The Supreme Court yesterday unanimously confirmed the National Elections Commission's (NEC) rejection of Abu Kamara to contest as a representative aspirant for Montserrado County Electoral District#15 in the October presidential and legislative elections.
NEC recently rejected Kamara's application to contest the pending elections on the grounds that he committed an egregious and flagrant violation of the Code of Conduct (CoC) by still serving as assistant minister, claiming he intends to use government resources to canvass and contest in the elections.
However, Kamara had contended that the NEC, without any legal basis and support consistent with the process, denied and rejected his application on grounds that he is prohibited from contesting for public office as outlined in the controversial CoC, admitting that he currently serves as assistant minister for administration at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.
In their unanimous opinion yesterday, the court declared that "since the decision of the NEC rejecting Kamara's application was a final result from that administrative forum, the available course to him (Kamara) was to come directly to the Supreme Court by regular appeal and not by prohibition. The alternative writ of prohibition issued is ordered quashed and the peremptory asked to be issued by the court is denied."
Before yesterday's decision, Justice in Chambers Philip A.Z. Banks issued an alternative writ against the NEC, directing the electoral body to partly halt the implementation of its action on Kamara, pending hearing by the entire five justices, on grounds that the matter was constitutional and needed to be determined by all of the justices.
Chief Justice Francis Korkpor who delivered the opinion of the court reiterated that they (justices) affirmed the interpretation given in the Serena Mapppy Polson case, by which public officials are covered by the CoC.
Madam Polson currently serves as superintendent of Bong County. She challenged the unconstitutionality of the CoC, based on which 3 of the justices, including Chief Justice Korkpor, voted that the code was constitutional and two other justices voted against.
"We take due note that the CoC Act was enacted and approved by March 31, 2014, and published into law on June 20, 2014, more than three years ahead to ensure presidential and legislative elections," the Chief Justice explained. "Kamara was appointed to the position of assistant minister for administration at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in March 2016, just one year, a position he currently occupies."
"This means that the code is applicable to Kamara, although the law was passed long before he was appointed to his current position, we hold that he was given notice of the inclusion of the position under the Act, after the interpretation of the CoC by the Supreme Court," Justice Korkpor indicated.
"The court declared that persons not specifically listed in Section 5.2 of the code was in fact intended to be included under the code by virtue of Article 56 (a) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia," the Chief Justice stated, "Thus as of the date of the court's opinion Kamara had due notice that the law applied to him."
"Kamara is in violation of the code as he is still retaining the position of assistant minister for administration, while at the same time, applying to contest an elective public office. Thus he is in continuing violation of the code," the Justice emphasized. Justice Korkpor said it was expected that as part of the rudiment of adherence to the rule of law, "every affected public official appointed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, including Kamara should have taken due note."
"Kamara failed or refused to take due note of the opinion handed down by the court, instead, he decided to flaunt our decision such that up to the date of the hearing of this case and even to the date of the judgment, he is still maintaining and holding onto the position to which he was appointed by the President, while at the same time, applying to the NEC to vie for elective public office," Korkpor said.
This action of remaining in his position, the Justice wondered, "is not only in violation of the code, but an utter affront to the decision of the court under the circumstance."
"We do not see the need to reverse the decision of the NEC, though it was made without due process, since the conduct amounts to an egregious violation of the code and we concur with the NEC's rejection and disqualification of Kamara from contesting an elective position in the 2017 elections," the chief justice noted.
According to Korkpor, the right to due process is a fundamental constitutional protection, "that no person can be deprived of that right by any agency of the government, whether of the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary or any other forum.
"Due process is therefore at the very core of our jurisprudence, we are not prepared to tolerate any departure from this long standing valuable principle which we have upheld in a long line of cases," Justice Korkpor vowed, "There is no evidence that NEC accorded due process of law. We have seen nothing in the records that indicate a hearing was conducted by the NEC, prior to the decision to reject Kamara."
"We see only that the chairman of the NEC signed onto an instrument which informed Kamara that his application had been denied because he had failed to meet the registration requirement laid in the code," Korkpor pointed out. "We held the NEC in error and in breach of the law by not according Kamara the due process."
The NEC, Korkpor explained, "is an independent administrative forum of record and that the proceedings held by that body are expected to be recorded with appropriate minutes being taken."
"We must state in no uncertain terms that henceforth, in all applications placed before the NEC by any aspirant or candidate for certification or qualification to contest any elective public office the NEC is required to conduct a hearing and that the aspirant is given the opportunity to explain any deficiency or perceived deficiency in his or her application to set the basis for a determination as to the penalty to be imposed, otherwise, the imposition of a penalty could cast doubts on the process before the NEC," he said.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will this week deliver its opinion (ruling) on whether or not the NEC's rejection of two vice presidential aspirants, Jeremiah Sulunteh of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) and Mr. Harrison Karnwea of the Liberty Party (LP), were constitutional.
Sulunteh is Liberia's former Ambassador to the United States, while Karnwea is former managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), both of whom NEC claimed were in violation of the CoC.