NEC Denies UP/ALP Petition -Mandates Hearing Officer to resume jurisdiction

The National Elections Commission though its Board of Commissioners yesterday, Tuesday, April 5, 2022 rose from its deliberation and gave rulings in the case of the Unity Party/All Liberia party versus the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) represented by the Liberty Party and the Alternative National Congress where it denied the UP/ALP seeking to dismiss the petition brought forth by the CPP and mandated that the hearing officer whom the commission said did not err in his past judgment to immediately resume jurisdiction and proceed as expeditiously as possible in keeping with law”.

Giving background of its ruling yesterday, NEC said Section 11.2 of the Civil Procedure Law provides that at the time of service of its responsive pleading, a party may move for judgment dismissing one or more claims for relief asserted against it. NEC said citing this law, Petitioners (UP/ALP) herein made an oral motion before the Hearing Officer, requesting him to dismiss Respondent’s complaint on jurisdictional grounds.

NEC further said the Hearing Officer heard the motion, denied it, and ordered the investigation proceeded with. Not satisfied, Petitioners went before the Board for an interlocutory review of the Hearing Officer’s decision from where after hearing from all parties came up with its ruling. Having heard from the parties, reviewed the records and the controlling law, this Board holds as follows:

In its ruling on the Petitioners’ subject matter argument, they Board said they noted that Article 79 of the Liberian Constitution requires each registered political party to file its constitution and rules with the National Elections Commission, and that the submitted constitution and rules must conform to the provisions of the Liberian  Constitution.

“With respect to the governing document that a Coalition files with, the NEC, Section 8.5 of the Elections law requires that an absolute majority of the executive members of each party (in the proposed coalition) must sign a resolution and submit same together with the terms and conditions of their Coalition to the NEC before the NEC may certificate the parties to operate as a Coalition. Once certificated, parties and their leaders or other natural persons may be cited to appear before the NEC in connection with any complaint cognizable before the NEC. For reliance, see Section 2.9 (w) (i) of the Elections Law.

“In the instant case, the Hearing Officer held that while the NEC will not give advisory opinion, he however took note of the Constitution and Statute applicable to elections which fall within the responsibilities of the NEC. A review of the CPP’s March 24, 2022 letter of complaint shows that Respondent questions, among others, the ability/qualification of Petitioners to field candidate(s) in election(s). With the NEC being the forum of first instance to review and pass on the ability/qualification of a party to participate in an election, we hold that the Hearing Officer did not err”, the first ruling said.

In the second ruling with respect to the contention as to whether Petitioners can, on their own, alter the parties in this matter, the Board said it answered the negative and “note that the Hearing Officer correctly addressed this during the second and third sittings of the hearing. We further say that if Petitioners wanted to challenge the ability of named individuals to act in the name of the CPP, they should have done so in their pre-trial motion”.

On its third ruling as it relates to Petitioners’ lis pendens argument, the Board said the principle of lis pendens holds that no party may maintain two actions in the courts of the Republic at the same time; for the same cause of action; and against the same party. “If two such actions are commenced at different times, the pendency of the former suit is a defence to the latter. More specifically, the Honorable Supreme Court, in the case Bitarv. Sidhu et al. 29 LLR (July 25, 1981), held that “to render an action dismissible for want of jurisdiction, there must be another action between the same parties involving the identical subject matter which is pending in another court within the Republic of Liberia”, and that a “party who invokes the doctrine of lis pendens must prove by relevant record the existence of another action between the same parties, involving the same subject that is pending in another court within the Republic of Liberia.”

The Board said it noted that the Petitioners in the instant case did not present any record/precept from the Monrovia City Court to support its lis pendens argument, stressing that taking administrative notice however of public information, it noted that there is a criminal case pending before the Monrovia City Magisterial Court captioned: Republic of Liberia by & thru All-Liberian Party by & thru its National Chairman, Theodore Momo of the City of Monrovia (Plaintiff) v. Alexander B. Cummings, Aloysius Toe and Daniel Naathan.

“By way of contrast, the parties before us are the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) versus the All-Liberian Party & the Unity Party. Clearly, the parties in the referenced action (before the Monrovia City Court) are not the same as those in the instant action before the NEC. Moreover, the two cause of actions are not identical, in that the matter before the Monrovia City Court is a criminal case, while this matter before the NEC is noncriminal, challenging the Petitioners’ ability/qualification to field candidate (s) in clections. Hence, we hold that the Hearing Officer did not err”, the third ruling said.

On the fourth and final ruling the Board said after reviewing the record, it further said that there is no merit to any of the remaining issues Petitioners present in this petition for judicial review. Accordingly, the Board affirmed the Hearing Officer’s disposition of those issues without further discussion.

“WHEREFORE AND IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, Petitioners’ petition is hereby denied; and, because time is of the essence, the Hearing Officer is hereby directed to immediately resume jurisdiction and proceed as expeditiously as possible in keeping with law”, the ruling concluded.

The verdict from NEC was signed by the full Board and included Madam Davidetta Browne Lasannah, Chairperson, P. Teplah Reeves, ESQ, Co-Chairperson, Boakai A. Dukuly, ESQ, Commissioner, Ernestine Morgan Awar, ESQ, Commissioner, Floyd Oxley Sayor, Commissioner, Barsee Leo Kpangbai and Josephine Kou Gaye, Commissioner.

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