14 July 2017

Liberia: Karnwea's Hearing Exposes NEC

Photo: The New Dawn
The Supreme Court of Liberia.

Justices at the Supreme Court on Thursday 13, July, demanded evidence of a due process conducted by authorities at the National Elections Commission or NEC which led to the rejection of opposition Liberty Party or LP vice standard bearer Harrison Karnwea's nomination.

The court also raised eyebrows as to why the NEC Chairman Cllr. Jerome Kokoyah alone signed the rejection notice excluding the rest of the Commissioners; something the Justices noted is an error. Officials of the LP filed a motion before the Supreme Court on Monday July 10, requesting the superior court to reverse the decision of NEC rejection of the nomination application of their vice standard bearer Karnwea.

Karnwea's nomination was rejected on Friday July 7, by NEC on grounds that he felt short of the controversial Code of Conduct particularly Section 5 under political participation, which bars public officials from contesting for elected offices unless they had resigned two years prior to seeking office.

But officials of LP say the Code of Conduct is not applicable to Karnwea. Karnwea announced his resignation from the ruling Unity Party in February at a news conference where he also disclosed his move to the LP.

Few weeks later on March 9, he announced his resignation from the Forestry Development Authority or FDA and was subsequently announced as vice running mate of the LP on March 18.

At the hearing Thursday July 13, NEC officials said this squarely placed Karnwea in violation of the code of conduct. More besides lawyers representing NEC headed by Cllr. Musa Dean said in their briefs excerpts of which was read by Chief Justice Francis Kporkpor that Karnwea had abused his office prior to his resignation for political purposes.

But Justice Kporkpor and the rest of the Justices siting at the hearing on Thursday insisted that NEC provide the evidence which made the commission to arrive at such conclusion.

"What is the evidence to show that the appellant used public resources? Justice Philip Banks asked Cllr. Dean. Cllr. Dean said it was by inference. Justice Kabineh Ja'neh in pushing NEC further for evidence asked if the findings were a result of adjudication. Simply put what the Justices sought to establish at this point was if the due process of law was followed with Karnwea being allowed to appear before a constituted body to defend himself of the charges levied against him by NEC.

But Cllr. Dean argued that by Karnwea admitting on his nomination form that he did not resign two years prior to him (Karwea) being selected as a running mate to Cllr. Brumskine puts him in direct violation of the Code of Conduct.

"It's quasi-judicial and the Chair (NEC) has no right to hold that as a basis of rejection," Justice Ja'neh argues. Justice Ja'neh further asked if there were any other recommendation from a constituted body in addition to the nomination form.

Cllr, Dean in response to this said NEC lawyers were now advising NEC to constitute such a body, but maintained that Karnwea's rejection was on the basis of his own admission that he had work in government.

"Don't you think there should have been an investigation?" Justice Kporkpor asked. Cllr. Dean: "Yes, I submit that should have been." Justice Ja'neh listing all of the sanctions for violators of the Code of Conduct said:" Baring (a candidate from contesting) is the severest of all the sanctions."

"How do you determine a desire?" Justice Wolokollie asked. "Desire is subjective," Cllr. Dean replied. Cllr. Banks: "Since the passage of the Code of Conduct there have been numerous challenges and on March 3, 2017, the Supreme Court upheld that it was constitutional. Is it not possible that Karnwea was in respect of the law since he resigned 6-days after the Supreme Court upheld the code as a law?"

Here, Cllr. Dean insists that Karwea was still in violation. Banks also asked why the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners has been signing the rejection notices alone.

In response Cllr. Dean said traditionally, the chair speaks and act on behalf of NEC. But Justice Banks again asked if the chair had been acting in error because past documents had been signed by all commissioners.

Cllr. Dean acknowledges the need for other Commissioners to have signed but said systems were not in place as it relates to the Code of Conduct, especially to have due process and allow all the commissioners to sign on a rejection.

Earlier Justice Banks had asked lawyers representing the LP and karnwea whether it was Karnwea's desire to run for the LP VP or Political office. The lawyers responded by saying Karnwea could not have desire to be a vice running mate to Cllr. Charles Brumskine two years ago and that he only desire to have been after he was approached by the LP standard bearer.

Justice Ja'neh: "whatever definition (in respect to desire) is whether the client knows that this (Code of Conduct) is a law?" "It's a law but it's not applicable to co-appellant and as such the decision to reject him is erroneous and should be reversed," lawyers representing both Karnwea and Liberty Party said.

Inclosing, Chief Justice Kporkpor announced that the court had reserved ruling, he did not say when the ruling will be handed down but hearing into the appeal filed by the Alternative National Congress and its running mate Jeremaih Solunteh is scheduled for today.

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