K. Abdullai Kamara
Social media and community discussion groups have been abuzz with conversations and debates about the tough sounding decision of the Supreme Court of Liberia in declaring the Code of Conduct for Executive Branch officials and personnel constitutional. In a 3-2 decision, the Supreme Court of Liberia ruled that the Code of Conduct is constitutional and officials of government must abide by it.
With this decision, a number of concerns have been settled, and the decision has also unsettled a number of processes, disemboweled a degree of arrogance and is, to an extent, poised to disintegrate some “movements.” Also, the decision has laid bare a given degree of discrimination that has effectively become lawful and constitutional.
When the Code of Conduct was introduced about 2010, key issues we challenged then included the perception that public office holders are routinely expected to use their offices or their personal benefits. There should actually be other processes to prevent this from happening, without necessarily limiting citizens’ freedom of expression – specifically in regards to association and thought.
But since the Code of Conduct was finally signed into law by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday, May 12, 2014, little has been done to ensure compliance. There has also been widespread debates, leading to the flight to the Supreme Court…
Unfortunately, the democratic evolution in Liberia allows people to look as the rights of certain groups are routinely violated and abused. Observers too often do not care, once they are not at a disadvantage. Even intellectuals routinely ignore the warnings of the outspoken critic of Nazism, Martin Niemöller, in which he cared less when Jews were threatened because he was not Jew; ignored threats to trade unionists, gypsies, etc. because he also did not belong to those groups. And as Niemöller concludes, when they came for him, there was no one to come to his defense. So is the case with routine injustices. Civil society, political parties, especially opposition and other political actors, have been averse to laws and actions that limited others. Here was a law denying opportunities for many being passed, while political movements that continuously claim to be seeking better opportunities for citizens looking away. Even members of the legislature, with responsibilities to pass just laws, saw this law as an opportunity to eliminate potential opponents. That may have been accomplished.
Had such a law been in force in 2011, a number of current members of the legislature would never have been elected in the first. Here, they are presiding over the passage of such an injustice. Consider the following
– Alphonso Gaye – Grand Gedeh- Was a member of cabinet, up to his election;
Morris Saytumah- Bomi- Was a member of cabinet, up to his election;
George Tengbeh – Lofa- Was a County official, up to his election;
Milton Teahjay – Sinoe- Was a county official, up to his election;
Edward Dagoseh – Grand Cape Mount- Was a govt official, up to his election;
Without mistaking, we need a code of conduct for members of the legislature and the judiciary – to solidify ethics and professional conduct in Liberian governance. And indeed, the government must now act fast and appoint an Ombudsman to measure and enforce compliance.
Now, with the law passed and its constitutionality upheld by the Supreme Court, all Liberians are therefore obliged to abide by it. Without going into the details of all affected, the law has effectively addressed the following questions:
– As passed, the law was initially seen to be targeting the then Governor of the Central Bank, Joseph Mills Jones, who was being observed as preparing himself for a presidential run. This has been better proven with his leadership of a political party. In effect, he is seen as the first and main casualty. The law was passed more than two years before the elections. By respecting the law, he should have resigned around or before July 2015. By remaining in office up to the end of tenure in March 2016, he did not provide adequate time to abide by the law. We expect that the elections commission should disqualify him if his name is ever submitted as a candidate for whatsoever position in the 2017 elections. In the absence of this, anyone should be in the position to file a protest.
– By this law, the National Elections Commission should be in the position to inform the Unity Party that its Secretary General holds a senior Government post in violation of the Code of Conduct. As the NEC may not have the power to remove Nagbe as Minister of Information, it must reject him as Secretary General. Perhaps Nagbe may consider this more senior, and inform the NEC of his resignation as Minister of Information. Our emphasis is on this owing to the arrogant manner in which Nagbe had defied the public, amidst his flippant claims that he would NOT RESIGN either post.
Otherwise, there are literally tens of other potential candidates and government officials who are mixed up in code of conduct violations. Some are in positions that will already require resignations, while several others cannot be qualified as candidates in the pending elections.
This is a crucial step in the electoral process that obviously limits the number of choices. While the decision has put a snag in the process, it is about the first time in the working of our democracy, where citizens will see the effect of a court action in a more direct way affecting politics. This is an important point in our electoral and democratic process that will place potential candidates on line.
With the appointment of an Ombudsman – perhaps soon – we will be a step further in our governance system, whereby the arrogance associated with public office will be eliminated. The further impact of this will be office holders’ realization that they can be held up, and even punished, should they openly work in violation of the terms of their office. With this, more people will aspire to public positions more for service provision, as opposed to exploiting the trappings associated with power.
These are possibilities that guarantee a Better Liberia.
Potential Casualties from Supreme Court Recognition of Constitutionality of Code of Conduct
Name Position within last 3 years Conflict
1.Joseph Mills Jones Formerly, Central Bank Governor Candidate for President
2.Alexander Cummings Board Member, BWI Candidate for President
3.Jeremiah Sulunteh Formerly Ambassador to US Rumored V/Presidential Aspirant
4.Harrison Karnwea Managing Director Rumored V/Presidential Aspirant
5.Henrique Tokpa Minister of Internal Affairs Rumored V/Presidential Aspirant
6.Neto Lighe Minister of Labor Vice Chairman UP
7.Cole Bangalu Deputy Director, GSA Vice Chairman UP
8.Eugene Nagbe Minister of Information Secretary General/UP
9.Hanson Kiazolu Comptroller-General, RL Legislative Aspirant
10.Alfred Curtis City Mayor, Brewerville Legislative Aspirant
11.Augustus Zayzay Deputy Minister Legislative Aspirant
12.Varney Sirleaf Deputy Minister Legislative Aspirant
13.Nagbe Sloh Director-General/LINA Legislative Aspirant
14.Abu Kamara Assistant Minister Legislative Aspirant
15.Selena Polson Mappy Superintendent Legislative Aspirant
16.Romeo Quiah Superintendent Legislative Aspirant
17.Martin Kollah Deputy Director, CNDRA Legislative Aspirant
18.Adams Manobah Autonomous Commissioner Legislative Aspirant
19.Miller Catakaw Autonomous Commissioner Legislative Aspirant
20.Andrew Tehmeh Deputy Minister Legislative Aspirant
21.Dixon Seboe LRA Staff Legislative Aspirant
22.Norris Tweah Deputy Minister Legislative Aspirant
23.Varney Pusah NEC Official Legislative Aspirant
24.Maxwell Grigsby LRA Staff Legislative Aspirant