By David K. Dahn
Let it be made immediately obvious that during this electioneering period we all must remain assertive in our thoughts but non-abrasive in our actions. The sobering message being sent out there is that respect for the rule of law in any country by everybody and the maintenance of peace must take place in parallel.
From the security standpoint, when public confidence in the judiciary seems to perceptively be at the verge of eroding, it is worrisome that lawlessness becomes the recourse for self-pacification. I heard and read what was, without an interpretation, the overt expression of disappointment beyond measure, regarding the ruling of the Supreme Court, particularly in the case involving Honorable Harrison Karnwea. From the court of public opinion, that Honorable Karnwea was in substantial compliance with the Code of Conduct(CoC) and that his action (not to resign within the period of two or three years as required by CoC) was a non-egregious violation, reflected a crystallized rationalization for tested disrespect for the rule of law. The justification, as proffered by the public opinion from sundry quarters rest on the fundamental question: “Can a court render an accused guilty and yet he does not deserve a punishment from the court?” This brings me to the elementary argument of why punishment is instituted. I recollect many years back from my civics class the voice of my teacher resonating to me that “punishment is intended to discourage undesirable act”. The flashy un-paradox antithesis to this statement, in my settled consideration, is that when we fail to punish, we encourage undesirable acts.
Ranging across public opinions, I thought to mull through the following from a wide range of comments which I really cherry picked for the purpose of this articulation.
“The judgement and attitude of the Supreme Court have undermined the role of the Code of Conduct,” asserts Senate Foreign Affairs Chairman, H. Dan Morais, Senator for Maryland County (Daily Observer Vol.17 No.140 Friday, July 28, 2017).
Nimba County District # 7 Representative Worlea-Saywah Dunah recently described rulings by the Supreme Court of Liberia as a setback for the rule of law in the country. The House’s Judicial Committee chair was fast to indicate that the High Court had ruled twice on the Code of Conduct; that the law is valid and constitutional, adding “it is shocking for the Court to have ruled in contrast to the very law it said was constitutional.” (Focus Vol.6 No.134, Friday, July 28, 2017).
As for the Human Rights Lawyer, Cllr Tiawon Gongloe, his comments were simple, “we cannot disagree with the ruling of the Supreme Court but you can express your opinion on its verdict. In this case, I am disappointed….”(Phoned in Conversation, ELBC Bumper Show, Wednesday July19, 2017).
In its editorial comments, titled “Supreme Court Defend Your Integrity,” the Daily Observer writes inter alia, “If not the first in Liberian history, this is the first time the National Legislature has planned making use of provision in the 1986 Constitution to impeach the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices. Moreover, despite reports of corrupt practices in courts across the country, there has been no day ordinary people will criticize or say anything that will ridicule the supreme Court. Now that such unusual talks and perceptions are arising at this critical time of election in our country, we feel it is about time that the High Court manages its reputation and integrity to continually be seen as an impartial and independent body with stake in politics.” (Daily Observer Vol.17 No.140, Friday, July 28, 2017).
From evidence based observation, when a court renders a verdict that favors a party litigant, ‘high fives and thumbs up’ are given to the court. We at times melodiously hear the old time Sunday School rhythm ‘My Lord has done it again….” On the contrast, when the opposite occurs (when adjudged guilty) it becomes “a sad day in the history of the judicial system of the country, the judge is perceived to have rendered error of judgement and the judge is viewed also as a bribe taker, etc.” Why are all these discernment regarding the court’s ruling so alarming at this point? The answer is found in one word: ‘election.’ My attempt at this point is not to validate the rightfulness or defectiveness in the hypothesis of others regarding their perception on judicial outcomes at this time in our country. Instead, my attempt is to find a peace dividend out of our political or partisan leanings as we engage each other during this short period of electioneering. I call it short because Liberia exists over 170 years as a sovereign state and the election period runs actively for about 70 days (from the beginning of campaign to the casting of ballots). Can we afford to break the peace we have so laboriously worked for over the faded years? Can we allow a period of 70 days to break the friendship we have built over the years? Can we allow the joy of belonging to a nation slip away for just an event in our national history? Is it not foolhardy or far from the wisdom of reasoning that in a race of twenty, only one will sit at the apex of what I call “the political pyramid”? Liberia will remain Liberia in the presence of any winner and more so, forgive me if I may become a momentary naysayer, Liberia will still remain Liberia even if all twenty presidential contenders are eliminated today by ‘force majeure.’
Over the years I strongly believe, as a united people, we stood together in transforming conflict in our land, intermittently prevented potentially violent conflict along the way and rebuilt peace and confidence among our people who suffered humiliation due to our intrastate war and the deadly Ebola virus. During this election period let us all, despite our political differences, extend the message of peaceful coexistence to schools, workplaces, marketplaces, to intellectual fora, and newsrooms, to households, playgrounds, and to places of worship. So, the daunting task before each of us during this short politically charged period is to unite our strength of nationhood in order to make peace a practical reality for the children of this and future generations. To achieve this, we must be tolerant to each other, obey the guiding rules of the game and stay in our endearing space of political ideology.