By J. Burgess Carter
An Act to amend Part XII of the Code of Conduct for the creation of the operational framework of the office of the Ombudsman as established in the National Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees of the Government of Liberia, was yesterday unanimously passed by the Liberian Senate.
The Code of Conduct was passed by the Legislature, approved by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and printed into handbills; however, the Code of Conduct did not provide a governing framework for the operations of the Ombudsman, including the qualification, scope of authority, and tenure of appointees to the office of the Ombudsman.
According to Section 12.3, which deals with the scope of authority of the Ombudsman, the body, in count (c), “shall make such inquires and obtain such assistance and information from any agency or person as it (Ombudsman) shall require for the discharge of its duties, and shall seek the assistance of courts for subpoenas and other legal means needed to perform its duties consistent with the laws of Liberia.”
The amended Act empowers the Ombudsman to recommend appropriate sanctions and disciplinary actions to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), as provided in Part XII Section 12.2 of the Code of Conduct.
Under Part V of the Code of Conduct relating to electoral matters, the Senate agreed that issues “appertaining to elections matters, shall be adjudicated by the National Elections Commission (NEC), as prescribed under the Elections Law; and any remedy sought from such adjudication shall be referred to the Supreme Court as provided for under the Laws and Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.”
The Act also provides that the Ombudsman prepares and submits through the office of the President for enactment a budget for the office of the Ombudsman to the National Legislature.
Under Section 12.4, the President shall nominate three persons for confirmation by the Liberian Senate, one of whom shall be appointed as chairperson, with gender sensitivity, non-partisanship and geography taken into consideration.
With respect to qualification, officials shall be Liberians with “high moral character, recognized good judgment, objectivity and integrity; well equipped to analyze problems of law, administration, and public policy; with the minimum of age not less than forty (40) years; and must have a law degree, other professional discipline, experience relevant to the task to be performed.”
Further on requirements, an official of the Ombudsman shall not be involved in political party activities or publicly endorse, solicit funds for or make contributions to political parties or candidates for elective office; and shall not be a candidate for or hold any other elective or appointive public office.
Meanwhile, members of the Ombudsman shall hold office for two 3-year terms following confirmation by the Senate and appointment by the President, “and shall be removed from office by the President for nonfeasance; malfeasance; misfeasance; and criminal acts as prescribed under existing laws and regulations.”
In matters of concerning the law, the office of the Ombudsman shall have the power to conduct hearings in a quasi-judicial manner and make findings, give reasons and conclusions in matters filed before it, “while appeal from a decision of the office of the Ombudsman relative to violations of the Code of Conduct shall be immediately appealable to the relevant courts of Liberia.”
“No person who files a complaint or participate in any investigation or proceeding pursuant to Chapter 12.6 shall be subject to any penalties, sanctions or restrictions in connection with his or her employment or be denied any right, privilege or benefit because of such action. A person who alleges a violation… may bring a civil action for appropriate injunctive relief, actual damages, and punitive damages, which shall not exceed US$10,000 or its LRD equivalent. ”
The act was prepared by an Ad Hoc Committee on the Ombudsman under the membership of Senators Jewel Howard Taylor, Joseph N. Nagbe, Stephen H. Zargo, and Morris G. Saytumah.
It now goes to the House of Representatives for concurrence.