Liberia – ‘Reform Now or Face Constitutional Crisis’

Mamos Media

By David S. Menjor

UNDP Country Director for Liberia, Stephen Rodriques (left) and Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman

— Says UNDP Country Director, Stephen Rodriques; Sen. Varney Sherman proposes amendments

By David S. Menjor and J. Burgess Carter

UNDP Country Director for Liberia, Stephen Rodriques has warned that the current working structure of the National Elections Commission – drafted a decade ago – hinders the organization’s work, leading to distrust among the people about election results.

Rodriques furthered that the working of the National Elections Commission (NEC) needs to reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people as a means of building trust and fostering credibility in the electoral system among the country.

According to him, the decade-old New Elections Law needs radical overhaul and reform to save the country from the future constitutional crisis as well as enhancing the function of the electoral body to adequately perform its roles in line with the wish of the people.

“The UNDP, along with other donor partners have come to realize that many Liberians would appreciate comprehensive reform or amendment in the New Elections Law of Liberia. That is important because it has something to do with the voices of the people who the NEC serves,” Rodriques said.  “It is our hope that the government, beginning with the Legislature or the general public sees reason and supports this for the good of the country.” 

He further noted that NEC is doing well but there is a lot that needs to be done in order to see the commission do even better to continue on the road of the tremendous progress the country has made in the last twenty years, mainly in enhancing its democracy; with the NEC playing a key role.

“In spite of the many challenges, including the lack of sufficient funding associated with the conduct of the December 8, 2020, Special Elections; the NEC did tremendously well to ensure that the polls were free, fair, and credible,” he said.

The UNDP boss added that the NEC as an institution set up to preserve the sanity of the country’s democracy, and with the many challenges, particularly the lack of funding that still engulfs the commission, he is “flabbergasted”(shocked) and could not understand why there are still constant public attacks against the commission.

Sen. Sherman Proposes Amendments to New Elections Law

As Rodriques joined calls for reforms, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Cllr. Varney  Sherman has again written the Liberian Senate proposing amendments to the New Elections Law that will affect the adjudication of electoral disputes from Presidential and Legislative elections.

In his April 23, 2021 communication to the Senate plenary, Sen. Sherman proposed that the New Elections Law be amended to give the Board of Commissioners jurisdiction over presidential election disputes “and an appeal from the decision of the Board of Commissioners shall lie with the Supreme Court.”

“Simply stated, for a presidential election dispute the entire Board of Commissioners, not a subordinate National Elections Commission staff, albeit it a lawyer, shall be the forum for the first hearing. This will shorten the length of time it will take to dispose of a presidential election dispute,” Sen. Sherman noted. 

He added, “I propose amendments to the New Elections Law to provide that a hearing officer of NEC or a designated person, such as an Associate Magistrate from the Judiciary, shall serve as a hearing officer; and a decision from the hearing officer shall be appealable to the Board of Commissioners, and thereafter to the Supreme Court.”

Also for legislative elections, the Grand Cape Mount County Senator argued that once NEC has certificated a candidate to be the elected person based on the ballot counted and announced by NEC, that person should assume the position for which the election was held pending adjudication of any complaint which arises from that election.

“And if at the end of the adjudication process provided by law it is finally determined that the person so first certificated by the NEC is not the winner of the election, that person shall be de- certificated and the person certified at the end of the adjudication process shall assume the position for which the election was held. 

“Provided that any compensation or benefits paid to the person first certificated by the NEC for services rendered shall not be reimbursed to the person eventually certified at the end of the adjudication process,” Sen. Sherman asserted that his proposal for determination of the winner of legislative elections and other elections is what is practiced in many West African countries. 

“What this proposal does is that it ensures timely representation of the people; discourages frivolous challenges to election results; and minimizes the cost of elections, which arise from post-election disputes,” he said. “The communication comes in the wake of expressed fears by some of the newly inducted Senators on the possibility of precipitation of a constitutional crisis growing out of the 2023 presidential and legislative elections if certain remedial actions were not taken now to avert it.”

‘Support’

Meanwhile, Rodriques has said that he will encourage long-term support to the NEC, mainly in the areas of capacity strengthening for technicians with the expectation that the commission’s technicians can make it a world-class Election Management Body, (EMB), in Africa and the world at large.

According to a press statement from NEC and signed by Prince Dunbar, acting director of communications, the UNDP country head said UNDP is interested in seeing Liberia do a lot more in supporting women who want to serve their country not only through their respective private lives but through politics, too.

“Women are a fundamental part of the society-building process and to achieve this, we should not watch them sit on the fence but be active participants. A lot of them are educated and have skills they can bring to public service for the good of the country.” 

 In response, Cllr. P. Teplah Reeves, Co-chairperson of the National Elections Commission, assured the UNDP that NEC will continue to collaborate with its international partners, mainly the UNDP, to ensure that the 2023 general elections are conducted in a free, fair, credible, and transparent manner.

Cllr. Reeves said her Commission will appreciate UNDP for more assistance, mainly in the area of capacity building.

Rodriques spoke yesterday at a five-day ongoing Internal Lessons Learned Conference (ILLC-NEC) of the National Elections Commission in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County. The five-day internal lessons learned conference is expected to come to an end today (Friday, April 30, 2021) and its objective is for executives and other stalwarts, as well as partners of NEC to reflect on past or previously held election(s) and come on par with realities for improvements in the conduct of future elections.

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