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