MONROVIA – Several political commentators and legislative experts say the passage into law of the new Code of Conduct for public officials, which is only pending the signature of President George Manneh Weah, could triggered mass resignations in Government by early October.
Already there is a concurrence by both the House of Representatives and the Senate on the new Code of Conduct which requests officials serving the government with political ambitions to relinquish their positions one year to the general election.
Sources close to the senate said the Upper Chamber on September 16, 2022, concurred with the House of Representatives to pass an Act to amend Section 5.2 and Section 10.2 of the 2014 Code of Conduct.
The joint decision by the lawmakers, if approved by the President of Liberia, will require several officials of the Weah-government to resign by Friday October 7, 2022, if they desire to contest or canvass for elected positions in the October 2023 elections.
Findings from The Analyst have revealed that the Act was passed on the last day of the Senate’s Special Session, and has received little public attention, even though it has grave implications for the country’s political process.
Some have wondered if the last minute or midnight passage of this law, without public scrutiny or debate, was not a clever attempt to sneak it through.
Some Political and legal observers who spoke to this paper said there are aspects of the new law that are wrong for many of them for which they believed should never have passed and should now be vetoed or held by the President of Liberia, Dr. George Manneh Weah.
He law states in part: “Any minister, deputy minister, assistant minister, director general, deputy director general, assistant director general, Superintendent, assistant Superintendent, and any other official of the Government of Liberia appointed by the President of Liberia pursuant to Article 56(a) of the Constitution, any managing director, deputy managing director, and assistant managing director of any corporation owned by the government of Liberia, any commissioner, deputy Commissioner, deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner of any Commission established by the legislature, and any other official of Government of Liberia who negotiates and executes contracts, procures goods and services and/or manages assets for and on behalf of the Government of Liberia, who desires to contest for an elective office within the Government of Liberia, shall resign his/her position at least one (1) year (i.e. 12 calendar months) before the date on which the election for the post for which he/she intends to contest.”
Some stakeholders who gave their expert opinions identified four major problems with the bill passed by the legislators which one of them called a ‘Nicodemic’ approach.
“The first problem is that the law calls for people to ‘resign their positions in order to be eligible to canvas or contest for elective offices,’” said Wallace Weetoh Sr, a public commentator.
He continued: “By requiring people to resign their positions to canvass, the law is putting restrictions on even officials and employees of the Government who just want to assist their preferred candidates by campaigning for them. This suggests that many officials of the Weah-led Government will not be allowed to campaign for President Weah’s re-election.”
A young female lawyer noted that the another wrong with the bill is that it covers too many people, some named and some unnamed, adding it means that even civil servants will have to resign.
“The Act says, ‘any other official of Government of Liberia who negotiates and executes contracts, procures goods and services and/or manages assets for and on behalf of the Government of Liberia, who desires to contest for an elective office within the Government of Liberia, shall resign his/her position at least one (1) year (i.e. 12 calendar months) before the date on which the election for the post for which he/she intends to contest.’
“When one considers all those who ‘negotiate and execute contracts, procure goods and services and/or manage assets for and on behalf of the Government of Liberia’, you are talking about a lot of employees. This includes Presidential appointees, non-presidential appointees and even civil servants. If people in this category are to resign, you are looking for a mass resignation from the Government.”
A Liberian political activist in Phoenix, Arizona, who posted his thoughts described the bill as “controversial and disturbing” and pointed at two concerns and highlighted the flaws that may make or mar the electoral process next year and beyond if at all the President signs it into law.
The legal mind who declined to be named in print said: “This law works against competition, which is important for our democratic system to work. For a long time now, sitting legislators have attempted to pass laws to prevent people from challenging them. These kinds of laws work against public interest because incumbent legislators will not be pushed to work harder and in the interest of their constituents, if they succeed in preventing many strong challengers from contesting against them.
“My second point is its timelines. Some think that to pass a law that will require someone to resign within one week and remain unemployed for one year prior to an election is too harsh. I am wondering how come the incumbent legislators will remain in their positions up to the election, but pass a law that requires their competitors to go unemployed for one year leading to the election. Of course, there is concern that any mass resignation now will cripple the Government, as it needs all its key officials to remain on their jobs and deliver for the President’s re-election. So, could this be a ploy to hamstring President Weah?”
While some proponents of the new law insist that it will prevent corruption as officials who preside over resources will use their positions to fund campaigns, those who oppose it wonder if people carry out corruption and use the proceeds for elections, does that make it any worse than if the corruption proceeds were used for non-campaign purposes?
“The point to be made is that corruption is wrong. Therefore, we must do all we can to ensure that people do not use their positions to take things that do not belong to them. If we do this, then it should not matter whether officials are contesting for office or not,” Saah Thompson Davies, a public high school teacher in Monrovia said this week.
Among the other salient components of the bill is that there shall be absolute compliance on the part of any person in the aforementioned category, as substantial compliance will not be allowed as was in the case of some officials in 2017, who benefited from the Supreme Court ruling of being in substantial compliance, even though they did not resign in time as stated in the 2014 Code of Conduct.
The amendment also empowers any person or organization to challenge before the National Elections Commission the eligibility of a person described in Section 2 of the law, who has not timely resigned his/her position in order to be eligible for an elective office and the burden shall be on the person who intends to contest for the elective office to prove that he/she has timely resigned.
By the implication of the bill on state actors in the electoral process, the National Elections Commission shall, on its own and not necessarily on the application of any other person or organization, reject the application of any person who falls in violation, and the burden shall be on the person to prove otherwise to the National Elections Commission.
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