The Supreme Court of Liberia has finally cleared Harrison Karnwea to contest this year’s elections as Vice Standard Bearer on the ticket of Liberty Party.
In its ruling Thursday read by Associate Justice Philip Banks, the court said having resigned from the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) following the ruling in Selena Mappy-Polson case, Karnwea did not commit act of an egregious nature against the Code of Conduct to warrant the maximum penalty of disqualification prescribed for egregious conduct.
Justice Banks said the National Elections failed to provide due process to Karnwea in keeping with the law.
However, the High Court mandated NEC to give Karnwea due process within 48 hours and imposed a fine on him for violating the Code of Conduct but should not be barred.
Justice Banks pointed out that the rejection of Karnwea was not done by the Board of Commissioners of NEC as required but rather by Chairman Jerome Korkoyah alone.
“That the decision of Appellee National Elections Commission rejection of the application of co-appellant Harrison S. Karnwea, Sr., to contest the office of vice president in the ensuing October 2017 elections and barring him from any such contest of the aforesaid elective public office is hereby reversed,” the court ruled.
Justice Banks said “that the standard laid herein, being that where an applicant has resigned his position prior to filing an application before the National Elections Commission to contest an elective public office, and thereby showing substantial compliance with the Code, as of the date of the decision of this Court in the Polson case, the violation cannot be considered egregious and that the National Elections Commission shall apply only the applicable penalty laid in the Code, short of disbandment or disqualification.”
Recently, the electoral body rejected Karnwea’s nomination to contest the upcoming presidential and representative elections as Vice Standard Bearer on the ticket of Liberty Party because he was said to be in violation of the Code of Conduct, which calls for the resignation of appointed officials two years prior to the holding of elections.
Days following his rejection, Liberty Party filed a Bill of Exception to the Supreme Court claiming that its Vice Standard Bearer did not violate the Code of Conduct.
According to Liberty Party, Mr. Karnwea resigned as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) on March 9, 2017.
Lawyers representing Liberty Party argued that Mr. Karnwea could not resign two years prior to the elections because he did not desire to contest; instead, he was picked by its Standard Bearer Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine as running mate; therefore, the Code of Conduct is not applicable.
In the Bill of Exception, the party contended that it was impossible for Mr. Karnwea to have known that he was going to be picked by Cllr. Brumskine as running mate.
In their response, the legal team for NEC said Mr. Karnwea engaged in political activities while serving as Managing Director of the FDA.
This, NEC said, indicates that Karnwea used government’s facilities, equipment and/or resources in support of the party or political activities prior to his resignation from the Unity Party.
NEC argues that the resignation of Karnwea from the Unity Party and joining the Liberty Party gives him an “obvious under advantage over other candidates, which he intends to employ for personal electoral lead.”
The Commission further argued that Karnwea should not be rewarded for what it refers to as ‘egregious violation’ of the Code of Conduct by allowing him to contest.
The National Elections Commission’s legal Team led by Cllr. Musa Dean contended that Karnwea violated Part V, Section 5.1 of the Code of Conduct which states that: “All officials appointed by the president of the Republic of Liberia shall not (a) engage in political activities, canvas or contest for electoral offices ;(b) use Government facilities , equipment or resources in support of partisan or political activities; (c) serve on a campaign team of any political party, or the campaign of any independent candidate.’’