Liberia: S/Court Declines to Stop Brownie Samukai's Bid

17 November 2020

Liberia's Supreme Court has rejected a petition seeking to overturn the National Elections Commission (NEC's) decision to allow former Defense Minister J. Brownie J. Samukai to contest in the 2020 senatorial election after a lower court found him guilty of misuse of public money, theft of property and criminal conspiracy.

Mr. Samukai and two other Defense Ministry officials were convicted at the Criminal Court "C" in April this year for allegedly misusing funds generated through deducting the salaries of officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) for saving into a compulsory retirement funds account established in 2009.

Criminal Court "C" Judge YamieQuiquiGbeisay sentenced Samukai and his deputy Joseph P. Johnson to two years suspended imprisonment, provided that they restitute the whole or substantial amount of the judgment sum within six months and stipulate restitution of the balance within 12 months.

Further, Judge Gbeisay sentenced the third defendant James NyumahDorkor to a suspended six months imprisonment, provided that he resitutes his share of the judgment sum in whole or in substantial part in six months and file a stipulation to pay the balance in 12 months.

Announcing the sentences Thursday, 23 April, Judge Gbeisay recalled that the court, following a regular trial, adjudged all the three defendants guilty of the crimes of misuse of public money, a felony of the first degree, theft of property for over a million USD, a felony of the second degree and criminal conspiracy.

While appeal on this matter was before the Supreme Court, a group called Consortium of Lofa Citizens petitioned the NEC to deny Samukai's bid to contest the senatorial election in Lofa County on the basis of his conviction in a criminal trial. However the NEC ruled that the group's complaint had no merit and therefore denied the request to bar Mr. Samukai from contesting.

Unhappy that the NEC would take a decision to qualify Samukai to contest the 8 December elections, the group sought the Supreme Court's intervention, but also suffered a defeat before the nation's highest court in a ruling handed Tuesday, 17 November.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rules that the NEC is an autonomous regulatory body of the government of Liberia charged with the responsibility to conduct public elections here.

In consonance with that responsibility, the Court notes that the NEC has the further responsibility to develop regulations, guidelines and procedures governing processes leading to elections.

It notes that such regulations, guidelines and procedures, if not in conflict with the Constitution or statutes of Liberia, are binding and carry the force and effect of law. The Supreme Court rules further that the Elections Law makes no provision for pre-election complaints, challenges and appeals.

Thus, it notes, pursuant to the authority of the NEC to develop regulations, guidelines and procedures governing processes leading to elections, the NEC promulgated the regulation on candidate nomination which provides that a "challenger or the challenged aspirant/candidate" may appeal a decision from the Board of Commissioners of the NEC to the Supreme Court within two days of the decision.

The Court continues that the provision of the Elections Law directing that an appeal be taken to the Supreme Court in seven days apply to post - elections challenges and not pre - election challenges to a candidate nomination as in the instant case.

The Supreme Court adds that the failure of the group to perfect their appeal within two days in keeping with the 2020 Candidate Nomination Procedures promulgated by the NEC is a proper ground for the dismissal of the appeal.

"Wherefore and in view of the foregoing the ruling of the Board of Commissioners of the NEC dismissing the appellants' appeal is affirmed," the Supreme Court rules, ordering the clerk to send a mandate to the NEC to proceed and enforce its ruling from which the appeal emanated.

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