17 July 2017

Liberia: Code of Conduct - It Is Not Too Late to Change Course

The Code of Conduct debacle which has threatened to split the electoral process at the seams is not an issue that is impossible to fix. Political will is required, but not impossible.

This did not have to be complicated; unless, that is, that was the intent.

When a law such as the controversial Code of Conduct is enacted - aside from the lengthy consultations with stakeholders from every sector that it should involve - IT SHOULD NOT BE MADE RETROACTIVE.

What do we mean by that? We mean that it should not apply to government appointees that were ALREADY in office at the time the law was enacted. With hundreds more elections to come, there would have been ample opportunity to apply it.

But why the rush? What was the hurry, so much that without thoroughly weighing the impact of applying it immediately, it was enforced?

The rushed enforcement of the Code of Conduct, retroactively applicable to those already in appointed positions, makes it appear suspect. It appears to be a town trap that was set to catch a certain rat, but ended up catching possum, groundhog, deer, monkey and baboon!

Even the enforcement of said Code is apparently being done selectively. Government vehicles are still being used for campaign purposes, and ministers are still serving in party leadership positions. Who is really in charge of enforcing the Code of Conduct? The Ombudsman? The National Elections Commission? The President? Or the Supreme Court of Liberia?

We as a media institution that has seen countless elections turn ugly in the history of this nation, urge our national leadership not to play Russian Roulette with the peace and stability of this Republic.

We urge Liberians of every creed and ethnic background not to push for the Code of Conduct along the historical divisions of this country. If indeed we are happy with the Code of Conduct - it has already been enacted as law, let it not be applied retroactively.

The manipulation of historical divides, of the lawmaking process and of positions of power and influence is an extremely dangerous game to play at such a critical juncture in this nation's history.

We urge the appropriate authorities to render the Code of Conduct, if it must be applied, applicable only to the post-2017 election cycle and going forward, if it must be enforced.

We would further urge that the Code be reviewed by an independent body for fairness and balance, so that it is not interpreted as targeting certain individuals.

Generally speaking, however, the radical changing of laws prior to an election is not considered best practice. Some have even cited an ECOWAS statute that prohibits the changing of laws six months ahead of an election. The bottom line here, of course, is that Liberia is a democracy. Constitutionally speaking, guidelines already exist for a Liberian's eligibility to run for elected office; and our constitution does not prohibit past or present officials from running for office.

If anything, one's performance and experience as a public servant should serve as a litmus test for his or her fitness for said elected position; and in the final analysis, the electorate (the very voting public) will be the judge of that.

It should also be pointed out that the Liberian Constitution does not permit the passing of extra-constitutional codes and laws that contradict the body and language of the supreme law of the land. The Code of Conduct seems to fly directly in the face of the Liberian Constitution, placing infringements upon the rights of constitutionally eligible Liberians to run for elected office. In our view, that renders the Code of Conduct, as it currently stands, unconstitutional.

A code of conduct should address issues such as the use of public funds and vehicles for campaign purposes; not the already granted constitutional right to run for office.

Where does that put the Supreme Court of Liberia? On the wrong side of history, and responsible for the consequences.

There is still time to change course; to do the right thing. Where to, Liberia?


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