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Code of Conduct is Dead: Thanks to the Supreme Court of Liberia

By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh


I am back!

I took a well-deserved time off from writing and political punditry to briefly focus on self, which is necessary in these times to maintain my sanity.

A lot has happened since, and Liberians as usual are either speaking out in support of or against those decisions that could define the direction of Liberia for a long time.

From the unconscionable act of injecting ethnic politics and religion into the upcoming presidential and legislative elections, to the unprincipled flip-flop coming out of the Supreme Court of Liberia regarding the Code of Conduct law, are just too much to bear for a people trying to find their way out of misery to somewhere in their own country.

The Code of Conduct law is now dead; thanks to the Supreme Court of Liberia.

 As we know the national Code of Conduct law was enacted to weed out candidates who did not resign their appointed or “tenured” government employment on time, “three (3) years prior to the date of such public elections,” as noted in Article 56 (a).

Another section of the Code of Conduct law also states: “All officials appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia” to not “engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices, use Government facilities, equipment or resources in support of partisan or political activities or serve on a campaign team of any political party or the campaign of an independent candidate.”

In a 3-2 majority decision earlier this year, the highest court in the land upheld the national Code of Conduct law that was passed by the legislature and signed by President Sirleaf in 2014, which barred candidates that did not meet such requirements.

The justices argued at the time that “the act is not, in our, repugnant to or in conflict with any provision of the Constitution to warrant its declaration as being unconstitutional as contended by the petitioner.”

The same Supreme Court of Liberia that once argued convincingly in a 3-2 decision to uphold the Court of Conduct law months ago – in fact this year, shockingly made a 360-degree about-face reversing their own decision and reinstated a law they justices once claimed was not “in conflict with any provision of the Constitution to warrant its declaration as being unconstitutional.”

Why the flip-flop?

The court actually reacted to a complaint brought on by the Brumskine campaign in the disbarment of Mr. Brumskine’s running mate, Harrison Karnwea, Sr. who joined the vice-presidential race two months after he left his management post at the Forestry Development Authority.

According to the justices, Karnwea violated section 5.1 of the Code of Conduct law when he held a press conference on March 14, two days (March 12) after he resigned his post at the Forestry Development Authority.

Instead of upholding their previous decision to hold violator like Karnwea and other violators accountable for breaking the law, the court blamed the National Elections Commission (NEC) for not giving Karnwea due process.

“Due process is mandatory and must be accepted by all legal institutions and it’s a requirement,” justice Philip A. Z. Banks, III said.

The ruling from the court certainly opened a floodgate of legislative and presidential candidates like Karnwea who are now emboldened to run for elected office, which is good and bad for the country’s fledgling democracy.

The ruling also left Liberians divided on all fronts because the national elections are less than three months away.

With this decision reverberating in Liberia and across the ocean with Diaspora Liberians, how can anyone have confidence in Liberia and the Supreme Court of Liberia knowing that decisions from the justices can change at any time whenever the violent winds from the nearby Atlantic Ocean blow their way?

These Liberians believe that the Code of Conduct law (before this decision) was the settled law of the land that needed to be respected and implemented.

With all the public relations nightmare that accompanied the decision, the ruling gives every Liberian the opportunity to run for office in the upcoming elections without having to feel disappointed, unimportant and left out of the democratic process because of some Code of Conduct law.

From a negative perspective, however, the Supreme Court of Liberia crystallized a long-held belief that it is not neutral and independent; but a weak and corrupt institution that is easily manipulated by the politically connected and powerful.

It is clear that Mr. Karnwea violated the Code of Conduct by allowing his opportunistic and naked political ambitions to becloud his judgment.

 In the eyes of many, the Supreme Court of Liberia let the nation and the Liberian people down when it hid behind a manufactured ‘due process’ clause to kill what was once the settled law of the land.



Category: Editorial, News Headlines

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