Liberia’s Supreme Court has reversed the National Elections Commission’s or NEC’s decision rejecting the vice presidential bid of opposition Liberty Party (LP) aspirant Mr. Harrison Karnwea on grounds that his “violation of the Code was not egregious in nature”.
“...[As] of the date of the decision of this Court in the [Selena Mappy -] Polson case, the violation not be considered egregious and that the National Elections Commission shall apply only the applicable penalty laid in the Code, short of disbarment or disqualification”, Associate Justice Phillip A. Z. Banks said in the Supreme Court Opinion Thursday, 20 July.
The NEC rejected Mr. Karnwea’s vice presidential bid on grounds that he was in violation of the Code of Conduct which instructs all presidential appointees to resign their posts two years ahead of elections if they have desires to contest in such elections.
“... [As] appeared on forms filled by him and filled with the National Elections Commission, that he had not resigned said position in accordance with the two years’ timeline prior to the ensuing October 2017 elections prescribed by the Code, he was in violation of the Code”, the Supreme Court admits.
In spite of determining that Mr. Karnwea still held onto his appointed job as Managing Director at the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) this year before later resigning, the Supreme Court says it finds him to have substantially complied with the Code of Conduct in resigning the post “shortly following the decision of the Supreme Court in the case Selena Mappy - Polson v. Republic of Liberia”.
But Liberia’s former Solicitor General and veteran lawyer Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe has “respectfully disagreed” with the nation’s highest Court, arguing that it did not have to act on the Code of Conduct before the public could take note of the instrument once it was passed by the Legislature in 2014 and printed into Hand Bill, it had already been recognized as a law.
“Once a law is passed, everyone in this Country is put on notice. So from 2014, I remembered it was published into Hand Bill and became law, everyone in this country was put on notice”, Cllr. Gongloe says.
“So even without the Polson case, the Elections Commission was right to reject anyone who did not comply with the law … The Opinion of today has actually changed that, that it’s only when there is egregious violation … consistent with the Abu Kamara case”, Cllr. Gongloe adds.
He contends that it is the Supreme Court that brought the world “egregious” in the Polson case, noting that the statute just said that anyone who wants to contest must resign two years prior to the holding of elections.
He warns that this Opinion of the Court is going to have wide ranging implication in terms of adhering to strict rules passed by the Legislature due to “some extrapolation” that he claims to see here.
He suggests that it would have been a better position if the Supreme had said the line is drawn, if you didn’t resign two years back, then you are not qualified.On the issue of Mr. Karnwea allegedly having no “desire” to contest as proffered by his lawyers, the Court says one may have desire and work towards it without expressing such desires.
The Court says it cannot speculate however that Mr. Karnwea did not secretly impress the LP to be a running mate, while citing the instances where he resigned from the ruling Unity Party, and later joining the LP where he told a press conference this year that LP was the best option for Liberia.
But based on the Supreme Court Opinion, Cllr. Gongloe foresees everyone now going to apply, leaving a challenge to the NEC to proof “egregious violation”.
On the basis of the Code of Conduct, Cllr. Gongloe says he has advised ten aspirants who had not resign two years ago not to contest because they were not qualified.
But given the Supreme Court Opinion, he now announces that “anyone who wants to run just resign before you apply”, even one day before the application is sent to NEC.
On the basis of Mr. Karnwea’s resignation that came after the Supreme Court’s March 3, 2017 ruling in the Polson case, the high court says he did not commit acts of an egregious nature against the Code of Conduct as to warrant “the maximum penalty of disqualification prescribed for egregious conduct”.
The Court then comes to deal with the NEC for its failure to conduct a hearing in the Karwean case to accord him “due process” guaranteed under the law before barring him from the process.
It has sent the matter back to the NEC so that it can conduct a hearing and accord Mr. Karnwea due process, except that disbarment is out of the question. He might face lesser penalty if the NEC finds him to be in violation of the Code.
By Winston W. Parley-Edited by Othello B. Garblah
The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning or MFDP has strongly rejected a local daily’s report of a potential US$41 million dollars deficit for the just ended fiscal year 2016/2017.
In a press statement issued here Thursday, 20 July the ministry ays its attention has been drawn to the Tuesday, July 18, 2017 Edition of the FrontPage Africa Newspaper in which the paper erroneously reported a potential US$41 million dollars deficit for the just ended 2016/2017 fiscal year, not on the basis of factual reporting, but on account of “reliable or financial experts.”
The release says the paper based its story on an unsubstantiated year-end fiscal reconciliation report of the consolidated account, indicating a wrong year-end revenue collection of US$522million and US$42 million as potential deficit; even though, the year-end expenditure estimate needed for accurately determining deficit or surplus was not mentioned.
The release claims the paper further suggested that the deficit could increase to US$50 million if US$4million payment for the Executive Mansion renovation and US$6million payment to George Haddad’s Prestige Motors were made, which it maintains, are all concoction of a “financial expert’s” imagination.
It explains that the Budget year FY16/17 successfully ended with a surplus of US$1.8 million brought forward to the FY17/18 budget, which has been approved by the Lower House and awaiting concurrence by the Upper House of the National Legislature.
According to the Ministry, Gross Revenue collected at end June 30th, 2017 is estimated at US$550.8 million, saying “This amount net of the ECOWAS Trade Levy of US$3.2 million brings the net revenue available to GoL at US$547.57 million. This fact contradicts FrontPage reported net revenue amount of US$522 million.”
The release further refutes allegation that Finance and Development Planning Minister Boimah Kamara has usurped the allotment functions of the Deputy Minister for Budget and Development Planning, and is not holding weekly Fiscal Management Team meetings with senior technicians regarding the formulation and execution of the national budget.
“In keeping with supervisory oversight of every department to ensure proper and accountable usage of tax payer money; it says, “Minister Kamara has instituted several reforms including the following:
The authorization of allotments to spending entities still remains a function of the Deputy Minister of Budget, but with the expressed approval of the Minister as provided under the PFM Act. The procedures for allotments, which are the first layer for authorizing, spending from the National Budget, have been revised to effectively minimize unauthorized allotments;
In tracking the execution of the national budget with respect to revenue performance and expenditure monitoring, the Minister still holds regular Fiscal Management Team (FMT) meetings with senior technicians of the MFDP and the Liberia Revenue Authority to discuss various fiscal reports and reconcile the financial position of the Government of Liberia. These meetings are in addition to regular Senior Management Team (SMT) meetings and general staff meetings aimed at cultivating a working culture that promotes team spirit and effectiveness.
The MFDP release says in the fight against corruption, the current management team is on record for improving systems and controls within the Ministry and taking punitive action against individuals caught in the act of misuse of entrusted public resources.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning encourages media entities to seek clarifications on news relating to government’s fiscal operations from relevant authorities within the MFDP before publications. The Ministry cautions against spreading false news, especially on fiscal operations of government because it has the propensity to undermine the economic viability of the State by scaring away potential investments and development assistance. Press Release
Some disgruntled partisans of the former ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) of jailed ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor are accusing the party Chairman, Maryland County Representative James P. Biney of allegedly receiving US$14,000 on behalf of the party.
Efforts to contact Rep. Biney for comment proved futile has his mobile number given to this writer by his staff could not go thru. However, the partisans, who asked for anonymity, claim Chairman Biney received the money from the Alternative National Congress (ANC) of Alexander B. Cummings and some foreign partners, but there has been no direct impact of the amount on the party.
They also alleged that the refusal of Chairman Biney to account for the fund resulted to mass exodus of senior party executives. The row in the NPP over the alleged money has reportedly caused the party Standard Bearer, Bong County Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor and few other senior officials to form a Coalition with the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) of Senator George Mannah Weah, where she was picked as running to Weah.
The partisans note that the Coalition has rendered the NPP weak and ineffective thus, becoming a serious political liability to the CDC, as several senior NPP executives, who, according to the, were expected to boost the Coalition, have all exited the party thereby, leaving Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor in the cold.
They explain that among those who quitted the NPP due to the misunderstanding include its Vice Chairman, Bong County Representative George Mulbah, Secretary-General Andrew Peters and Assistant Secretary-General for Social Services, Amanda Garnett, among others.
The aggrieved NPP partisans also name the party Vice Chairman for Planning, Research and Policy, Kollie Kamara and several county officials, who also jump the boat. It may be recalled that former Vice Chairman Representative George Mulbah told a local radio talk show recently that he and other officials of the party were constrained to leave because its Standard Bearer, Sen. Jewel Howard-Taylor and Chairman James Biney were taking unilateral decisions.
A joint ECOWAS delegation comprising the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commission (ECONEC) and the ECOWAS Fact-finding Team has raised concerns regarding hate messages being spread by some media institutions and on social media ahead of Liberia’s presidential and representatives’ elections.
But President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf has told the delegation in Monrovia Wednesday, 19 July that government is determined to manage such situation without infringing on the right to free speech.
“We must ensure that peace reigns before, during and after the elections because the 2017 elections constitute Liberia’s defining moment, which will test whether the country can move forward with political maturity or retrogress,” Mrs. Sirleaf said during a meeting with the ECOWAS delegation.
The joint delegation comprising ECONEC and an ECOWAS Fact-finding Team was led by Professor Mahmood Yakubu, President of ECONEC and Chairperson of the Independent National Election Commission of Nigeria.
Mrs. Sirleaf has assured the ECOWAS delegation that a lot of progress has been made towards the successful holding of the 2017 general and presidential elections and those outstanding challenges are being addressed both by the Government of Liberia and its international partners.
She however says logistical support in particular remains a priority of the government and partners of the country. On the Code of Conduct, President Sirleaf assured the delegation that the matter is being resolved through the Supreme Court of Liberia and expressed confidence that the best legal solution will be found through the court process.
In welcoming the ECOWAS delegation, President Sirleaf thanked them for the visit to Liberia at a very crucial period and acknowledged the important contributions ECOWAS has made in Liberia including the intervention of ECOMOG during the civil crisis. She committed her administration to the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible elections in Liberia.
Speaking earlier, the President of ECONEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu provided updates on their mission to Liberia. He informed President Sirleaf that his delegation has held talks with the National Elections Commission (NEC), the diplomatic community, Governance Commission, United Nations Mission in Liberia, the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, the leaderships of both Houses of the National Legislature, Inspector General of Police and partner organizations, among others.
Prof. Yakubu points out that the primary goal of ECONEC is to ensure the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible elections within the ECOWAS region and consolidate the democratization process.
He congratulates President Sirleaf for her overall leadership in Liberia, the ECOWAS region and particularly for her role in resolving the political crisis in The Gambia.Prof. Yakubu commits to the return of ECONEC to Liberia in October to monitor the General and Presidential Elections, and tells President Sirleaf that a high-level delegation from ECOWAS led by the President of the ECOWAS Commission will visit Liberia soon.
Member of the delegation which was led to the Office of the President by the ECOWAS Special Representative to Liberia, Ambassador Babatunde Ajisomo include Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairperson of Nigeria and President of ECONEC; Mr. Newton Ahmed Barry; Dr. Maria do Rosario Gonacalves; Prof. Antonio Simbine; Prof. Bolade Eyinla; Mr. Paul Ejima and Mr. Chinedu Chinedu.
Others were Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan, Head of delegation of the Fact-finding Team; Madam Halima Ahmed; Mr. Francis Oke, Mr. Barou Luther Y. Youkou and Mrs. Bukola Ayoola.
Authorities at the National Elections Commission or NEC has commended Liberians here in the wake of the unparalleled upsurge of protests being filed against candidates believed to be in violation of some general provisions of the ongoing nomination process.
The Commission says the move by the some citizens to file protests is symptomatic of the level at which the Country’s fledgling democracy is taken root. In a news release the Commission says the essence of the publication of the provisional candidate listing is exactly what the citizens are taking advantage of, by challenging the legitimacy individuals they strongly feel might be in violation of some of the basic requirements for qualification.
The Commission guarantees the public that all protests filed will be looked into in accordance with the election process. Article 12.1 of the candidate nomination regulations calls for the publication of provisional list of candidates “on the NEC website, in newspapers, broadcast on local community radio stations and NEC’s local magisterial offices across the country”.
Meanwhile, the Commission has assured the public that it will endure to remain in the ambit of the law and will continue to treat every aspirant or candidate equally. However, NEC says it is not possible for its technicians to know everybody who are turning up at the SKD Sport Complex for nomination. Hence, the identification of any individual believed to be in violation of some provisions of the election laws should not be construed as prejudice or deliberate.The Commission also emphasized the candidate nomination is a process that is still ongoing.
President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf says she wants stronger punishment against people that are not paying taxes, suggesting that the Liberia Revenue Authority looks at the law to withhold the salaries of all non - compliant officials including ministers, legislators and judges at the end of a month.
“And enforcement means there’s got to be a punishment for not paying taxes. And let’s look at the law … and say if all the government officials have not paid their taxes then they shouldn’t get paid at the end of the month. So by this time I expect our LRA to extend letter to every minister, every legislator, every judge, you have not paid your taxes”, Mrs. Sirleaf suggested Tuesday, 18 July.
While moderating a panel discussion at the National Revenue Symposium at the Monrovia City Hall on Tuesday, Mrs. Sirleaf commended the LRA’s sensitization of the people on the need to pay their taxes, but stressed that it is not enough on grounds that “we got to have enforcement”.
Mrs. Sirleaf complains that “we have a weak judicial system” and if tax fraudsters are taken to Court, the matter would go nowhere, thus urging the need to expose tax fraud.
She says the tax laws here are difficult to understand, pondering as to why in this time LD$5.00 is being paid for one acre of land as tax which creates a room for people to amass ten thousand acres of land.
But she says when the land rights law goes into effect, it will change such tax system to improve the tax laws here. Mrs. Sirleaf notes that many times it is said here “that we’re proud of the fact that we pay taxes’, but to the contrary, she says “the real truth is we don’t”. According to President Sirleaf, 142 percent of Liberia’s budget comes from outside from external resources, thus suggesting that until Liberia can make sure that it has domestic revenues to cover its own development agenda, “we’ll” not go anywhere.
The first panel discussion included former Rwandan Revenue Authority Commissioner Madam Mary Baine, ECOWAS Special Representative to Liberia Mr. Babatunde Ajisomo, Representatives of UNDP Country Director, AfDB, House Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay’s office staff Mr. Julius Caesar and Commercial Court Judge Eva Mappy Morgan.
While thanking the LRA for undertaking the survey and working with the people on issues of taxes, Mrs. Sirlea however reminds Liberians that the external environment is changing, and the country will not find the kind of support that it has been getting.
“And this is why it’s important that we ensure that we begin to introduce things for ourselves, that we get our tax systems right so that we can be able to carry the burden”, she adds.
Making a presentation earlier on the LRA’s findings from regional dialogue, Commissioner General Madam Elfreda Stewart Tamba reported that a lot of people have said they are not paying taxes due to lack of development, too much corruption, lack of awareness and lack of LRA offices in some communities.
She says locals are also holding a perception that government officials might not be paying their lawful taxes, particularly for real estate, while also complaining about the lack of police in their communities.
Finance and Development Planning Minister Boima Kamara says the development of Liberia, the attainment of the goals that are set in terms of becoming a middle income country rest on the people, noting that it must come through the efforts of making sure that the revenues generated domestically have to be in the lead.
ECOWAS Special Representative to Liberia Mr. Babatunde Ajisomo says the issue of taxation involves everyone, and stressed that the role of government is very critical in that light.
The Plenary of the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly trashed a request for House Speaker Emmanuel James Nuquay’s recusal as head of the Legislature.Plenary, which is the highest decision - making body of the House of Representatives voted in session on Tuesday, 18 July and overwhelmingly threw out the request made by Maryland County Representative Dr. Bhofal Chambers and Montserrado County Representative Acarous Moses Gray.
The Plenary says the Speaker Nuquay recusal request has no constitutional or statutory magnitude and should be treated as though it has never existed before.The two anti - Nuquay lawmakers Rep. Chambers and Rep. Gray appear to be expressing lack of confidence in the ruling Unity Party (UP) vice standard after he was picked by Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai as running mate for the October Representatives and Presidential elections.
Dr. Chambers had written the Plenary to seek its endorsement of his request for Speaker Nuquay’s recusal since he is now a vice standard bearer of the governing UP.Rep. Chambers insists that it is best option for the House to ask the speaker to step aside. “Speaker Nuquay, now the vice standard bearer of the ruling Unity Party of which the current Vice President of Liberia Joseph Boakai, is the standard bearer”, Rep. Chambers says.
He argues that Mr. Nuquay should recuse himself from presiding over the Plenary for conscience’s sake and to further avoid the temptation of compromising the interest of the Liberian nation. He specifically expresses fears that Mr. Boakai and Mr. Nuquay could compromise national interest especially in instances where the presiding officers of both Houses have to sit and make decision on critical matters or issues that require independent minds, objectivity and and balance in the best interest of the Liberian people.
Rep. Chambers says it behooves him to act with swiftness and sagacity to protect the sacred institution and the noble state without fear or favor.
Rep. Gray had earlier accused Speaker Nuquay of betraying the trust of those who supported him to be Speaker to take over from dethroned Speaker Alex Tyler. “There is strong distrust in his ability to reunite the legislature and such action demonstrates his administrative ineptitude to run the legislature”, Rep. Gray claims. He argues that Speaker Nuquay specifically promised the Liberian people that he would unite and bring dignity to the Legislature.
But the Montserrado County lawmaker claims that Speaker Nuquay’s action has brought disunity to the Legislature, thus calling for his removal on the basis of administrative ineptitude. “It is not a quest to remove him, but one that is intended to ask him to recuse himself. As someone who has presided over the budget and appointed the presiding officer on the budget, we are afraid that the budget will be tampered with”, Rep. Gray adds. He concludes that Speaker Nuquay’s action is not only destructive and greedy, but one that shows disrespect to his colleagues who stood by him to be speaker.
By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor--Edited by Winston W. Parley