The Code of Conduct: Why It May Not Be Implemented
Article 90 (c) of the 1986 Constitution stipulates that the Legislature shall prescribe a Code of Conduct (CoC) for the purpose of ensuring that public officials don’t engage in conflicts of interest or act against public policies.
In fulfillment of that constitutional provision, a March 2014 Law was promulgated to serve as a valuable instrument for the enforcement of the said provision laid out by the Constitution. However, because it was poorly written by men with devious intents, it has now become, arguably, an instrument of grave controversies and confusion.
You will agree that it has been a rowdy few months since the Supreme Court upheld provisions of a controversial CoC that bars appointed members of the Executive Branch and civil servants from actively participating in the politics of the country.
The CoC is of course not the only beneficiary of the unbridled and most times uninformed construal of significant national documents and issues. Lousy public commentary is now the new normal among Liberians- meanly young, exuberant and habitually unsophisticated army of politicians and all subject matter experts.
Unlike other democracies and polities, discussions on key national issues in this part of the world are short-lived. Probably owed to the lack of depth from key crusaders, discussions last for a week or two and then suddenly fade away. This has been the Liberia for the better part of over a decade- an issue is not followed to a logical conclusion.
However but unsurprisingly, the CoC seems not to fall prey to the regular standards. It is a political document and may deny thousands during a contentious political stretch. 2017 is too much an important year to let go. New political actors will have to be elected but before that, a herculean barrier has to be removed and vanquished.
Too much pressure is being placed on state actors to decisively act in lessening the wild moods and lousy euphoria in the country and from the view of the current trends, anti-CoC bickerers are ostensibly winning.
Important national voices have joined the crusade calling for the urgent repeal of law or extinguishing its flames by recommending simple punishments for people who will be affected by the CoC and those already in hot violation.
As I indicated, the law itself is poorly written. The framers appeared to be in too much haste to stifle others from participating that they forgot to clearly lay out strong punishments for violation. Nobody can be barred as once heralded by the supporters of the CoC.
The Office of Ombudsman is the first line of contact if a party feels aggrieved and there are calls for them to only institute fines as punishment which undermines the intent of the framers.
The intrinsic culture of the lack of reading has dented the legislative chances of the lawmakers. It is believed that it is only now that most of them have come to the realization that actual punishment for violators is discretionary.
Since it is known fact that the most reliable threat to legislative continuity comes from members of the Executive Branch, the failure to read what was being passed has come to haunt the framers.
However, the CoC is not only its own nemesis. Executive Order (EO) No. 83 has also disrupted things further and has placed a wedge thereby deepening the wounds of the CoC. Like the CoC, the EO is a law. The Senate is rightfully refusing to even conduct hearings for presidential nominees to fill the role of ombudsman.
The Senate indicates that if the office of ombudsman was set up by an EO, the president is expected to proceed with the appointment without the consent of the Senate. Things are so murky from the get-go and render the urge to even start, less alluring. Essentially, the path to lead is now left to the impulses of Madam President- a decision that is basically unfavorable to most of the framers of the law.
Unfortunately, all of this is not happening by chance or a demonstration of mere coincidence. The many political uncertainties and judicial panoplies are presided over by the new presidential darling, J. Fonati Kofa (JFK), former Chairman of the Liberty Party. For once, it seems that Madam President herself looks charmed by the virtuoso of JFK.
He knows exactly that Part Twelve (12) of the Act of Legislature prescribing a National Code of Conduct for Public Officials establishes an independent autonomous body called the Office of Ombudsman to enforce, monitor and provide oversight for the adherence to the CoC.
Yet, he still authored the EO to usurp the consenting powers of the Senate. The plan, as any detailed follower would see, was meant to take control of happenings favoring his Liberty Party. Nominations by the president were not done also in isolation.
Except for Elizabeth Hoff, who benefited from an ounce of luck, every other member nominated to the office came at the advice and consent of the former Liberty Party Chairman.
JFK may not be wrong after all. Politics is an essentially stubborn and politically cruel machination and even spicier if the empress fox is outsmarted. He foresaw all of this with the aid of Cllr. Brumskine’s friend on the Bench, Justice Janneh.
It was a case of a complete randomized controlled trial and what leaves me reeling is the situation of “whether or not the CoC would have had any potency, enforceability and currency had Cllr. Brumskine not picked Harrison Karnwea as running mate?” Separate trials were conducted including sampling the response of the public to the nomination of Harrison Karnwea.
The feedback was terrible; vice running mates are not chosen out of the skies. Consultations are made and when the offers are accepted, final announcements are made. If Karnwea was allowed to run, everyone else would be given a pass. So even though Justice Janneh wanted to suffocate Dr. Mills Jones for unexplained reasons, gears had to be shifted. He had to abandon his ego for the greater political good. Taking control of the process became the only available option. Hence, the demonstration of what we see today.
Besides, had the internal polling done by Liberty Party shown that a Mandingo/Muslim candidate would have added more value to the ticket as compared to a Nimba candidate and Musa Bility had been selected as running mate, the case for the implementation of the CoC would have been more vocal but when Cllr. Brumskine, an officer of the Court, was forced to take Harrison Karnwea, then the dynamics changed. Imagine that he was prepared to even disrespect the Court and select someone who fell in the category that the Court had ruled was disqualified by the CoC.
Don’t get hoodwinked, all the legal mishaps, missteps, and confusions are by grand design and not mistakes? Do you think that JFK would want to do anything to embarrass his political leader, publicly? Do you know what it would mean for Cllr. Brumskine if Karnwea is disqualified?
This would mean that his judgment is poor and flawed because to consider yourself a good lawyer and then select someone as running mate who gets disqualified on the basis of an opinion that was already handed down by Court before you made the decision is very damning and stupefying.
This is why Justice Janneh and JFK, maybe with support of the President, are doing everything to ensure that the CoC is not a disqualifying instrument so that Cllr. Brumskine is not ridiculed.
What it seems they may try to do is to save face by ensuring that the CoC is NOT totally trashed as fiercely recommended. Using Section 15.1 of the Code of Conduct, they will seek to institute punishments for violators just to allow Karnwea to run.
It is sad fact the political actors have been screwed. JFK, not the medical center, the one who ran the Liberty Party and still oversees the Liberty Party, is definitely having the last laugh.
As political commentators, we only sit afar and watch and illustrate the political malaise.
Robin Lee Tarpeh is a Political Consultant and Strategist with the First Consulting and can be reached at [email protected]