding only on members of the Executive, through the issuance of Executive Order by President Sirleaf pending the passage of the bill. With this new development, the Liberian leader is now calling on the Legislature and the Judiciary to join the effort in fighting graft in the public sector.
The Liberian leader, after the signing ceremony, pointed: “Since the Code of Conduct, which covers all three branches of government is now signed into law, it is expected that our colleagues from the other branches will follow the example of the Executive Branch to declare their assets.”
She thanked the leadership and members of the National Legislature, however, for fulfilling their Constitutional mandate in passing into law the Code of Conduct, which applies to all public officials and employees of the three branches of Government.
Article 90 (c) of the Liberian Constitution provides that “The Legislature shall…prescribe a Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees stipulating the acts which constitute conflict of interest or are against public policy, and the penalties for violation thereof.”
“As the law requires, it now has to be printed in handbills to be fully effective; but with this signing today, we now go to the final step to have it printed and to have it distributed to the public at large,” the Liberian leader pointed out.
President Sirleaf highlighted portions of the Code of Conduct Law that public officials and employees of Government must observe and become familiar with.
She spoke specifically of Section 5.1, which stipulates that all appointed government officials wanting to contest for elected positions in government must resign at least three years prior to the date of the election.
She also mentioned Section 5.2, which indicates, in part that, in case of vacancy for an elected official, any appointee of government that offers to take up such elected position must resign three months prior to the date of the by-election.
Highlighting Section 9.1, Bribes and Gifts, the Liberian leader reminded public officials and employees of government that the Code of Conduct prohibits receiving or encouraging the giving of any form of bribe or casual gift in connection with the performance of his/her duties, whether for himself or herself or members of his or her family.
She, however, indicated that this provision does not apply to gifts given during traditional ceremonies and celebrations, and fees paid for lobbying, adding, that the Legislature shall enact laws for the regulation of lobbying activities. “We will be coming back to the Legislature for them to fulfill their constitutional duties by being able to enact appropriate laws to enable us meet this provision.
President Sirleaf also stressed Section 11.3 on Sexual Harassment, such as use of rude, abusive and obscene language, indecent dressing, and sexual gestures which constitute sexual harassment and violation of human dignity and human rights.
Governance Commission Chairman, Dr. Amos Sawyer, said signing the Code of Conduct is indeed a legacy. “For you, Madam President, the Senate and distinguished Members of the House of Representatives, who have seen this through, this is an enormous historic credit,” adding, “the way in which it has evolved and come through our legislative process is a credit to all of us,” he said.
When contact for comments, Maryland County Senator John Ballout said that it is a good thing for the President to call on the Judiciary and the Legislature to declare their assets, indicating that those purportedly come with clean hands should demonstrate that.
Senator Ballout indicated that lawmakers, as representatives of the people, should lead by example. Though lawmaker declared their assets before the general and Presidential election in 2011, the Maryland lawmaker said it will be prudent for them to update their assets cause some of them have acquired properties while in office.
He, however, frowned on what he termed as the difficulties face in declaring assets through the current procedure. He said the process is tedious and difficult because the questionnaires are too bulky and complicated.
Despite the difficulties involve, Senator Ballout promised to advance the President’s proposal to fellow lawmakers as he has always done. He noted that the process brings about transparent and accountability thereby curtailing corruption.