Town Trap Is Not for One Person: The Case of ‘Code of Conduct’

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By Duannah Siryon

The highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, on Friday, March 3, 2017 upheld the “Legislative Approved” controversial Code of Conduct Law, which was challenged by Bong County Superintendent Selena Polson-Mappy as “unconstitutional.”

One must understand that the ruling by the Supreme Court, if it should be enforced by Cllr. Chris Massaquoi’s established special Ombudsman Committee, there must be emphasis on those key languages in the document, which by far, affects most government officials in the coming presidential and representative elections.

I have come to realize, after digesting both the 1986 Constitution and the 2014 “legislated” Code of Conduct that there are words and phrases in such documents we must all consider critical.

Phrases like “government employees,” when taken into consideration, include those very people who drafted and approved the Code of Conduct. I am not a lawyer or a law student, neither do I profess to be one, notwithstanding, the “Interpretation” clause, Section 1.3 of the Code of Conduct, makes it clear the specific meaning of words and phrases used in the body of the COC. Maybe I am thinking otherwise, but my understanding is that an interpretation clause in a document provides an accurate description of how words or phrases must be construed by readers in a given document. If that’s the case, the 2014 “legislated” Code of Conduct of Liberia is no exception.

Questions that often bother my mind are whether the legislators, who voted to approve the Code of Conduct, actually read and understood the meaning of the very document’s contents. Or whether the COC was intentionally drafted knowing that most of our legislators will not carefully read and digest the contents before approving it? Did the drafter (Executive) and the approver (Legislators) ever consider the future benefits and loopholes of this broad based law? I doubt it! A testament of this is the recent Executive Order #83, which was quickly added as an amendment to the COC. In my mind, Executive Order # 83 is not only the piece that is missing in this critical document, which by all indications, has the propensity to destroy a person or group of people’s political ambitions, since the document was rashly approved by a two-thirds majority of legislators present. Why did the legislators, especially counting the number of lawmakers who voted in the affirmative, miss the piece which has to do with Executive Order #83?

Now, let’s scrutinize the various loopholes in the COC for which many are reading but are not carefully digesting. For instance, let’s look at the header of the COC, which states “AN ACT OF LEGISLATURE PRESCRIBING A NATIONAL CODE OF CONDUCT FOR ALL PUBLIC OFFICIALS AND EMPLOYEES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA.” If the Executive and Legislative branches are “PUBLIC OFFICIALS AND EMPLOYEES OF GOVERNMENT,” isn’t it fair to say that the Vice President of Liberia and the legislators are both employees of the Government of the Republic of Liberia? Maybe the header could have been written as follows: “AN ACT OF LEGISLATURE PRESCRIBING A NATIONAL CODE OF CONDUCT FOR IDENTIFIED PUBLIC OFFICIALS AND EMPLOYEES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA.” In this case, one has the option to specifically list those affected by the COC.

Next is PART I SECTION I.I of the COC, which quoted the 1986 Constitution (a & c) as follows:

“Whereas, Chapter 11, Article 90 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia stipulates the following provisions:

  1. a) No person, whether elected or appointed to any public office, shall engage in any other activity which shall be against public policy, or constitute conflict of interest.
  2. c) The Legislature shall, in pursuance of the above provision, 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.

Now, if the Constitution is the organic law of the land and its contents are interpreted by the highest arbitrator of the land, the Supreme Court of Liberia, of course all government officials, including the very Executive and Legislative branches, should not be exempted from this clause.

SECTION 1.3 of the COC emphasizes on the meanings and interpretations of words and phrases, as in the case of the very COC, which states that “In this Code, unless the context otherwise requires, the following words and phrases shall have the meaning(s) ascribed to them in this Section.” If the above interpretation is correct and must be enforced by the Chris Massaquoi committee, then we must consider the following Sections, which are also enshrined in the INTERPRETATION clause of the COC.

Section 1.3.7 Covered Executive Branch Official: means the President and designated staff of the Office of the President, and the Vice President and designated staff of the Office of the Vice President.

Section 1.3.8 Covered Legislative Branch Official: means a member of either House of the Legislature, any employee of, or any other individual functioning in the capacity as an employee in the Legislative Branch. This includes committee members, leadership staff, and administrative staff.

Section 1.3.9 Employee of Government: means a person working in Government, whose duty it is to render service under the direction of a Public Official or head of a department.

Section 1.3.10 Employer: means the Government of Liberia, any of its agencies and entities, and includes any contractor employed in the service of or on behalf of the Government.

Section 1.3.20 Public Official: means any elected or appointed person holding a public office, and having duties relating to the sovereign powers of Government.

If the Code of Conduct must be considered, if not repealed, the above Sections from the COC interpretation must be enforced across the board without prejudice.

Another area of the COC we must look at is PART II, which has to do with the APPLICATION OF THE CODE OF CONDUCT. In this part, Section 2.1 states that “The Code of Conduct is applicable to all Public Officials and Employees of the three branches of Government of Liberia, its parastatal bodies and any other agency/organization it deals with. Isn’t this section also clear on whom the COC affects?

Where the above Sections create doubt on the meaning of these words and phrases of the COC, is PART V of the COC, which discusses POLITICAL PARTICIPATION of “employees and officials” of the Government of the Republic of Liberia:

Part V Section 5.1: All Officials appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia shall not:

  1. a) engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices;
  2. b) use Government facilities, equipment or resources in support of partisan or political activities;
  3. c) serve on a campaign team of any political party, or the campaign of any independent candidate.

Part XX Sections 20.1 & 20.2 also discuss signatures for government employees entering or already in service. Section 20.2 states that “All Public Officials and Employees of Government already in the service of Government at the coming into force of this Code of Conduct shall be required to sign the Code.”

Therefore, for a document to be binding and enforceable, it has to be signed by all parties. In light of the above Sections and sub-titles of the COC, the following two questions must be considered by the special Ombudsman office established by the President: 1) Since the enactment of the COC, have all officials of government affixed their signatures to the COC at their various places of work and at what point in time did the signing take place? 2) What happens to officials of government who have yet to sign the COC since it enactment? 3) If officials are yet to affix their signatures on the COC document, who should be held responsible now?

How many of these important documents have our lawmakers not thoroughly read and digested? These are many other lackadaisical attitudes by most of our lawmakers that have resulted into many Bills being often amended after immediate passage.

WE LIBERIANS MUST PAY KEEN ATTENTION TO CONTENTS WE READ.

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