It appears the board of commissioners of the National Elections Commission through its lawyer, Cllr. Wilkins Wrights lied to the Supreme Court that the commissioners, headed by NEC Chairperson Davidetta Browne Lassanah were placed behind bars at the Monrovia Central Prison by plenary of the Liberian Senate on contempt charges.
Though the board of commissioners and chairperson Madam Lassanah were seen standing before plenary of the Liberian Senate to answer questions why she and the entire board should not be held in contempt by the senate, for delaying to certificate winners of the December 08, 2020 Special Senatorial election.
But reading the writ of prohibition in chambers of the Liberian Senate Tuesday, February 23, at the Capitol Building in Monrovia, the Secretary of the Senate, Mr. Nanbolor Singbeh said a petition from NEC sent to the Supreme Court says members of the board of commissioners are behind bars at the Monrovia Central Prison.
That portion of the NEC’s petition created hard feelings among senators, who noted that the electoral house misrepresented the fact, and that such deliberate action, should not go unpunished.
But Grand Cape Mount County Senator Cllr. Varney Sherman, sanctioned by the U.S. State Department for corruption, intervened, arguing that the writ from the Supreme Court must be respected by the Senate on grounds that the board of commissioners and its chairperson are free persons, pending conference hearing called by the Supreme Court between both parties, something, all senators including presiding officer, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, agreed to.
NEC’s petition before the Supreme Court also argues that if the commissioners are sent to prison, it would obstruct ongoing efforts to settle all electoral disputes before the commission, and that imprisoning the board of commissioners is directly disrespectful.
The petition continues that members of the Liberian Senate are allegedly absorbing to themselves, functions of the commission, as the only agency of government that is responsible for electoral matters, ascribed by the Constitution of Liberia.
Both lawyers of the senate and their counterparts from the National Elections Commission are expected to will meet with Supreme Court Justice in Chambers, Cllr. Cinneh Kowou on February 26, on the prevailing standoff.
The plenary of the Senate took the decision during its 11th day sitting of the 4th session on Thursday, February 18, following a motion by Sinoe County Senator Milton Teahjay for the NEC Chairperson and Commissioners to appear before that body this gone Tuesday, as the motion was then amended by River Gee County Senator Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie, for the NEC officials to be remanded at the Central Prison, for being in clear breach of the Constitution and rules governing the Senate.
The decision was however triggered based on a complaint by Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, claiming that delay by NEC to certificate winners of the December’s election is grossly obstructing functions of the Senate.
Among other things, Sen. Dillon stressed that the NEC’s alleged attitude to also delay in hearing elections dispute cases to enable winners to be certificated in order to form a quorum for their day’s business, is a clear violation of Article 83 (c) and Article 33 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
Article 83 (c) states, “The returns of the elections, shall be declared by the Elections Commission not later than 15 days after the casting of ballots. Any party or candidate who complains about the manner in which the elections were conducted or who challenges the results thereof, shall, have the right to file a complaint with the Commission not later than seven days after the pronouncement of the results of the election.”
The provision also adds, “The Elections Commission shall within 30 days of receipt of the complaint, conduct an impartial investigation and render a decision which may involve a dismissal of the complaint or a nullification of the election of a candidate.”
At the same time Article 33 of the Constitution says, “A simple majority of each House shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, but a lower number may adjourn from day to day and compel attendance of absent members.”
Sen. Dillon noted that since the Special Senatorial Elections on Tuesday, December 8 of 2020, it has been over sixty days and that the NEC is yet to adjudicate and certificate qualified winners, indicating, “This act by NEC is not only violating the Constitution but also impeding our function as[senators]”
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives have served the National Elections Commission a notification, informing the Commission of a vacancy within the 54th National Legislature.
The notification from the House dated 23 February 2021 informs the NEC the vacancy was created as a result of the election to the Liberian Senate of Bomi County District One Representative, Edwin Melvin Snowe.
The NEC acknowledges the communication from the House of Representatives signed by its Chief Clerk, Mildred N. Sayon, was received Tuesday, 23 February 2021. The Commission is mandated to conduct the Bomi County Representatives By-election within 90 days to fill the vacancy in the National Legislature.
Article 37 of the Liberian Constitution says, in the event of a vacancy in the legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, the presiding officer shall within 30 days notify the NEC thereof. The NEC shall not later than 90 days thereafter cause a by-election to be held; provided where such vacancy occurs within 90 days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such elections. By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor–Editing by Jonathan Browne