Liberia: Cllr. Teplah Reeves Fumbles on Assuring Senate of Her Independence at the National Elections Commission
MONROVIA – Cllr. Teplah Reeves, Co-Chair-designate of the National Elections Commission (NEC) found herself wanting when Senator Darius Dillon (Montserrado, Liberty Party) insisted on knowing whether her level of integrity and courage can withstand interference from the Executive branch of government should be confirmed for the post.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
Cllr. Reeves initially enjoyed praises and had it soft from almost all members of the Standing Committee on Autonomous Agencies. The majority of them expressed that her education and work experience coupled with being a female make her suitable for the post, hence there weren’t many questions bordering on her qualification of aptness for the job.
Members of the committee include: Senators Henrique Tokpah (chairman, Bong County); Jim Tornonlah (co-chairman, Margibi County); George Tengbeh member Lofa County); Armah Jallah (Gbapolu County); Morris Saytumah (Grand Cape Mount County); Francis Paye (Rivercess County); Varney Sherman (Grand Cape Mount County) and Augustine Chea (Sinoe County).
Cllr. Reeves who was nominated by President George Weah on April 9, 2020 after he elevated Madam Davidetta Brown Lansanah, former co-chair to the post of chairperson.
Cllr. Reeves believed her experience as a lawyer and her previous work at the NEC’s legal section puts her in a position befitting of her new appointment.
And though she participated in the senatorial election in Rivercess County in 2014 on the ticket of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) she told the Committee that she relinquished her membership with the party upon taking up a post with the NEC. In 2017, she served as an election magistrate in the county.
Cllr. Reeves: “I’m suited for this position because I have all the qualifications; I was an actor at the National Elections Commission – I was hired contract legal counsel to scrutinize the 2017 presidential and legislative elections and I know of the workings appertaining thereto at the Elections Commission. When I was there, after we nominated all of the candidates, then from my excellent work, according to National Elections Commission, I was hired again to go hearing section and at the hearing sections, there where we get all of the complaints that are filed by all of the political parties. In that section, I handled four cases I adjudicated at the time.”
However, while most of the Committee members were impressed with her experience and level of work at the NEC, the Montserrado County Senator was concerned about integrity and keeping the NEC void of political interference.
Laying his premise, he said, “The peace and stability of this country hinge a lot on the conduct of democratic elections and the credibility of those can either enhance the peace and the gains we’ve made as a country or regress everything. The court may take a decision in a case involving two parties and it may not be of magnitude enough to reverse the peace and stability of this country. But one result lacking in credibility by the manner of conduct of election that that commission will hold can take this country back to 1847. So, people who are privileged to be allowed to serve on the Commission should these things at the back of their mind – the peace and stability of this country.”
Through his first line of questions, Cllr. Reeves admitted that one does not need to be a lawyer to serve as Commissioner of the NEC.
For Dillon, this was important because he believes serving at the NEC requires integrity void of political alignment and interference.
Senator Dillon then went on: “I don’t have academic credentials so I don’t run behind people for that. I look at their moral conduct, their integrity, their courage to stand up. Should you be confirmed, Madam Nominee, you’ll be going to a position that grants tenure. The wisdom behind the legislature granting tenure to positions like the one to which you’ve been nominated is to free you of political intrusion and intimidation and dismissal so that it can give you the independence and the space to do your work professionally with more courage. The law does not say you should not be politically aligned before your nomination. The law requires that if you were politically aligned you should relinquish it before you take the position. So, I’m not going to border on whether you’re a member of CDC or not, my focus is your personal character, your integrity and courage to stand up in the face of political intrusion, especially from the executive. What guarantee can you give this body that we should not deny you or anybody similar situated because of political alignment?
In her attempt to respond to the crucial question, Cllr. Reeves then began to read to the mission, vision and core values of the NEC. However, a dissatisfied Dillon reposed the question.
Transcript of What Ensued:
SEN. DARIUS DILLON’S QUESTION: “In knowing your former political connection, I want a guarantee that your integrity and courage will cause you not to be allowed you to be influenced by political intrusion.”
CLLR. TEPLAH REEVES’ ANSWER: “Thank you Mr. Senator, I like that question because I woke up this morning not by myself. I woke up because somebody shook me and somebody gave me breathe again, that’s how I woke up. So, the question, it takes a turn of hypothetical; and using the hypothetical thing I can’t say what’s in the future. The future does not lie in my hands; I just will go by what’s before me and what has been presented to me to be able to ensure that your vote will be counted and I trust and I can assure that your vote will definitely be counted when I get up in the morning.”
SAID SENATOR DILLON: “When I wanted this seat, I guaranteed the people that I will be transparent, it was not hypothetical. So, I’m asking you. You’re going to a commission that has to do with the peace and stability of this country in terms of our democratic process. I’m not one of those who are going to vote against you because you are a member of a political party. The sole intent of the law is reasoning. Now, the law does not reason illogically that Cllr. Teplah Reeves was not supposed to be politically aligned throughout her life hoping that one day she would be appointed one day. So, the law reasoned that when you are appointed and it requires political neutrality, you should resign from that position. Can you state under oath that you will not allow yourself to be bullied, intimidated from political intrusion? That is all I’m asking, that’s not hypothetical question?
After several rounds of going back-and-forth, Cllr. Reeves answered: “So, help me God”.
A frustrated Senator Dillon would later lament: “The woman says I’m asking her hypothetical question, I just want to know if she can guarantee that she will not allow herself to be influenced by any political intrusion from the Executive, it’s not hypothetical.”
According to Section 2.1 of the New Elections Law, the Co-Chairman shall be the principal assistant to the Chairman in the over-all operation of the office of the Commission. He shall perform all such other duties as may be assigned by the Chairman and act in his absence.