In Liberty Party Case:  Supreme Court Rules Bility Right 

MONROVIA – After a protracted period of internal wrangling within the Liberty Party, the Supreme Court of Liberia on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 made a determination on the legitimacy of the leadership of Mr. Musa Hassan Bility, National Chairman of the party and on the process of the submission of the constitution of the party at the National Elections Commission (NEC) as per the litigation filed by Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence, Emmanuel Azango and others against Bility and others where the court said it devolved upon the Court to resort to the Liberty Party’s 2015 Constitution which was used to convene the December 2021 Convention in Gbarnga, Bong County”  to delegate the chairmanship and Secretary General responsibilities to Mr. Bility and another partisan respectively, considering that there is no clear guidelines or rules providing as to who is authorized to submit an amended political party constitution to the NEC.

The Chief Justice and Justices of the nation’s highest court and final arbiter of justice, sitting on its full Bench, agreed that the Chairman and the Secretary General for the party were not in error to have submitted the amended Constitution of the party to the National Elections Commission.

The responsibility of chairmanship was conferred upon Mr. Bility at the December 2021 Gbarnga Convention of the party, the Court reasoned, and considering that the national chairman shall be the chief administrative officer of the party and shall coordinate all activities of the party under the supervision and direction of the standard bearer or the political leader, Mr. Bility and the party’s secretary general were right in submitting the amended constitution to the NEC.

In reviewing the case, “The National Election Commission, Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence and Emmanuel Azango of the city of Monrovia, Republic of Liberia -Appellant Versus Musa Hassan Bility and others of the Liberty Party (LP) of the City of Monrovia, Montserrado County, Republic of Liberia – Appellee” for a Certiorari, the Supreme Court indicated that there are two salient issues for the documentation of the case which firstly include “whether or not the national chairman and the Secretary General of a political party have the authority to submit a political party’s constitution and/or its amendment to the National Elections Commission.”

The second issue, the court said, concerned “Whether or not, the National Elections Commission has jurisdiction to determine issues or inference of fraud within a political party’s constitution, or make declarations regarding alteration or illegality of a political parties’ constitution”.

Addressing both issues in an orderly manner,  beginning with whether or not the national chairman and the Secretary General of a political party have the authority to submit a political party’s constitution and/or its amendment to the National Elections Commission, the Court maintained that the Appellant Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence contended amongst other things that pursuant to the authority granted the political leader under the 2015 Constitution of the Liberty Party she convened and presided over a special convention held in Gbarnga, Bong County, on January 23, 2021.

Senator Lawrence also contended that after the adjournment of this special convention, Partisan Emmanuel Azango filed a complaint to the political leader and chairman of the special convention, stating that the entire electoral process was poked and riddled by constitutional violations and procedural breaches, citing articles V, VI, and XII of the 2015 constitution of Liberty Party under which the convention was held.

The appellants contended that the political leader requested for the report of the special convention including the recently adopted constitution for review, approval and onward submission to the National Elections Commission(NEC) in keeping with Chapter III Section 34d of the NEC’s regulations and guidelines( 2017) relating to political parties and independent candidates which requires that the report of a national convention is to be submitted by the Chairperson of the convention, in this case, it was the political leader of the Liberty Party, Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence that chaired the convention.

The appellants alleged that it was later learned the 2021 constitution had been signed, notarized, irregularly and unlawfully submitted by Musa Hassan Bility, who was ‘elected’ National Chairman; that in violation of said regulation and rules of the NEC, Musa Bility notarized and submitted an altered constitution with provisions different from what was deliberated upon and approved by the January 23, 2021 special convention.

The appellant, Senator Lawrence, further contended that NEC, being the statutory regulator of all political parties, and being duly represented at the January 2021 Special convention, was under legal duty and obligation to reject an instrument that was improperly and irregularly submitted to it by unauthorized individuals as prescribed by the Liberty Party’s regulations and guidelines; especially so that NEC attended LP’s January 21, special convention by and through its authorized representative. Predicated on the above contention, the appellants demanded the NEC to return the illegal and altered and have the same replaced.

In reaction to these counts, the appellees on the other hand asserted that as National Chairman and Secretary General of Liberty Party, duly inducted into office commenced the performance of their respective duties and responsibilities in keeping with the constitution of the Liberty Party, where within the ambit of the new elections law of Liberia and the party’s constitution they submitted the Liberty Party’s amended constitution to the NEC.

The appellees, Mr. Bility and his Secretary General of the Liberty Party further contended that as administrators of the party, they have the authority to direct the daily affairs of the party’s offices and make decisions in the interest of the party; that in order to operationalize and make effective the amended constitution of the party, they were under the legal duty to deposit the amended constitution with the NEC as required by law, and so they did period. Therefore, appellees considered their action legal and in compliance with the party’s constitution.

To properly address the contentions of the parties, the Supreme Court took recourse to relevant portion of the Liberty Party’s Constitution of 2015 and its amendment of 2021, Article VI of the constitution (2015) of the Liberty Party, pointing out that from the careful perusal and reading of the above provision of the constitution of the Liberty Party, it is unambiguously clear that all administrative matters are handled by the Chairman of the party.

“The Chairman, among other things, has the authority to run the day-to-day affairs of the party; to direct and coordinate the affairs of the party in collaboration with NEC,” the court maintained.

“This court avers that when officers –elect are inducted into office, it gives them the leverage, power and authority to perform all duties and responsibilities as it pertains to that office, pointing out, “As a matter of law nothing stopples or hinders the performance of legal duties and responsibilities when one is inducted into office and except otherwise provided by law.”

The court accentuated that even though the processes and procedures leading to the special convention, election of the appellees and other related issues are being questioned by the appellants which also formed the basis of the appellants’ complaints to the hearing officer of the NEC in the absence of the judicial determination of the legality of the special convention, the legality and illegality of the election results, the appellees remain in their respective positions and whatever action(s) taken by them are considered legal until otherwise.

Consequently, the court emphasized that it is important to note that section 3.4(D) of the new elections law which the appellants relied upon in questioning the appellees authority to submit the 2021 amended constitution of the Liberty Party to NEC and referenced by the appellants’ counsel during argument before this court, states, in Section (a) that within ten (10) days following the convention, a political party shall submit to the Commission a list of the national and local officials including, those of the national executive committee indication the political subdivision that each of them represents. Said submission shall be under the signatures of both the chairperson and the secretary general of the convention committee.

“This provision of the elections law supersedes and supplants all other political party laws that run contrary thereto. This means that constitutions and regulations of political parties must be in consonance with the provision of the New Election Law, especially relating to the submission to the commission of list of their national and local officials including those of the national executive committee, indicating the political subdivision that each of them represents after its conventions,” the Court said.

“This court says that this is a mandatory requirement that all political parties must take cognizance of and comply with. The law further emphasizes that submissions must be done under the signatures of both chairperson and secretary general of the convention committee,” according to the court, adding considering the facts and circumstances in this case, the instrument which is the subject of these controversies is the Liberty Party “Amended Constitution” and not the list of national and local officials, including those of the national executive committee indicating the political subdivision that each of them represents. So, this provision of the law is not applicable to this case.

On the issue of whether or not the NEC has jurisdiction to determine issues or inference of fraud within a political party constitution or make declaration regarding alteration and or illegality or a political party constitution, the Supreme Court rules that the power to declare a writing illegal or otherwise is a judicial function solely and exclusively vested with our courts of records. Neither the political branches of the government nor any other authority including administrative agencies such as the NEC can exercise judicial function to declare a document valid or invalid” in keeping with the civil procedure law revised code 1: 43.1 and 1:43.1

“Considering all that has been said, and also restating that this court is not under obligation to pass on all issues raised by the parties, we hold that the NEC lacks the power and authority to investigate the complaint which partakes of issues or inference or fraud relating to tampering doctoring and /or altering legal instrument(s) or make declaration regarding its illegality as in this case, the LP’s constitution. We further hold that the Board of Commissioners of the NEC decision in this case being final, res judicata will certainly lie.

“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the alternative Writ of Certiorari is sustained and peremptory writ orders issued. The clerk of this court is hereby ordered to send a mandate to resume jurisdiction and proceed in keeping with this judgment. And it is hereby so ordered”, part of the ruling said.

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