Washington – Mr. Alexander Cummings, the former Coca Cola executive setting his sights on the Liberian presidency, is speaking out for the first time since the Supreme Court of Liberia came down with a decision in favor of a National Code of Conduct seen as a major stumbling block to many of the more than 20 candidates running for President.
“When I agreed to serve on the (BWI) board, I had declared my intentions. So, it wasn’t like it was a secret, it wasn’t like it was not known.
"My intension to aspire to serve our people was very well known to the Liberian people and the government when I accepted that. So, the code in no way applies to me, I am not concerned about it at all, so I’m very confident that it will not be a barrier to my aspirations to lead our country.”
‘Does Not Apply to Me’
In an exclusive FrontPageAfrica interview, in the backdrop of a political fundraiser in Washington at the weekend, Mr. Cummings dismissed the inclusion of him among those likely to be axed from the presidential race.
Said Mr. Cummings: “The first thing I would say is that Code of Conducts are not anything bad to have in any organization, in any institution. They need to be very clear and simple to understand and they need to be enforce consistently.
In this particular case, it does not apply to me. I was never in government. In this particular case, we are talking about in Liberia, it does not apply to me. I have not been government, was never in government.
I agreed to support BWI as the premiere vocational institution in our country and I don’t regret that decision but I am very confident that the code does not apply to me.”
Three of the five justices of the Supreme Court - Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, together with Associate Justices Kabineh M. Ja'neh, both of Nimba County, and Sie-A- Nyene G. Youh - voted in favor of the 2014 National Code of Conduct Act, with the remaining two - Associate Justices Philip A.Z. Banks and Jamesetta H. Wolokollie- voting against it.
The issue stems from a 2014 case filed by Bong County Superintendent Selena Polson-Mappy, who petitioned the court against the passage of the Code of Conduct that was submitted by the Executive Branch of Government in 2009, arguing that it was unconstitutional.
Superintendent Mappy was expected to contest one of the representative seats in her county during the October elections. But in a landmark decision, three associate justices said that the code of conduct Act was enacted on the wisdom of the Legislature in the supreme interest of the Liberian people to protect the resources of the country from abuse by public officials and to create a plain/level political field for all contesting candidates.
The court decided: "The act is not, in our opinion, repugnant to or in conflict with any provision of the Constitution to warrant its declaration as being unconstitutional as contended by the petitioner.”
The decision was seen as posing a stumbling block to many of the more than 20 candidates eyeing the presidency including former Central Bank of Liberia governor J. Mills Jones, and many officials in the Sirleaf-led government including Vice President Joseph Boakai now entering the mix as the debate over the controversial ruling intensified.
Jones’ political wing, the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE) has also slammed the ruling, insisting that he will march on with his quest for the presidency.
“Since the passage into law of the Code of Conduct, some politicians and their surrogates have been trying very hard to tie in the Former Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and Standard Bearer of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE), Dr. J. Mills Jones to said Code of Conduct.
The detractors are insinuating that the Political Leader and Standard Bearer of MOVEE will be stopped from contesting the Presidency of Liberia in the ensuing Presidential elections in October 2017 as a result of the March 3, 2017 Supreme Court ruling on the Code of Conduct.”
Dr. Jones resigned from the bank in May 2014 and went on to accept a petition from a group of Liberians to contest the presidency.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appointed Mr. Cummings as Eminent Liberian on the board of the Booker Washington Institute although it is not clear whether he falls into the category of tenure or non-tenure appointee.
Harrison Karnwea, the embattled head of the Forestry Development Authority who recently crossed over to the opposition Liberty Party, is also one of those likely to be affected. He is highly tipped to become the vice presidential standard bearer for the LP political leader Charles Walker Brumskine.
Former Ambassador to the US Jeremiah Sulunteh is also among those expected to be affected by the ruling as is Dr. Jallah A. Barbu, a former Chair of the Law Reform Commission who declared his candidacy for the presidency in 2016.
Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, chairman of the National Elections Commission has vowed to uphold the court’s decision. Appearing on a local talk radio show, The Truth Breakfast morning magazine, on Truth FM, recently, the NEC boss said, under the constitution of Liberia that supports three branches of government, the legislature makes the laws and the court interprets the laws.
“What the National Elections commission will be doing is to obey the court’s opinion and comply strictly with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the code of conduct. I don’t want to comment on this further but I can tell you this: Whatever then Supreme Court, says will be followed to the letter.”
‘I am Not Concerned’, Cummings Says
The code applies to all officials covered under article 56 of the constitution including Ambassadors, Ministers, Consuls, Chief Justice, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Judges of the subordinate courts, Superintendents, other county officials of other political subdivisions; members of the military from the rank of lieutenant of its equivalent and above; and marshals, deputy marshals and sheriffs.
Section 5.2 (a) of the Code of Conduct dictates that any Minister, Deputy Minister, Director-General, Managing Director and Superintendent appointed by the President …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 years prior to the date of such public elections.
In the case of other appointed officials who hold tenured positions and desire to contest for public elective offices, the Code of Conduct dictates in Section 5.2 (b) that such officials “shall resign said post three (3) years prior to the date of such public elections.”
But Mr. Cummings, in an FPA exclusive explained that his role with the BWI was simply to give back and not a position in government as is being suggested.
Said Mr. Cummings: “When I agreed to serve on the board, I had declared my intentions. So, it wasn’t like it was a secret, it wasn’t like it was not known. My intension to aspire to serve our people was very well known to the Liberian people and the government when I accepted that.
So, the code in no way applies to me, I am not concerned about it at all, so I’m very confident that it will not be a barrier to my aspirations to lead our country.”
Ombudsman Will Decide Fates of Violators
FrontPageAfrica has learned that the Sirleaf administration is in the process of appointing an ombudsman who could decide the fates of many of those with political aspirations.
That appointment is expected within days, one Sirleaf administration official said Sunday.
The Ombudsman is a group of persons appointed or authorized by the President of the Republic of Liberia and confirmed by the Senate to enforce, oversee, monitor and evaluate adherence to the Code of Conduct. Such individual or group of persons shall receive and investigate complaints against Public Officials, Employees of Government and national institutions.
In the case where there is a determination of guilt and violation of the code by private and Public Officials and Employees of Government, said violation shall be submitted by the Ombudsman to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) or other relevant Agencies of Government.
Punishment could include fines, dismissals or loss of assets. “But the threshold is, if you don’t resign within the statutory time you are banned or should be banned.
Part XII, 12.1 of the code regulations creating the office of the Ombudsman states that office of an Ombudsman is established as an independent autonomous body which shall be responsible for the enforcement, oversight, monitoring and evaluation of the adherence to the Code of Conduct.
Section 12.2 states: “The Office of Ombudsman shall receive and investigate all complaints, in respect to the adherence to the Code of Conduct.
The Office of the Ombudsman shall be responsible to collaborate with the three Branches of Government and Civil Society Organizations in order to develop regulations for the Code of Conduct."
PART XV; Section 15.1 of the Code regarding sanctions for Infringement states: “Sanctions for any breach of this Code of Conduct shall be those prescribed by the Standing Orders of the Civil Service or any other laws governing the public service.
Notwithstanding, depending on the gravity of the offence or misconduct, one or more of the following penalties may apply: a. dismissal; b. removal from office in public interest; c. reprimand; d. fine or making good of the loss or damage of public property/assets; e. demotion (reduction in rank); f. seizure and forfeiture to the State of any property acquired from abuse of office; and g-interdiction/suspension from duty with half pay.”
PART XVI regarding procedure for reporting violations states: “Procedures for submission of Complaints Submission of complaints shall be in accordance with procedures established by the autonomous body responsible for Ombudsman functions.
Sources tell FrontPageAfrica that the President is weighing in on the appointment but the Ministry of Justice is reportedly advocating for a three-person panel as compared to just one person making such a decision.
“We are just looking for the right people now to fill the void and get this behind us,” a source privy to those discussions, speaking on condition of anonymity told FrontPageAfrica at the weekend.
But the solution may not be that simple. One legal expert suggests that the decision by the Ombudsman could complicate things further and probably prolong the upcoming elections. “What happens in a case when the Ombudsman denies everyone from competing? They might all end up back at the Supreme Court,” one legal expert opined.
The incumbent, Sirleaf also risks being accused of picking and choosing who to run and not to run, depending on how the Ombudsman rule.
‘Attention Not a Bad Thing’
With all the attention, his candidacy is gathering lately, Mr. Cummings, who had acknowledged in an earlier FrontPageAfrica interview that his late entry in the race put him at a disadvantage, the former corporate executive said the close scrutiny means that his message is getting through to potential voters and his opponents are taking notice.
“I think we’ve made tremendous strides. I would say we have wind in our back and the attention that we are getting is because we have made tremendous strides and I think people are now viewing us as a viable threat to what I will describe as the establishment candidates.
So, in some way the attention is not a bad thing. The analogy I like to use is the coca cola. The brand attracts a lot of attention because it is the leading brand. So, the fact that we are being attacked if you will it is because we are making strides, we are making tremendous progress and our opportunity to win is very high.”
Merger/coalition unlikely at this point
Pressed for his thoughts on the failure of main opposition political parties to come together, Mr. Cummings while acknowledging some talks are being held, suggested that it is very unlikely that the major parties and individuals will come together.
“Nothing what I will call substantive. I’ve heard the same rumours – if you will; people in those different parties have speculated or have reached out indirectly but no principal discussions have taken place.”
Added Mr. Cummings: “People have to understand why I aspire to lead our country and I think if we understand why, you will come to understand why I am not interested in being anybody’s number two.
No disrespect to the role. I want to help Liberia and Liberians transform our country and the role to do that through the presidency. So, again, no disrespect to any of the aspirants or to the role but my goal is to make the case to the Liberian people, my case tyo give the opportunity to serve them - and that’s what we are doing right now.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Cummings says he is not ruling out the possibilities.
“I think coalitions are possible, we have many parties – and many of the smaller parties we are talking to them about coalescing. There are factions from some of the bigger parties that we can get to join us and that’s what we’re working on. I think the likelihood that the key players would subjugate their aspirations – one to the other I think is highly unlikely.”
For now, he says, his party’s focus is to try to make coalitions or mergers with a lot of the smaller parties.
“We will be making some announcements in the next few weeks because we’re making some progress in that respect but frankly I think coalition with Liberty, Unity, ALP is unlikely, I won’t say no because we continue to have discussions with them but I think it is highly unlikely that those parties will coalesce behind one person.”
Economic revival Main Focus of Campaign
Mr. Cummings outlined his vision for Liberia insisting that his candidacy is about job creation and using his corporate America experience to rebuild the economy.
“For me, this is the exact order and I will talk about the whats, there’s what we need to do and the hows, we need to do it. In terms of what, first of all is the job creation.
The number of unemployed Liberians is too high – and it is a huge national security risk. So, job creation, both private and public sector jobs we have to focus on; second part is agriculture. And all of these things tied together, tied to job creation.
We don’t’ feed ourselves with the food we consume. So, we have to invest in agriculture; education, health, all of this underpinned by infrastructure; power, water, roads.”
Without those things, he said, it would be difficult to achieve a lot of other things. “I think we need to think about privatising. So those are the whats.
In terms of the hows, hearts and minds. We have to engage Liberians differently in getting involved and transforming our country. It’s not good enough to sit on the sidelines, it’s not good enough just to ask questions, it’s not good enough to sit on the sidelines; it’s not good enough just to make suggestions. We have to get involved to implement those suggestions.”
Mr. Cummings explained that getting Liberians involved is a big part of the how his team is hoping to change Liberia.
“Second, how is to find the money and what needs to be done. So, I call it the resource mobilization and the revenue growth. How can we get more from our natural resources; how can we find more natural resources.
And the other side of revenue is waste, how can we get at corruption, how can we control waste because we need the money to do all of the whats that are needed to be done, so let’s prioritize resource mobilization.
The next priority beyond that for me is we have to form an inclusive government. We need as many Liberians, different political parties, different tribes in the government to transform the country. So inclusive government is im,portant to me.
So the last but not the least of the hows is private sector growth, entrepreneurship; those things are critical. We’re all dependant to be on the government; government is a big part of the GDP.
We need to grow the private sector so we can create opportunities for our people. So those are the what’s and the whys – in terms of what we need to do to transform our country.”
Regarding his choice of a running mate, Mr. Cummings said it is a bit too early to show his hands but says he is narrowing his options.
“We have a shortlist which I think would be premature to disclose the names now but the things we’re looking at in terms of the criteria we will be looking at to select that person is one of course in the unlikely event – and I don’t control this – that something happens to me, somebody qualified to replace me; we want the right geographic balance.”
The presidential candidate says the counties that would make sense; in no particular order would be Nimba, Lofa, Bong, Margibi.
“Those would be ideal as supposed to the southeast where I’m from.
Gender is a consideration but not a must as I think about the list. Youth and age. I don’t want somebody older than me; somebody my age or younger would be considered. So, those are the criteria, the geography, we’re looking at but I think it would be premature to give a name.”