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2023 Elections: Why we must respect the Code of Conduct

By S.Karweaye

On March March 14, 2023, President George Weah issued Executive Order #117 mandating all appointed officials of the government aspiring to contest elective positions in the impending October 10, 2023, Presidential and Legislative Elections to resign on or before April 7, 2023. 

According to the Executive Order, the president’s action was per the amended Sections 5.2 and 10.2 of the 2014  Code of Conduct enacted, approved, and printed in handbills on December 29, 2022.

In March 2014, Liberia’s legislature passed a National Code of Conduct (CoC) for all public officials and employees of the Government of Liberia. In 2022, the Liberian Legislature amended certain portions of the 2014 Code of Conduct, particularly Part V, sections 5.2 under Political Participation and Part-X 10.2 under Declaration and Registration of Personal Interests, Assets and Performance/Financial Bonds because those provisions were too high and unreasonable.

Before the amendment, section 5.2 states, “Wherein, any person in the category stated in section 5.1 herein above desires to canvass or contest for an elective public position, the following shall apply; a) Any Minister, Deputy Minister, Director-General, Managing Director and Superintendent appointed by the President pursuant to Article 56 (a) of the Constitution and a Managing Director appointed by a Board of Directors, who desires to contest for elective public office shall resign said post at least two (2) years prior to the date of such public elections.” 

In the revised portion of the code of conduct, Section 5.2 to be precise, public officers who wish to contest elections now have one year instead of two to resign before the next election. The amended portion states: “all officials appointed by the President, including all cabinet ministers, deputy, and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers consuls, superintendents of counties and other Government officials, both military and civilian, appointed by the President pursuant to Article 56(a) of the 1986 Constitution, and any managing director, deputy managing director, assistant managing director of a corporation owned by the Government of Liberia, any commissioner, deputy and assistant commissioner of any commission established by the Legislature, and any official of the Government 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 canvass or contest for an elective public office within the Government of Liberia shall resign his or her position one (1) year before the date on which the election for the post for which he/she intends to contest.” 

Breaking it down, section 5.2 bars presidential appointees from actively participating in the presidential and legislative elections as a candidate without resigning one (1) year before the election date for the position for which he/she intends to contest. 

Why did the president of Liberia wait eight months before the legislative and presidential elections before issuing an Executive Order? Why are political appointees who have the ambition of contesting didn’t resign one (1) year before the election? Is President Weah in violation of the laws of Liberia he was sworn to uphold and protect? 

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The premise of section 5.2 of the code of conduct in my view is deeply rooted in the most often-quoted idiom of one eating his cake and then seeking to have it back when the said cake has been absorbed into his system and is undergoing the process of digestion so that it can never be recovered forever. It is a world of one option for the presidential appointees, either to retain their current office or to seek elective office, but certainly, they cannot combine both. 

A simple analysis is where a person has been appointed by the President as a Minister for one of many government ministries and she/he desires to be a member of the House of Senate or House of Representatives through the election and yet she/he wants to retain his position as a member of the executive whilst jostling to join the legislature. Liberia does not run a parliamentary system of government whereby the executive and the legislature coalesce together. It is called separation of powers. How will it feel, for instance, for a sitting Minister or head of Autonomous Agencies to seek to participate in any elective office either as a President, Senator, or representative, without first resigning his/her position as a member of the Executive? If the political appointee who seeks elective office is satisfied with his/her office, then why seek to jettison it? 

In Liberia, presidential appointees are paid one form of emolument or allowance or the other by the government, with specific responsibilities to perform. Thus, even apart from the conflict of retaining an executive position and seeking elective office, how does a person occupying a political office abandon his responsibilities for which he is being paid to embark upon campaigns at the expense of the people? What justification can we give for retaining a person on the payroll of the government who already has his eyes on another assignment? 

We must sanitize the electoral space to remove all vestiges of manipulation and land mines. It is not in our best interest for those that we pay to perform certain duties to abscond from their sacred responsibilities to actualize their ambitions to seek elective office. They owe us the duty of fairness to surrender our mandate granted to them through their appointments should they aspire to contest any election.

Section 5.2 of the Code of Conduct should be obeyed. It protects the electorate. The said provision has not precluded presidential appointees from becoming a member of a political party or voting in general elections. It only precludes them from contesting as a candidate in presidential and legislative elections without resigning one year before the election. Moreso, a presidential appointee does not hold the office as of right, but at the pleasure of the Chief Executive. Also, it is pertinent to state that most of these presidential appointees have ended up using their offices to intimidate political opponents of their principals during elections in a bid to retain their jobs.

Moreso, the Section of the Code of Conduct was designed to create a level playing ground for all aspirants during national elections. It is instructive to note that the Section does not in any way undermine the rights of political appointees to hold office or participate in national elections. Therefore, the National Election Commission (NEC) must adhere to the code of conduct by not certifying presidential appointees who have not “resigned his or her position one (1) year before the date on which the election for the post for which he/she intends to contest” not eight (8) months before the date of the election or else we may soon have in our hands a ridiculous situation whereby the Chairman of NEC or even the Governor of Central Bank of Liberia may seek to contest election whilst still holding on to their appointments. I rest my case.

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