Ambassador Lewis Brown warns Senate that confirming ‘NEC nominees’ would set dangerous precedence’
Barely a year into his 6-year tenure at the helm of national leadership, President George Manneh Weah had already registered his frustration with the technicalities of law defined what he could and could not do, even as the most powerful person in the country. One of his early and most notable frustrations was with the issue of tenured positions. This was at a time when, in a bid to find lucrative positions for his partisans, the President sought to oust those who he met in those tenured positions when he came to power.
Notable among the tenured positions the President found himself embarrassed by included those of the Executive Director of the Liberia Extractives Transparency Initiative (LEITI), the Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia and the country’s Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization. The LEITI official was removed at gun point and the CBL Executive Governor was harassed into resignation. The IMO Permanent Representative, however, being a lawyer, had a Supreme Court injunction placed on the President’s order, effectively protecting his position, although the President has found ways to frustrate the official’s tenure.
Now, two years later, President Weah appears to have found a clever way to circumvent a very crucial government functionary protected by tenure positions — the National Elections Commission (NEC). As observed by Liberia’s former Ambassador to the United Nations, Lewis G. Brown, the President’s latest nominations to the NEC would set a dangerous precedence that will undermine the independence and autonomy of the electoral body.
According to Amb. Brown, the appointment of Mrs. Davidetta Browne Lansanah as Chair, while still serving as Co-Chair of the autonomous electoral body, will disturb her tenure, and possibly cause her removal, outside the contemplation of the law.
“Without prejudice to the qualifications of Mrs. Davidetta Browne Lansanah, and Mrs. Teplah Reeves, their recent nominations as Chair and Co-Chair of the National Elections Commission will establish dangerous precedence that reasonably extends to undermining the independence and autonomy of the NEC, and to violate the spirit and intent of the law.
“Obviously, the law could not have intended that Mrs. Lansanah be commissioned Co-Chair for seven years, and have the same position of Co-Chair, without the expiry of her tenure, resignation, or removal upon proved misconduct, opened for nomination by the President, and be exposed to Senate confirmation, processes whose constructive intent is to cause a removal, and replacement.
“It also risks the security of tenure and trivializes the important confirmation power of the Honorable Liberian Senate,” Amb. Brown argued.
Amb. Brown further argued that if Mrs. Lansanah is confirmed and subsequently commissioned as NEC Chair; then it is difficult to say whether or not the seven-year tenure of Chair of the NEC can apply to her after she has already served the Commission for a few months into her seven-year tenure as Co-Chair.
Arguing further, Amb. Brown said such situation harms the spirit and intent of the law and that such ‘promotions’ disrupt tenure as it signals to commissioners that their services can be politically rewarded with ‘promotions’, even as they are in-tenure.
“The harm to the spirit and intent of the law, therefore, is that such ‘promotions’ present the political branches, from whose reach, influence and interference the law intended to protect the NEC and its officials, with the possibility to interfere in the NEC, disrupt tenure, and cause the removal of a commissioned member of the NEC,” he said.
Amb Brown added that even if it is speculative, it is not outside the boundary of reason and, importantly, falls within the sphere of political interferences and influences from which the law intended to shield Commissioners and the Commission.
“Beguiling this precedent, were it to be established, is also the harmful interference to Commissioners impressing that their services can be politically rewarded with ‘promotions’, even as they are in-tenure,” Amb. Brown said. “Suffice to say, where a scintilla of possibility for presidential consideration for rewards/promotions for tenured Commissioners and officers of the NEC is permitted to exist, so too will be the human need to ‘act favorably’ to receive and benefit therefrom, if not immediately, then at some time in the future. “
Amb. Brown also said although the president has the power to fill a vacancy at NEC, doing so by creating a new one which he can fill simultaneously is political interference –“plain and simple!”
“As it is with other public officials in the Executive Branch, the Chair, Co-Chair, and other members of the Elections Commission, once nominated, confirmed, appointed and commissioned, no longer fall within the ambit of the constitutional regulatory pleasure power of the President.
“This is so because Article 89 of the Constitution establishes the Elections Commission as one of three Autonomous Public Commissions. Although the Constitution establishes the Elections Commission, it specifically does not include its members to the list of public officials to be appointed by the President under Article 54, nor subjects them to being removed at the pleasure of the President, in accordance with Article 56,” he said.
Amb. Brown, who once worked as a former minister of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism said when an individual, who has been nominated to a tenured position and secures the senate confirmation, returns for another confirmation; it becomes difficult not to view the confirmation process as trivial.
“Importantly also, even if unintended, such revolving-door confirmations involving tenure officials come to be the tools to undermine the values and essence of tenured positions which the Legislature itself saw fit to create. No power given by the Constitution is intended to be trivialized without consequences to the democratic health and wellbeing of any nation. If precedence exists for these nominations, and legislative actions, they are wrong.
“If Mrs. Lansanah is denied and Mrs. Reeves is confirmed; how is the country, and its democratic aspirations, not ushered into a precarious place where a commissioned Co-Chair, short of the expiry of her seven-year tenure, to confront the real possibility of being removed by ‘promotion’, and replaced by another,” Amb. Brown argued.