28 February 2017

Liberia: 'NEC Should Axe Code of Conduct Clause'

Photo: Liberian Observer
Pundits say former Central Bank governor Mills Jones, who is seeking the presidency, is likely to be affected by the court's decision.

Governance Commission Recommends, regarding National Code of Conduct Part V, Sections 5.1 and 5.2

The Governance Commission (GC) has made a strong recommendation to the National Elections Commission (NEC) to declare the Code of Conduct's exclusion rule inapplicable.

The GC made reference to Part V Sections 5.1 and 5.2 of the Code of Conduct that seek to exclude from candidacy, high officials of the Executive Branch of government, who did not resign from their positions at least three years prior to the holding of elections.

The GC said its recommendation was made in view of the doubts about the constitutionality of the provision, as it is now under challenge and the disruptive effect its enforcement will have on the October 2017 elections, and recommended that "the provision should be considered inapplicable to the presidential and legislative elections in the same manner and spirit the 10-year constitutional provision was considered inapplicable to the 2005 and 2011 elections."

In 2009, the Executive Branch of Government submitted a bill - the Code of Conduct - to the Legislature for passage into law, prescribing the activities of public officials. The Code of Conduct, after languishing at the Capitol for nearly five years, was ratified by the lawmakers and signed by the President. It took effect as of 2014, and is referred to as the Code of Conduct 2014.

The GC's recommendation on the Code of Conduct was just one of several made to the government in its Annual Governance Report (2016), presented last week to the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The Code

The completion of the Code of Conduct raised a storm, because of its decision that government officials interested in contesting for public office should resign three years before the elections. It also received huge public commendations, citing provisions regarding the conduct of public officials, who many see flouting the laws.

The 3-year clause was challenged by some civil society organizations; but the Supreme Court could not hear the case, suggesting that those who were affected should rather come to court and make their case.

While the argument was on, former Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan announced his resignation, stating his decision was in line with the provisions of the Code of Conduct on the exclusion rule.

At the time, former Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia Dr. J. Mills Jones had toured the country providing to locals with access to finance to build their businesses in an arrangement that received public support. However, politicians denounced him, claiming he had political ambitions, seeing the exercise as an effort to win the people to his side.

Therefore, many political hawks saw Dr. Jones's passionate provision of financial access to the people as an undue advantage to endear himself to the people. However, sources said that providing access to loans to poor Liberians was part of the Central Bank's policy that was not explored to benefit the people during previous administrations.

The situation seemed to have been given a cold shoulder until the GC raised it and suggested that the portion that raised eyebrows should be declared 'inapplicable.'

The GC, in additional recommendations, said the NEC must align its process of certification of political candidates with decisions from the Supreme Court. The GC said early certification of candidates led to the filing of numerous writs of prohibitions and the exacerbation of tension, confusion and negative aspersions on the electoral system.

"The Supreme Court and the NEC would do well to ensure expeditious and properly aligned processes of the court ruling and NEC's certification," the GC said.

It suggested to the government that preparing for referendum on Constitution amendment propositions should be adopted by the Legislature before the end of the 2017 legislative session.

"The NEC will do well to begin the process of preparing for a referendum on the propositions, including the mobilization of financial and material support early in 2018, following the 2017 elections," it said.

It also recommended, among other things, that the NEC and the Legislature should note that while the Constitution is said to be ambiguous about the holding of municipal elections, it is clear about the requirement to hold chieftaincy elections, adding that the Constitutional grounding of Liberia's electoral democracy is incomplete as at now, without addressing electoral requirements at local levels of governance.

The GC suggested that the challenge should be joined by the NEC following the October polls.

Liberia

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