Monrovia – Liberty Party is arguing before the Supreme Court that their vice standard bearer, Harrison Karnwea, never desired to be running mate, but was rather invited by the party.
The party anchored its argument on the ‘ambiguity’ of Section 5.1 of the Code of Conduct which fails to clearly define ‘desire’.
Harrison Karnwea’s nomination by the party as running mate was rejected by the National Elections Commission on ground that he was barred by the Code of Conduct which requires presidential appointees desiring to contest elections to resign two years before said elections.
Section 5.1 and 5.2 of the Code of Conduct states: “All officials appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia shall not (a) Engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices (b) Use government facilities, equipment or resources in support of parties or political activities.
It also says such persons cannot (c) Serve on a campaign team of any political party, or the campaigns of any independent candidate.
5.2 says "Wherein any person in the category stated in section 5.1 desires to canvass or contests 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 Director, who desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post at least two years prior to the date of such public election.
"(b) 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 years prior to the date of such public election.
"(c) However, in the case of impeachment, death, resignation or disability of an elected official, any official listed above desirous of canvassing or contesting to fill such position must resign said post within thirty days, following the declaration of the National Election Commission (NEC) of the vacancy.
However, referencing the Oxford Dictionary, lawyers representing the party defined “desire” as “a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen”.
“We want to say that Karnwea didn’t desire to be vice president for Liberty Party,” Cllr. Powo Hilton argued on behalf of the party.
“We agree that the Code of Conduct is law, but it doesn’t apply to him.”
“NEC has no authority to disqualify my client”
Cllr. Hilton was questioned why he was putting premium on the word “desire” as the CoC recommends resignation two or three years before the contesting and whether his acceptance to contest isn’t a violation of the law.
He answered by insisting that taking the word ‘desire’ into context, Karnwea has violated no law.
However, Associate Justice Banks called Cllr. Powo’s attention to the sequential order in which Karnwea carried out his activities – “he resigned on March 9 and you have to admit that he announced he was shifting his membership to Liberty Party; you wouldn’t draw the conclusion that he had the intent when he resigned from the Unity Party?”
“Look at the totality of events, I find it difficult not to believe you expressed your intention at the press conference,” Justice Banks averred.
Cllr. Powo answered that Karnwea didn’t resign his post as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) because he wanted to be vice president, rather because he wanted to attend to his plantation.
He also added that there could not be two years after the press conference.
Justice Banks wondered why Liberty Party took such argument before the Bench which the Court had already clarified what intent is in the Selena Mappy-Polson case.
The bench also inquired from the National Elections Commission whether a hearing before Karnwea’s rejection.
NEC, represented by Cllr. Musa Dean, contended that Section 7 & 8 of the Election Guidelines give the NEC Chairman the authority to reject anyone found in violation of the regulations.
Cllr. Dean said there was no hearing because after Karnwea was served the rejection form, he did not take an appeal to the board of commissioners.
However, Justice Banks questioned the NEC over their failure to conduct a hearing before Karnwea’s rejection.
“Section 3.5 of your brief characterized Karnwea’s act as grievous and he used public resources and that gave him undue advantage.
“Without evidence and hearing, how did you reach such a blunt characterization of his act as grievous? Why didn’t you allow him a hearing before his rejection?” Justice Banks asked.
The case is ongoing at the Supreme Court. More updates to follow soon.