The Executive Director of the Foundation for International Dignity (FIND) has expressed support for the Supreme Court’s (SC) ruling in the recent landmark Code of Conduct (CoC) case that was brought before it by two political parties.
The opposition political parties — Liberty Party (LP) and Alternative National Congress (ANC) — had filed a lawsuit with the Court that the National Elections Commission (NEC) unlawfully disqualified their respective vice standard bearers from contesting in the upcoming elections. The court ruled and overturned the NEC’s decision.
The pro-democracy, rights advocate organization’s executive director, Mr. Roosevelt Woods, told newsmen last Thursday at his Randall Street office that the SC’s ruling was in favor of human rights which, according to him, had been deliberately violated by some lawmakers who for their “own selfish aims” had inserted section 5.1 & 2 in the controversial CoC.
“Gentlemen, I had the privilege of going through the original draft of the Code of Conduct bill when it was submitted to the National Legislature for passage into law. I can say for certainty that that wicked portion, section 5.1 & 2, was never in that original draft,” Woods stated.
According to him, the Code’s Part 5.1 & 2, under ‘Political Participation,’ seeks to disenfranchise certain groups of Liberians from their constitutional rights.
He disclosed that his institution, which has been advocating for rights to be respected and pushing for democracy in Liberia since 2003, will work with members of the National Legislature in order to have that particular section of the Code repealed.
Despite FIND’s backing, the SC’s ruling has been met with sharp criticisms by some Liberians, including politicians. Some feel that the court crossed the line of “separation of powers” as ascribed to the three branches of the Liberian Government by the Constitution.
One of such vehement critics of the SC is Maryland County Senator Dan Morias. He, on Friday, July 21, 2017, walked out of special plenary session intended to approve the 2017/18 National Budget in protest.
“I am walking out because there are serious issues that developed overnight that have all of the ingredients to plunge this country into chaos and my colleagues have refused to include (them) on the agenda to be discussed,” he is quoted as saying by a local daily.
“There is something we called ‘legislative response to a judicial review.’ I think it was urgent to place that item on the agenda to be discussed. For me, the issue today is how we can address an issue that is bringing divisiveness in Liberia, where one person because of name and status can be adjudged guilty while others who have big names, though they also violated as well, and we are satisfied to say they are not guilty,” he further stated.
Article 90 (C) of the Liberian Constitution of 1986 authorized the Legislature to prescribe a Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees; for, among other things “stipulating the acts which constitute conflict of interest or are against public policy and punishment for violation thereof.” Pursuant to this constitutional provision, a Code of Conduct was enacted into law.
The Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling on Friday, March 3, 2017, declared that the Code of Conduct, signed into law by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2014, is legal and binding on the Republic for all its “intents and purposes,” and compliant with the Liberian Constitution.
On March 6, 2017, the chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC), in a press statement, said that 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.”
The Act, which was submitted by the Executive to the National Legislature in 2009 among other things, states that all officials appointed by the President shall not engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices, use government facilities, equipment or resources in support of partisan or political activities, among others.
The Act also stipulates that: “Wherein, any official of government who desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post at least two years prior to the date of such public elections; 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 elections.”
Accordingly, section 5.2 also states, “Wherein, any person in the category stated in section 5.1 herein above, desires to canvass or contest 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 Directors, who desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post at least two (2) years prior to the date of such public elections; 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 (3) years prior to the date of such public elections.”
The two politicians— Amb. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh of ANC and Mr. Harrison Karnwea of LP— who had been barred by the elections body had been working in the government and had not resigned two years before entering the political arena.