17 November 2017

Liberia: Chief Justice Warns NEC to Speedily Forward Elections Cases Intended for High Court

Photo: FrontPage Africa
Justices of Liberia's supreme court

Monrovia — As complaints of electoral fraud and irregularities filed before the National Elections Commission (NEC) by the Liberty Party (LP) are being investigated, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, Thursday, November 16, warned the elections body to speedily forward election cases intended for the high court to it for determination.

"You see five of us sitting on this bench we can hear 10 election cases in a two-day period and make determinations. Election cases should be taken seriously by NEC." - Chief Justice Korkpor

Because of the dispute, the run-off Presidential Election, which had been slated initially for November 7, 2017 was paused by the Supreme Court until the LP's complaints are heard and disposed off by NEC.

Chief Justice Korkpor's warning to the NEC comes amid growing report of over 50 cases of un-heard complaints pending before that body from the October Presidential and Legislative polls hereby hindering the run-off election.

"You see five of us sitting on this bench, we can hear 10 election cases in a two-day period and make determinations."

"Election cases should be taken seriously by NEC," said Chief Justice Korkpor, Thursday during hearing into the Bill of Information filed before the high court by the legal counsels of the ruling Unity Party (UP).

In the Bill of Information, Cllr. Benedict Sannoh, asked the high court to prevail on NEC to surrender documents they had subpoenaed from NEC.

Cllr Sannoh named the documents as the October polls voting rolls, investigative report of NEC Presiding Officer of Nimba County District #3 and that of the Police Investigative report of Amos Seeboe a former staff from the office of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was allegedly caught with a voter registration card machine.

"Your honor, we have subpoenaed these documents from NEC but the hearing officer had ruled in part therefore it has become difficult for us to proceed with this case because the documents requested for are not yet available," said Cllr. Sannoh.

He argued: "The NEC is the same body hearing the complaint and at the same time investigating itself, to us it is unfair your honor."

Cllr. Sannoh said the NEC has consistently told them they were acting expeditiously following the opinion by the Supreme Court.

Reacting to the accusation, NEC lead lawyer, Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, accused UP lawyers of not cooperating with NEC in the process, as they are not definite or specific to the document that they need.

"Investigation into the matter is continuing ruling into the matter has been done everything that they want in the confine of the law will be given to them," said Cllr. Dean.

He accused the Unity Party of employing delay tactics. "Every time we want go forward they will be filing motions like it's a court, which is delaying the process and they are crying more than the bereaved."

Associate Justice Philip A.Z Banks III said the hearing before NEC should be void of technicality because the country relies on them.

When the Justices of the Supreme Court asked Cllr. Dean on the number of cases heard so far and the number of cases before the Commission, he could not answer saying "Your honor not to my knowledge but we are expeditiously working to reduce the docket."

The NEC lawyer also conceded at the Supreme Court of Liberia to reneging on giving the governing Unity Party (UP) legal instruments requested by the party through its lawyers in Liberty Party (LP) allegations of electoral fraud complaint.

The Bill of Information of the UP also complained of the delay by the Board of Commissioners of NEC to give its ruling on their appeal something they described as unduly delaying the hearing of the case before the chief Dispute hearing officer, which is contrary to and against the orders of the Supreme Court that all elections disputes pending before the NEC should be expeditiously disposed of.

But Cllr. Dean said the ruling was given early Thursday morning by the NEC Board of Commissioners in the absence of the lead lawyers of UP.

He promised that NEC will complete election cases within 30 days as provided by the constitution.

Intimidation

Cllr. Dean said the hearing officers are not magistrates and are sometimes intimidated by lawyers something he attributed to the delay of the cases.

Chief Justice Korkpor urged NEC to take charge of their hearing and avoid delay tactics in the pursuing election.

He alleged that UP lawyers are on fishing exhibition and refused to be specific as to which polling center they alleged fraud.

Closing NEC arguments, Cllr. Alexander Zoe prayed the high court to deny the Bill of Information and order NEC to resume jurisdiction over the hearing.

Wrong Caption

Cllr. Oswald Tweh, representing the Liberty Party, should have been situated as informant but was seated as respondent (defendant) at the hearing on Thursday.

The case was captioned Joseph Nyumah Boakai and James Emmanuel Nuquay Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates at the October 10, 2017 Elections and the Unity Party, all of Liberia - informants vs National Elections Commission represented by Hon. Jerome Korkoya, Chairman, of the Monrovia, Liberia - 1st Respondent and Charles Walker Brumskine and Harrison S. Karnwea, Presidential and vice Presidential candidates at October 10, 2017 elections, all Representative candidates of Liberty Party and the Liberty party - 2nd Respondents.

Cllr. Sannoh conceded that the caption was wrong, as Cllr. Tweh asked the court to declare the Bill of Information as moot.

Liberty Party Vice Presidential candidate, Mr. Harrison Karnwea, said NEC should avoid hiding public documents; adding, "Why are they not unveiling everything we asked for."

"We will use the remedy of the law; we will come back if they continue to delay. It is not the parties that are delaying but NEC, and NEC has something to hide if they don't unveil the documents we want, we are specific of what we want but they know what they are on."

UP Lawyer Flops

During the hearing, one of the lawyers representing the Unity Party flopped as his argument was far drafted from the Bill of Information filed before the court.

Cllr. Lavela Supuwood was guided on his party's Bill of Information twice by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh reminded him to argue on what he filed than arguing an issue far from what is before the high court.

Supuwood was out of order according to the high court so he was asked to take his srat, "Cllr. Supuwood please take your seat you aren't arguing what you brought before us but you are arguing the merit of the case, so please go and sit down."

A statement which resulted to Cllr. Benedict Sannoh, a compliment lawyer, nodding his head in disbelief and the entire court was grumbling on his poor performance.

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