Runoff to be held after X’mas

Multiple sources within the corridor of the National Elections Commission or NEC have told this paper that the runoff scheduled between Vice President Joseph Boakai and Senator George Weah is not likely to take place until after Christmas given the mandate of the Supreme Court that the electoral body clean up the voters’ roster.

“NEC cannot put a time frame on the holding of the run off until it cleans up the voters’ roll,” one source told this writer Sunday.The Supreme Court Friday 8 December gave NEC a go ahead to schedule the conduct of the prolonged presidential runoff between the two top candidates in the October 10 polls after denying Liberty Party’s request for a re-run of the said poll after it cited fraud and irregularities.

"That notwithstanding our findings that indeed there were some irregularities, fraud and violations of the New Elections Law, as well as the Rules and Regulations of the NEC, we hold that there is no evidence to show that those violations were in such magnitude that they rose to such level to warrant setting aside results of the Presidential and Representatives Elections held on October 10, 2017," the court said in its final decision read by Associate Justice Phillip A.Z. Banks on Thursday, 7 December.

The decision to uphold NEC’s ruling and gives it the go ahead for a run-off was taken by majority of the Justices with one dissenting opinion. However, with this decision Friday, many here had thought that NEC would have gone ahead to immediately announce a runoff date.

But expert sources told this paper Sunday that NEC would first have to find the people with duplicated numbers and clean up the entire system as mandated by the Supreme Court.

The sources said given the technicality of the things that NEC has been mandated to do; it may not be possible to hold the runoff before the festive Christmas season.

“They have to as I said find the people with the duplicated numbers, and publish the voters roll at the over 5000 polling centers before announcing the date of the runoff,” another source added.

The ruling Unity Party and opposition Coalition for Democratic Change were scheduled to face off in a runoff on 7 November before a Supreme Court order halted the process on the eve of the runoff.

The Supreme Court said it agrees that the protesting parties presented some evidence in respect of certain violations, but it observes that the parties failed to show that the evidence pervaded the entire spectrum of the elections throughout or in a considerably wide or most parts of the country. All eyes and ears are now set on NEC to announce the time table leading to the conduct of the delayed runoff.

By Othello B. Garblah

GW: Guus arrest key to war accountability

Global Environmental watch dog, Global Witness or GW, Friday announced that it welcome the arrest in South Africa of notorious timber trader and gun runner Guus Kouwenhoven, who play a significant role in the Liberian civil war trafficking arms for Charles Taylor.

GW said the arrest is a hugely significant step in efforts to hold accountable those that fuelled and profited from Liberia’s bloody civil war. The arrest follows the April conviction of Kouwenhoven in a Dutch court for aiding and abetting war crimes and illegally trading arms during the height of Liberia’s civil war, which claimed over 250,000 lives. Dutch authorities are now seeking Kouwenhoven’s extradition to the Netherlands.

Global Witness Director Patrick Alley said: “The arrest of Guus Kouwenhoven marks a banner day for the people of Liberia and those around the world who suffer at the hands of companies that trade in conflict timber and minerals. The message to those that trade guns for resources and profit from international crimes is that the rules of the game are changing. You will be found and you will go to jail.”

Kouwenhoven was head of the Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC) during Liberia’s civil war, which lasted from 1989 to 2003. The war was funded largely through the sale of diamonds and timber plundered from Liberia’s rainforests. OTC was the dominant logging company in Liberia during this time. The Dutch courts have found Kouwenhoven guilty of delivering weapons to the regime of then-President of Liberia Charles Taylor, in return for special treatment for his timber company.

Patrick Alley said: “Years of dogged work by the Dutch authorities, and now their South African counterparts, are paying off and are finally bringing an infamous criminal to justice. Global Witness applauds their efforts. Charles Taylor has already been sentenced and imprisoned. Kouwenhoven now faces a similar fate.”

EU welcomes electoral disputes resolution

The European Union or EU says it welcome the resolution of the 10 October 2017, elections disputes, which paved the way for the prolonged runoff between the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change or CDC and the ruling Unity Party or UP.

A runoff between the two parties had been scheduled for November 7, but was delayed due to complaints filed by the opposition Liberty Party or LP citing fraud and irregularities.

The LP, which came third in the election, had called for a rerun of the entire election. But their request was denied by NEC, while an appeal before the Supreme Court upheld the NEC decision on Thursday December 7.

“This decision is an important contribution to the democratic capital built so far in Liberia. The conclusion of complaints permits the elections to proceed, while the right of citizens to elect their chosen leaders shall be respected”, stated the EU EOM Chief Observer, Maria Arena in a press statement issued Friday December 6.

In the period 6 November to 7 December, the EU EOM noted the National Election Commission (NEC) was faced with numerous complaints from various candidates across the country.

It said in some instances, an increasingly complex array of motions and applications impeded the resolution of disputes within the strict limit of constitutional timelines.

However, the EU EOM commends the NEC for its efforts to administer hearings comprehensively and inclusively.

The EU EOM statement also praise the superior court saying, “the Supreme Court conducted key appeal cases in a swift and efficient manner, underlining the importance the Honourable Justices attach to the expeditious handling of electoral cases”

It said notwithstanding some misinformation and uncertainty surrounding the period after the suspension of the run-off, Liberian citizens, partisans and non-partisans alike, remained patient and respectful of the principles of peace, democracy and rule of law.

"The voters’ trust towards the electoral process is paramount and must be ensured by public institutions and media, continuing to provide citizens with accurate and timely information on the remaining stages of the election process", concludes the Chief Observer.

The EU EOM also commended all political parties for their firm commitment to resolve disputes through mediation and judicial means. The mission encourages the stakeholders to continue promoting a violence-free election as expressed in their various public statements thus far.

Uphold your integrity

Montserrado County Electoral District#13 former representative candidate Daintowon Pay-bayee encourages women groups across Liberia to uphold their integrity if they must succeed in their endeavors.

The female advocate contested as an independent candidate in the October 10th Presidential and Representative Elections that saw the ruling Unity Party and the main opposition Coalition for Democratic Change going for a runoff.

Addressing women groups over the weekend at the start of a two-day consultative workshop aimed at strengthening the capacity of women in the areas of unity, integrity and cultural diversity, Amb. Daintown says women in Liberia must uphold integrity because it is the highest value in society.

The workshop brought together rural women and women from Montserrado County together to discuss women’s participation in cultural activities, including unity and integrity issues.

The 6th consultative forum was organized under the auspices of the Swedish-based organization Kvinna till Kvinna with theme: “Integrity, Culture, and Diversity towards Strengthening Unity.”

Over 100 women from both urban and rural Liberia, including representatives of various NGOs, CSOs, government agencies, marketers and young women’s organizations participated.

“We will all agree that there is no highest value in our society than integrity”, she says, stressing that integrity determines what we really are, and it goes with consciousness.”

According to her, integrity is achieved when no one is watching, saying it is sometimes simple, but people overlook it, noting that the issue of integrity also goes with empathy; what is good for you is also good for another person.

The former legislative candidate is also deputy secretary general of the Federation of Liberian Youth or FLY, encourages Liberian women to be honest, saying being honest to yourself and others is key to unity.

On the question of diversity, Miss Pay-bayee stresses the need to unite as one no matter the condition whether disable or physically challenged.
According to her, unity is about being together with one goal to face future challenge in diversity whether you are rich or poor, literate or illiterate, if you are to succeed in your endeavors, you must remain together.

“The change we all want to see is tie with us, it starts from the inside, it happens from the traditional level, and if that takes place we will have a society where nobody will complain, trust is very important.”

By Lewis S. Teh

LIPO discusses Intellectual Property Strategy

The Liberia Intellectual Property Office (LIPO) begins a 12-day stakeholders’ engagement field trip that is intended to develop a national intellectual property strategic plan to be integrated into the government’s national development agenda.

The field trip comes at the time when investors, inventors, and artists in the creative sector (film, music, innovation and etc) are taking steps to ensure that government pays more attention to this lucrative creative industry. Since the country enacted the Intellectual Property Law, no government - past or present, has fully given recognition to creative work as an engine of growth due to ‘lack of a roadmap for the sector.'

LIPO Director General says the 12-day field trip is to change things around and develop a national strategic intellectual property (IP) plan that will encourage and facilitate useful creations, critical developments plus management and protection of IP at the national level, as well as giving more subsidies to creative industry societies.

Director General Roosevelt Gould, who took over the agency few months ago, describes the document that is being developed as “a crosscutting document which outlines links with diverse policy areas to ensure effective coordination with other activities. He adds that a national IP strategy strengthens a country's ability to generate economic growth, both in terms of GDP and human capital.

“With the coming of this strategy, everything ranging from literary to artistic works and genetic and biological assets will be protected and the individual behind it will fully reap his or her benefit. Without a national IP strategy, it is difficult to unlock these assets in a planned, efficient, and sustainable manner.

The goal of this national IP strategy is the creation, ownership, and management of artists and inventors’ rights to increase economic growth. The world is now being controlled by IP, and if other countries are benefiting from this, it is about time Liberia starts to benefit as well, Gould explains.

“We have artists and inventors who are supposed to be millionaires by now, but this is not happening because we lack a national IP strategy. We have a good IP law but in the absence of a national IP strategy - which is a key policy tool to promote public interest in the arts and innovation and for the environment to strive, then the law remains inactive", he laments.

Meanwhile, Gould notes that since 2009, LIPO has been undergoing numerous reforms and working hard to make sure its performance equals and surpasses its mandate.

Director Gould adds that the 12-day workshop will be managed by two expert consultants sent by the World Intellectual Property Organization to work alongside the agency’s staff to develop the country’s strategic IP plan through stakeholder engagement.

By Lewis S. Teh-Editing by Jonathan Browne

FM Kamara calls f free open and safe cyberspace

Liberia has joined other nations in calling for a free, open and safe cyberspace that will allow digital trade and other activities which enhances sustainable economic development and growth.

“The development of cyberspace continues to have phenomenal impact on virtually every aspect of our human life. In fact, cyberspace now is a major contributor to the GDP of many countries around the world. Internet remains one of the major catalysts for economic growth and development and provides greater opportunity for delivering education, healthcare and environmental service,” Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara said.

She stressed that cyberspace makes governments more effective and responsive to citizens needs and enables free exchanges of data and information. “Areas like big data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics, and cloud computing are bringing significant changes in the global economy. As such, the need for openness, safety and digital literacy cannot be overemphasized,” she indicated.

According to a Foreign Ministry release, Foreign Minister Kamara made the assertion when she delivered a statement on behalf of the Liberian Government at the 4th World Internet Conference (Wuzhen Summit), co-hosted by the Cyberspace Administration of China and the People’s Government of Zhejiang Province, held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province, China from December 3rd to 5th, 2017.

Under the theme: “Developing Digital Economy for Openness and Shared Benefits – Building a Community of Common Future in Cyberspace,” this year’s conference further facilitated discussion and dialogue on digital economy, cutting-edge technologies, internet and society, cyberspace governance, and exchanges and cooperation.

The Conference provided the platform for building a community of common future in cyberspace, promoting worldwide respect for diversity, focusing on mutual development, forging consensus and boosting innovation.

Foreign Minister Kamara informed the audience that while enjoying several years of peace and stability, Liberia has made strides in gaining a footprint in cyberspace. “Currently, Liberia is ranked 73rd in the world internet access and 24th on the continent of Africa,” she noted; adding that although Liberia cannot boast of major and advanced achievements in modern technology such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics, among others, it has been able to join the digital world by first connecting to the Africa coast to Europe optical fiber system for high speed internet access.

She furthered that Liberia has also created the legal, regulatory and enabling environment thereby leaving its footprint in cyberspace. “As a nation, we have been working diligently to provide the much-needed infrastructure and human capacity to engage and leverage modern technologies for sustainable economic growth,” Minister Kamara said.

However, she indicated that the lack of resources including finances and human capacity to achieve this goal remains Liberia’s major challenge. “Despite the progress made, we are still unable to provide countrywide coverage to our population due to poor infrastructure and economic constraints.”

Foreign Minister Kamara stressed that Liberia has the potential to leverage cyberspace to achieve sustainable economic growth, considering its youthful population and the demand for cyberspace education; however, it will need to partner with countries such as China, which is one of the world’s major contributors to and user of modern technological breakthroughs, and which has vast human capacity.

“With the required resources and opportunities, developing countries would be well placed to pursue economic transformation towards the twin objectives of poverty reduction and achievement of a middle-income status,” she said.

Speaking further, Foreign Minister Kamara said less than half of the world’s population is benefiting from cyberspace and developing countries suffer due to the persistent digital divide. She said over 75 percent of the African population lacks internet access which further constrains the poor from accessing economic opportunities; noting that though access to telecommunication has increased internet penetration in many African countries, there remain the bigger challenges of affordability and readiness.

She commended China for its innovation in the areas of technology and cyberspace, and for its willingness to share knowledge. She encouraged the Chinese private sector to explore opportunities under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the One-belt One Road initiatives to invest in ICT infrastructure in developing countries particularly sub-Sahara Africa.-Press release


African leaders draw consensus on inclusive growth

African presidents reached a strong consensus to focus on regional integration, inclusive growth and youth empowerment in order to achieve continued and sustained growth on the continent at the Africa 2017 Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi hosted African heads of state and business leaders including President of the Republic of Guinea Alpha Condé, President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Côte D’Ivoire Alassane Ouattara, and President of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

The business and investment Forum titled “Driving investment for inclusive growth” was convened to increase intra-African investments and cross-border collaboration. The message sent was that entrepreneurship and private sector would be the driving force to transform the continent. The Forum was preceded by a Young Entrepreneurs Day which brought together over 200 young African entrepreneurs who were meeting investors to pitch their businesses over the two days of the Forum. Al Sisi highlighted the importance of African youth, saying they should be the cornerstone of development plans in the continent as governments strive to promote innovation and technology.

The second edition of the Forum was another clear statement of intent from the Egyptian President, who, in his opening remarks, highlighted the strong bond Egypt has with the rest of the continent, saying it has always been a partner in African development. Putting Africa on the global map and paving the way for a prosperous future can be achieved by working harder to attract investment and collaborating more closely.

President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, co-chair of the Young Entrepreneurs Day, reiterated the need for more urgency: "We cannot afford to waste opportunities because of unnecessary red tape and associated delays." Citing the launch of the Tripartite Free Trade Area in Egypt in 2015, he added it was important that African leaders drive the institutional reform of the African Union in order to get the FTA fully operational.

Heba Salama, Director of the COMESA Regional Investment Agency, co-conveners of the Forum, in an emotional address reminded the young and the leaders in the room that if your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough. This did not go unheeded by the entrepreneurs in the room many of whom had scaled up businesses that were ripe for takeoff.


UP surrenders

The governing Unity Party says it accepts the opinion of the Supreme Court on its alleged fraud and irregularities complaint jointly filed with the Liberty Party and others against the National Elections Commission. But the LP announced that it takes exception to the ruling.

“This decision, and the road we took with collaborating parties, are unprecedented and should give all of us hope that the future of our democracy and country is bright. Liberians can now celebrate the triumph of the rule of law! Liberians can now celebrate their resolve to pursue the non-violent means of solving problems”, says UP Standard Bearer Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai in a statement minutes after the High Court gives its opinion.

The Court opines that claims of “fraud and irregularities” from the October 10 polls aren’t sufficient to warrants a rerun of the entire elections as prayed by the complainants, and therefore, mandates the NEC to announce a new date for the conduct of the runoff presidential between the Unity Party and the Coalition for Democratic Change.

“To the hundreds of thousands of partisans of the Unity Party and supporters of our campaign, we say thank you for remaining on our side through these several weeks. We heard you and felt your pains”, Vice President Boakai continues and calls on UP partisans to engage the electoral process with the same zeal, zest and interest as before.

“Remember that the future of the country is in your hands. Sitting on the fence would give you one unpleasant result--living with a choice you neither wanted nor made. I today issue this clarion call to all Unity Partisans, particularly those who felt left out or disenfranchised for whatever reason, to rally around us as we move to score final victory.”

Meanwhile, the UP standard bearer is calling on Liberians to pray for what he terms “the delivery of our nation.” He calls on all places of worship across the country to summon the grace of God as they stand at the precipice of national renewal, urging, “No matter your belief, your faith must compel you to love our country.”

He notes that until the elections are over, every Liberian must carry a white handkerchief and a flag in defend of the Motherland and for victory at the ballot box.
The ruling party receives barrage of criticisms for joining the Liberty Party and others in challenging the poll results despite being certificated by the NEC to go for the runoff against the CDC.

But the UP argues that its intervention in support of the Liberty Party’s challenge was not a selfish or opportunistic one, nor was it in any way a strategy to unnecessarily cause delay and prolong the electoral process, as alleged by detractors.

“To the contrary, our stance was anchored in the Unity Party’s principle to promote and foster a culture of fair and transparent elections in the country for the present and future generations”, says VP Boakai.

He says the party made a responsible and patriotic choice to resort to the rule of law over violence and protests, saying “We chose respect for the rule of law over looting, pillaging and destruction of properties. For those of us who have lived long enough, we know how elections have been conflict prone.”
But LP Cllr. Charles Brumskine said in a prepared statement that the party is disappointed with the superior court ruling.

“We are disappointed by the ruling of the Supreme Court, which among other things, has violated our equal protection right, as provided in Article 11(c) of the Constitution. The Court ordered the correction of some of the things that we complained of, that made the electoral process unconstitutional and unlawful that contributed to massive fraud, and pervasive irregularities, as conditions for holding the Runoff, but failed to similarly ensure equal protection for the other eighteen political parties that participated in the first round of the elections,” he said.

Supreme Court orders runoff

The Supreme Court has given the National Elections Commission (NEC) a go - ahead to schedule the conduct of a runoff denying the Liberty Party its request for a re-run of the October 10 polls, which the party contested as being marred with fraud and irregularities.

By so doing, the Court lifts the stay order issued on 31 October as a result of a writ of prohibition filed by LP and UP and orders the NEC to schedule the runoff in accordance with the Constitution and the New Elections Law.

"That notwithstanding our findings that indeed there were some irregularities, fraud and violations of the New Elections Law, as well as the Rules and Regulations of the NEC, we hold that there is no evidence to show that those violations were in such magnitude that they rose to such level to warrant setting aside results of the Presidential and Representatives Elections held on October 10, 2017," the court said in its final decision read by Associate Justice Phillip A.Z. Banks on Thursday, 7 December.

The decision to uphold NEC’s ruling and gives it the go ahead for a run-off was taken by majority of the Justices with one dissenting opinion.

Reading the majority opinion Thursday at the jam - parked Supreme Court, Justice Banks acknowledged that the two protesting parties established that there were some irregularities of violations of the New Elections Law as well as the Rules and Regulations of the NEC in the conduct of the 2017 Presidential and Representatives Elections.

The ruling Unity Party and opposition Coalition for Democratic Change were schedule to face off in a runoff on 7 November before a Supreme Court order halted the process on the eve of the runoff.

The Supreme Court now says it agrees that the protesting parties presented some evidence in respect of certain violations, but it observes that the parties failed to show that the evidence pervaded the entire spectrum of the elections throughout or in a considerably wide or most parts of the country.

The Justices say they do not see from the records that the parties demonstrated that there was a conspiracy by the NEC as an institution, or that the NEC sanctioned the conduct of those persons who were alleged to have committed elections violations or irregularities.

"We do not believe that the evidence reached that threshold. As important as the evidence was, the fraud and irregularities complained of and shown by the testimonies of the witnesses were limited to the generality of the elections rather than indications of widespread intentional gross conspiracy conduct by the NEC as an institution," the Supreme Court rules.

The Court says it affirms the ruling of the NEC's Board of Commissioners declaring a runoff election, but with modifications. It mandates the NEC to fully comply with the standards of publications of the FRR as in keeping with law and discussed in the opinion.

The superior court says the NEC must conduct a full cleanup of the FRR to have it comply with the provision of the law and make it available in published hard copies to all elections magistrates and polling places across the country in accordance with law prior to any runoff election being conducted.

It prohibits the NEC from permitting anyone whose name is not found on the FRR from voting, given that the FRR is the only electoral document which speaks to the eligibility of votes, and that any addendum to the FRR be limited to only those listed in the NEC's polling and counting manual.

The Court further instructs that poll watchers that did not register at their places of assignment and whose names are not on the FRR should not be allowed to vote. The Court prohibits NEC Chairman Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya, the Board of Commissioners and any staff of the NEC from making public or any pronouncements and utterances relating to any matters which may grow out of the runoff election or any statement in regard to any complaint filed with the Commission as such could create some semblance of bias, prejudice or view of the case.

Meanwhile, Associate Justice Kabineh M. Janeh gives a dissenting opinion against the decision of his colleagues in the majority, arguing that the majority concedes, recognizes and accepts that there is a dire need to do a thorough cleansing of the elections system.

"But the majority seem to have conveniently ignored what the size of that dirt is what needs to be cleaned, but elected simply to order same removed, cleaned and sanitized," Justice Janeh says.

He adds that the majority appears to disregard the impact that the dirt now recognized to exist at the NEC had on the initial elections, and how has the existing dirt impacted the "valid vote cast" during the first round of the elections.

The Associate Justice stresses that the other problem with the order by the majority is that "we" do not yet know the actual size of the problem faced by the NEC, warning that "this is critical as to the full implementation of the order given by this Court as far as cleansing the system is concerned."

He says after considering all that his colleagues have said, what he has seen is strict non - compliance to the law, outright violation of the Liberian Constitution and the Elections Law in this Republic.

"To conclude therefore, it is unfortunate that I have found myself incapable to harmonize my legal conviction with those of my extinct colleagues ..., hence this dissent," Justice Janeh concludes.

By Winston W. Parley

People trooping to CDC

The Standard Bearer of the Coalition for Democratic Change or CDC Senator George Manneh Weah is ecstatic, telling Liberians that thousands of people probably voters are trooping to his party ahead of the runoff presidential election.

Addressing thousands of partisans, sympathizers, and friends late Wednesday, 6 December at the CDC headquarters, he says electorate are heading to the Coalition on grounds that they believe it is the only bacon of hope and transformation.

Senator Weah receives rousing welcome here Wednesday upon return from abroad where he reportedly met with some world leaders on Liberia’s political future. Liberians turned out in their hundreds of thousands to show their support and commitment to the CDC.

Weah did not hide his feelings about how proud he is to be the leader of a group of people he describes as “committed people.” “Some of you, I got to know when you were 12 years old in 2005; today I see some of the same faces after 12 years."

"I still see some of these faces in the crowd here today. I want to say I am grateful and will always be for your commitment.”The Coalition standard bearer boastfully informs his partisans of how prepared the party is to campaign in the same manner like it did in the first round of voting in October.

He says if campaign were declared opened today, the CDC is ready to campaign throughout the length and breadth of the country.“We are prepared to launch a vigorous campaign. We will double our efforts in the campaign for a second round victory. What we need is stability for our country so that the younger generation can achieve their dreams. We need new ideas,” he stresses.

Senator Weah and Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai of the governing Unity Party are going for the runoff. Accordingly, the Supreme Court of Liberia, has lifted the prohibition placed on all electoral activities and instructed the National Elections Commission to announce a new schedule for the runoff poll, which had been earlier slated for 7 November 2017.

Following the first round of the polls in October, several partisans of the Liberty Party or LP, the Movement for Economic Empowerment or MOVEE, All Liberian Party or ALP, among others, pledged support to the CDC.It seems these newcomers haven’t been welcomed by the diehard supporters of the party.

Sensing this rejection, Senator Weah used the occasion to appeal to his strong supporters, to accept and work with them in order to make the party stronger and better.

“Fellow citizens, I want you to consider all of our members, who left us and have come back because they have realized that this is the only party that shows love and commitment for its members. For some, the reasons they left are genuine and some went to experience life out of the CDC and for that I say please work with them, he pleads.

By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor

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