The Liberian Senate on Tuesday, 6 June passed into law a bill seeking the establishment of an Office of Ombudsman, an entity that will have authority to investigate on its own initiative or on complaint filed by any person or organization, violations of the National Code of Conduct by private and public officials.
The passage of the bill by the Senate on Tuesday comes after an Ad-hoc Committee on the Ombudsman submitted its report to Plenary of the Liberian Senate. Following the passage, the Senate has sent the document down to the House of Representatives for possible concurrence, which might settle longstanding controversies that appear to slow the establishment of the office since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf nominated officials to run the office for the implementation of the Code of Conduct.
A key provision in the Code of Conduct that sparked controversies here is Part V, which prohibits presidential appointees from partaking in any political activities while still in appointed offices.
Presidential appointees, according to the Code Conduct, must resign their appointed jobs if they want to contest for elected jobs two years ahead of such elections, or three ahead for those in tenured offices.
The Act gives the President authority to appoint three persons for confirmation by the Senate, who shall be headed by a chairperson entitled to two three-year terms in office.
Qualification for the office spells out that nominee must be a Liberian citizen not less than 40 years, must have a law degree, other professional discipline and experience relevant to the tasks to be performed.
If the House of Representatives concurs with the Senate, followed by the president’s approval, it will pave the way for the establishment of the office of the Ombudsman as an independent autonomous body with responsibility to enforce, oversee, investigate, monitor, evaluate and provide penalties in the implementation of the Code of Conduct.
The Senate’s Ad-hoc Committee says the Ombudsman is to undertake, participate in or cooperate with persons and agencies in conferences, inquiries, meetings, or studies which might improve the functioning of the agencies, to make such inquiries and obtain such assistance and information from any agency or a person as the Ombudsman shall require for the discharge of its duties.
It says if such assistance is withheld, the Office of Ombudsman is empowered to seek the assistance of the Courts for subpoenas and other legal means needed to perform its duties consistent with the laws of Liberia.
The committee also states that no person while serving as Ombudsman shall have other employment directly or indirectly that may compromise the objectivity of the office of the Ombudsman.
Officials of the Ombudsman are banned by the Act not to be involved in political party activities or to publicly endorse or solicit funds, or make contributions to political parties or candidates for elective office.
The Office of the Ombudsman shall by a majority vote establish rules for its operations, and such rules and guidelines for the operations of the office and administration of the Code of Conduct shall be submitted to the president and the legislature for their input. Following the impunt of the president and the legislature, the rules and regulations shall be published for the benefit of the general public.
By Bridgett Milton -Edited by Winston W. Parley