President George Oppong Weah has courted huge controversy in Liberia after he demanded the resignations of public officers and appointees who have ambitions to contest in the upcoming elections.
The action by the president is backed by Liberia’s code of conduct that is expected to guide the actions of public officers.
Given the controversy this decision has generated, DUBAWA has decided to explore the history of the code of ethics in Liberia and its role in guiding public officials’ conduct.
History of the Code of Ethics
Since the introduction of the Code of Conduct of Liberia in 2014, there have always been issues with adherence by the public, while appointed government officials have always had issues with adherence.
During the 2017 Presidential and Legislative elections, the National Elections Commission stopped an aspirant, Abu Kamara, from contesting the election in Montserrado County District #15 because he did not meet the requirement of the Code of Conduct to contest. The country’s Supreme Court upheld this NEC position when the aspirant ran to court.
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 on the grounds that those provisions were too high and unreasonable.
Prior to 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.”
While 10.2 states, “The declaration of personal interest, income, assets, liabilities and the performance bond as may be required, shall be lodged with 16 • In the Legislative Branch, with the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives; • In the Executive Branch, with the General Auditing Commission; and • In the Judicial Branch with the Clerk of the Supreme Court; and in each event such receipt shall be notified to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).”
In the amended 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.”
The amended code is already a subject of controversy.
Some believe Section 5.2 of the code is too expensive for people or officials to be affected and does not directly help in the fight against corruption as it purports to do.
Others believe 12 months is still too long for people to resign in the hope of contesting the next election, and the possibility of creating chaos and a vacuum in government is high.
Be that as it may, the Code was still amended and should fulfil its approved purpose. But did it?
The Code and the October Election
With barely seven months to the October elections, questions have been asked about public or appointed government officials’ adherence to the Code of Conduct. Even more controversial is the directive by the Liberian President, George Manneh Weah, to all appointed officials within his government to resign their posts if they have any desire to contest an elected position during the country’s Presidential and Legislative elections.
President Weah’s directive was contained in Executive Order #117, published on the Executive Mansion’s official website, on Tuesday, March 14, 2023.
The Executive Order complies with the amended Sections 5.2 and 10.2 of the 2014 Code of Conduct enacted, approved and printed into handbills on December 29, 2022.
The objective of the President’s Executive Order, as it is with the Code of Conduct, “is to dissociate the fiduciary duty of trust, integrity and loyalty owed by public officials to the people from their desires to contest elections at the expense of public resources.”
If the code requires that public officers need to resign their positions a year before the next election, if they wish to contest, why wait till it’s eight months before the election before issuing an Executive Order? Sections of the public are asking the president.
What do Liberians think?
Others argue that the President’s Executive Order is belated because, according to them, the Code of Conduct says that appointed officials of government should resign one year before the election date. In contrast, others argue that the Liberian leader’s Executive Order is in the wrong direction. DUBAWA took its microphone to ordinary Liberians in the streets to engage their views on the matter, and these are what they had to say
Franklin Moses, a Liberian, told DUBAWA that Liberians are just a different set of people who are notorious for breaking laws.
“You see how our country is completely the opposite of everything? The law is saying something completely different, and the president is coming with another completely different thing which in my mind is a complete contradiction to what the law says,” Moses noted
Daniel S. Sackie, another Liberian down Broad Streets in central Monrovia also told DUBAWA that the President is not wrong to issue the Executive Order because it is still within one year.
“I hear people say that President Weah’s Executive Order is belated, that’s wrong, and I don’t want to believe that because it is still within the same one-year period. So the President acted in line with the laws,” he said.
Cllr. Bornor M Varmah, General Secretary of the Liberia National BAR Association (LNBA) told a local radio show, Okay 99.5FM, that it was wrong to issue an executive order on an already existing law.
Cllr. Varmah Made the assertions during the call-in session of the show, and his comments are at 41-44:05 min/sec of the same programme.
Cllr. Varmah said that the best thing President Weah should have done was appoint the officials of the Ombudsman instead of issuing an executive order.
“If you look at the recent executive order issued by President George Weah, one would say that it was not the right thing to issue an executive order in the face of existing and enforceable law. You are not to issue an executive order when we have laws that are supposed to be enforced on the subject matter that you are placing the executive order on,” he stated.
Atty. Kla Edward Toomey II, a Liberian legal practitioner, told DUBAWA that if those wanting to contest elective offices refuse to resign, two things may happen.
He stated that the President can dismiss those he believes want to contest in advance or wait to dismiss them after the campaign starts and they are still occupying their positions.
Atty. Toomey II added, “the opponents can also file a complaint against them with the court.”
What are the affected officials saying?
DUBAWA also engaged the views of some appointed officials lacing their boots to contest elective offices in the October presidential and legislative elections.
Janjay Baikpeh is the Superintendent of Grand Bassa County and wants to contest in district #2 of the county.
Superintendent Baikpeh told local journalists in his county that he would respect the President’s Executive Order and resign within the time frame stipulated within the order.
“For us, we will respect the President’s order and call on all other appointed officials who want to contest to do the same. We will resign within the required period,” Superintendent Baikpeh noted.
DUBAWA also reached out to other would-be candidates who are currently presidential appointees within the CDC-led government for their position on the President’s executive order, but they failed to respond to our inquiry, as seen in the WhatsApp chat below
These are inquiries made by DUBAWA to the Port of Sinoe county manager, Alex Noah, the Head of the National Commission on Small Arms, Atty.
Maxwell Grisby and the Head of the National Identification Registry, Tiah Nagbe, respectively, refused to respond to DUBAWA.
The Code of Conduct is supposed to be an important document to guide the conduct of public officers in Liberia. However, on the evidence of what is happening, public officers are not abiding by the dictates of the Code, and something drastic has to be done to ensure compliance.