13 June 2017

Liberia: Ombudsman Act Sails Through Legislature

The House of Representatives has concurred with the Senate to amend the Code of Conduct for the creation of the operational framework of the Office of the Ombudsman. The amendment is under scrutiny by the House of Representatives.

The draft law includes the amendment of 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.

On Tuesday, June 13, twenty (20) lawmakers voted for the passage of the Ombudsman Act to agree with the senators; Montserrado County District # 3 Representative Bill Tweahway was the only person who abstained.

The decision to amend the Code of Conduct was due to a report from the Joint Committee on Judiciary and Ways, Means, Finance, and Development Planning.

It may be recalled that on Tuesday, June 6, members of the House of Representatives voted for the Act to be sent to the Joint Committee on Judiciary and Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning to review and report

The amended Act seeks to empower 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 will 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 geographical balance."

With respect to qualification, officials will 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," the Code of Conduct says.

Also, an official of the Ombudsman will 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 appointed public office.

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 concerning the law, the office of the Ombudsman will 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 appealable to the relevant courts of Liberia."

"No person who files a complaint or participates 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 Code says.

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