CODE OF CONDUCT AND POOR LIBERIA: A nation dubbed and manipulated for 12 years ‘til the end

By James Thomas-Queh
Contributing Writer

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 24, 2017



The National Code of Conduct (CoC) - a 22-page document - should have been this regime’s Magna Carta to moralize Liberia’s political life now and the future. It should have been signed by every government official, framed in gold and hanged along with the picture of the imperial President behind the desk of each state  official and in all public places for posterity. But, like all the hundreds of national documents and agreements drafted with millions of dollars evaporated in thin air - while the nation is abandoned to bleed and suffocate in mass poverty, hopelessness and disorder - it too was forgotten since enactment in 2014.

But suddenly, and as if by a miracle - the CoC comes out to create more uncertainties, animosity, confusion and divide further an already divided nation and people in quest of a peaceful democratic transition, genuine national reconciliation and economic development.
So, it ponders my mind and leads me to this question: Was the CoC a genuine intention from the beginning, a music only for the partners/donors’ ears or the normal 12 years strategy of the UP leadership to systematically dub and manipulate the Liberian people? The latter, of course, is my true conviction; and here is why.

The odd chronology of the CoC bill
For a government elected in 2005 on transparency, efficiency and the fight against corruption as the enemy n°1 – the CoC should been its first order of business. But this chronology attests otherwise.

  • After some workshops, retreats, etc, and thousands of dollars went into the pockets, the CoC bill was submitted to the National Legislature in 2009 by the Executive (4 years after the 2005 elections).
  • At the Legislature, apparently, the CoC bill went missing for over 4 years (full term of a US President) and almost got a search warrant.
  • But by the stroke of a magic wand, the CoC bill was resurrected in 2014 with articles 5.1 and 5.2 incorporated or modified and passed into law. By this time, though, the government had already been presiding for 8 years (full maximum two years term of a US President); most Ministers had built mansions and mortgages paid in full in the US and elsewhere. Well, corruption had already turned into a vampire while the country sunk in mass poverty and left at the mercy of the Ebola epidemic. But also important, the 2011 general elections were already over, or else the CoC would have been a serious thorn in the flesh of the Liberian leader, the Unity Party and all its legislature aspirants.
  • Then no sooner the CoC bill was signed into law in 2014, it immediately went into hidden until around mid-2016, when a civil society group and a Superintendent filed separate petitions to the Supreme Court on the unconstitutionality of articles 5.1 and 5.2 of the CoC. The arguments and counter-arguments during the petitions hearings - including the Supreme Court decisions - make some very interesting readings (see: www.frontpageafricaonline./index.php/1447-why-did-president-the-allow-cabinet-ministers-to-violate-the-code).

In essence,  the CoC bill took almost 10 years to be passed into law. Then at its first challenge before the Supreme Court in mid-2016, it was soon discovered that the all-important Ombudsman Commission – the monitoring component of this law – had never been established. Reason: no money to create yet another useless commission. Was this a cause for which the law went dormant, and if so, why didn’t the Supreme Court see this as a sufficient reason to throw the case out, but it did not. Notwithstanding, the embarrassment and pressure were great enough to oblige the government to hastily set-up the commission just a few months ago.

Another hitch too, in establishing this commission the Legislature made it clear that its functions have nothing to do with election matters – that is, just in case the government was anticipating using the commission to find solutions to the multiple electoral problems developing after the first decisions by the Supreme Court.

The infamous articles 5.1 and 5.2 of the CoC in question
Were it not for articles 5.1 and 5.2 the CoC would not have come out to be a farce or a manipulative instrument; it would gone to oblivion like all the precedent laws. For this reason it merits to be recapped for a better comprehension, reference and analysis.
5.1 All Officials (author’s note) appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia shall not:

  • engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices;
  • use Government facilities, equipment or resources in support of partisan or political activities;
  • serve on a campaign team of any political party, or the campaign of any independent candidate.

5.2 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;

  • 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 public elective office shall resign said post at least two (2) years (author’s note) prior to the date of such public elections;
  • Any other official appointed by the President who holds a tenured position and desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post three (3) years (author’s note) prior to the date of such public elections.

From the reading, one does not have to be a constitutional lawyer, but simply objectivity and honesty to know that these two articles of the CoC are not only unconstitutional, but also highly discriminatory, anti-democracy, dictatorial in nature and extremely demeaning for those affected. Because in the spirit of the drafters any corrupt, incompetent and dictatorial President of Liberia, the Vice President (VP) and the legislators (ah, excluding the members of the Judiciary as appointed officials) can – at any time – engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elective offices, but not an honest, hardworking and dedicated superintendent,  minister, managing director, and the list goes on indefinitely. Why? Because  they are considered the disenfranchised subjects of the imperial President.

Just look at the circus with the so-called endorsement of the VP by some legislators from the rotunda of the National Legislature as if it is their eminent domain, and not a government facility (see art. 5.1 (b)). Of course, this is a typical example of the disdain the UP government has had for our institutions and the Liberian people at large. And for a Vice President talking about change, I think he should have advised his supporters  that a minimum of democracy requires that they should have performed such exhibition at the UP headquarters or anywhere else for that matter.

Then the provocation continues. In compensation, the Vice President chose the Speaker of the House (a true son of the soil who already sees himself as the first Kpelle President in 2024) as his running mate. So now these two Honourables (true sons of the soil) will be presiding over the coffers of the  National Legislature – the most corrupt branch of the UP government - and at the same time using state facilities and resources (as their “native” birth rights)  to run their campaign because no law or even morality obliges them to be recused, at least, during the official campaign period. Well yes, and they expect Liberians to vote for them in mass for a first round win – God forbids.

On the other hand, an appointed official “who desires to contest for public elective office” must resign 2 or 3 years prior to the date of such public elections (see: art. 5.2). And whereas the official campaign time is  about  3 months to the election date. Now tell me, if this law is not unconstitutional and grossly discriminatory against only a certain category of citizens, then what else could it be?

Discerning the public opinion on the CoC controversies
I was in Liberia recently when Dr. J. Mills Jones, the presidential candidate for MOVEE, first lashed out against the CoC. He vowed: “We will resist that law, we don’t care whether it was approved by the Court of Pontius Pilate… I will contest and nothing can stop me from being a candidate in the elections come 2017.” From this moment on this law got into a passionate national debate that should have actually taken place in 2014.  And being present on the ground, I observed a public opinion evolved at three levels.

First, the greater majority of the poverty-ridden population does not give a damn of the CoC. In fact, here is what they say the most: “That law we will eat?” Most of these people have already made up their minds on their preferred candidates, and are impatient for this government to get out of sight as quickly as possible for them to move on with their lives.

Second, there are the political opportunities who, with a very shortsighted view,  want the CoC - whether good or bad, to be applied at all cost to eliminate their potential political rivals. These were mostly the folks who repeated: “Anyone who does not like the law, let him take his case to the court.”  But they forget that the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive are identical, inseparable triplets. Or else  the arts. 5.1 and 5.2 would never have appeared in such a form or shape in the first place. Thus telling an intelligent man to go to court is a pure sarcasm of a very bad taste; it is like sending him to the gallows to be hanged  as a pathetic imbecile.

And the third  group are those who think that we have been screwed up and disappointed so much by this regime that it must be obliged at this last hour to  respect and apply – for once – a law concocted, signed and imposed by the imperial President. It is a sort of revolt or last stand – so to speak; the regime has been caught red-handed in its own tricks and manipulations, and must be embarrassed straight to the exit door. In short, their message is that this President should not stroll out on a red carpet and applauses while the nation threads on a very bleak future.

And how the CoC boomerangs
Though the theatrical sequences at the Supreme Court on the CoC have left most Liberians confused and circumspect, but also in the process exposed clearly the CoC as a big manipulative fiasco, transforming progressively into a boomerang. And  thanks to the courage and farsightedness  of  Dr. Jones who first challenged the legality of this law – not before the Supreme Court, but instead,  before the court of public opinion. Knowing that the law was tailored to fit him, had he ran to the court like a coward and humiliated expeditiously, this law would have certainly been put to rest and forgotten. But now the polemic has naked the emperor up to the exit door. At times, thus, it pays when a man stands up or sacrifices for his rights to awaken the awareness of a hypnotized nation. And yet we forget so soon that more than 250 000 of our innocent compatriots have died to give us our inalienable constitutional rights.

Now let me confess whence comes my source of inspiration for this reflection. I was stunned during my stay in Monrovia when a friend remarked that Dr. Jones should take his case to the Supreme Court if he had any problem with the CoC instead of “making threatening remarks.” Unbelievable, but I reminded  him that when an entire nation and its intelligentsia sat mute, knowing that the infamous arts. 5.1 and 5.2 were injected into the CoC only to bar a single individual (Dr. Mills Jones) from running for the presidency, then you can’t ask such a man to seek redress before a court in that Republic where every citizen has lost  his soul and dignity to become an economic prison. Then I concluded on the issue concerning some of the chosen vice presidential candidates who had  already broken the CoC. He replied that those were “minor issues” that will be settled later. Ah, I said to myself: “Poor Liberia.”

Since this amicable episode, I have been holding my breadth as the test-run cases speed through the Supreme Court. The public went into a hysteria of jubilation to praise those first decisions upholding the CoC as “constitutional”, despite a strong dissenting opinion by Justice Philip Banks. But the decision opened the Pandora-box, and soon the court was at the centre-stage, holding the “kenjah” and not the National Elections Commission (NEC). Further, as expectations  grew, and the  people wanted the law to catch the biggest culprits (presidential candidates),  only two major vice presidential running mates showed up for the showdown – rejected by the NEC.
Then the curtain opened for the second act. During the first rejection hearing of the two vice presidential running-mates, the defence counsels raised and argued on the issue of “desire or intent” of the aspirants to be or not to be for whatever they were accused. Apparently, the NEC was caught off balance; so the Supreme Court gently sent the case back to the commission, requesting it to do its homework properly in order to avoid overcrowding the court with pre-electoral complaints. And quickly the same jubilant public was disoriented, suspecting something fishy in this latest decision. But how could that be? Because had we followed objectively all the proceedings in those first test-run cases, we would have known that the Supreme Court’s decisions were based on some of these same genuine or amusing legal technicalities that would now liberate the two vice presidential candidates – Kanwea and Sulunteh – to our greatest dismay.

In clear, (and forgive me, I’m no lawyer) - the “ desire or intent ” in a criminal or some civil cases may determine the degree of punishment – if proven beyond all reasonable doubts. In this case article 5.2 of the CoC applied “desires” abundantly as a clear indication of its importance in the application of this law. The defence counsel knew that the NEC does not have the capacity or within its purview to prove or defend such a vague legal technicality in this case. Why? Because that task should belong to the Ombudsman Commission that never existed when all these aspirants quitted their official duties. And I think this much was not lost on the mind of the Supreme Court since  it  had constrained the government to set up this commission in precipitation after the first test-run cases. But since its establishment the commission has been conspicuously silent – I guess neither functional budget nor address as yet. How then can anyone expect the CoC to be applied effectively without confusion and loopholes when the monitor and first judge for conflict resolution is non-functional as yet?

So, bravo to the Honourable Supreme Court; you are playing your part in this game to perfection. Instead of sending that “kenjah” directly to its sponsors, you have placed it around the neck of the NEC. 

Remember though, the people are still watching.



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