Liberia: Liberty Party Political Leader, Chairman at Loggerheads as Both Argue over Legality of the Party’s Amended Constitution

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Monrovia – This newspaper has gathered that there is serious in-house fighting amongst partisans of the opposition Liberty Party over an alleged decision by the political leader and the vice-chairperson for administration, to submit to the National Elections Commission (NEC), an “illegitimate constitution” replacing the current.  

The reports come a day just after FrontPageAfrica reported about plans by the party to use an amended constitution to elect new officials.

In a letter to NEC, signed by the party’s Chairman, Senator Steve Zargo and Secretary General Jacob Smith, a copy of which is in possession of this newspaper, the two officials notified the Commission about the ‘illegality’ of a constitution submitted to them (NEC) by the party’s Standard Bearer, Senator Nyounblee Karnga-Lawrence and Vice Chair for Administration.

“By this communication, we adjoin with partisans to notify you that the constitution submitted to you is not legal and therefore should not be honored by the NEC,” a portion of the letter reads.

The two officials further alleged in their letter that they had warned their political leader of the need for the practice of what they termed “ethics and good governance”. They further said they had talked her against submitting to the NEC a revised constitution that didn’t satisfy the amendatory requirements of the party’s existing constitution.

“Unfortunately, the Political Leader and the Vice Chairperson for Administration proceeded, without constitutional authority, and out of deference for our positions, and with no regard to the illegality of the purported amended constitution, and submitted the instrument to you. It is the practice and the policy of Liberty Party that any amended constitution be signed by the chairman of the Party and the Secretary General,” the letter also stated.

Secretary General Smith and Chairman Zargo further argued that not only was the process by which the constitution was amended unauthorized, but the submission of the document by the Vice Chair for Administration was a flagrant disregard of the policies of the Liberty Party.

“The Political leader and the Vice Chairperson for Administration’s “unlawful” actions have now given rise to a demand from members of LP to the Political Leader to rescind her submission of the illegitimate constitution to the NEC,” they demand.

Partisans concern

In another communication also in our possession dated October 24, 2020 addressed to the Political Leader, a group of concerned LP partisans termed their leader’s alleged action flaw. They urged the party’s hierarchy to immediately withdraw the amended constitution from the electoral body.

They told their Political Leader, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, that they will rely on the validity of the 2015 Constitution adopted at the Voinjama Convention in 2015.

“We note that the failure to file occurred when there was a change in the leadership of the Party at the time of its adoption. This document has not only governed the affairs of the Party since its adoption, but is the document being amended, an admission by you of its validity. 

“Conversely, an argument supporting the supremacy of the 2005 Constitution over that of 2015 would invalidate all actions taken under the 2015 Constitution, including but not limiting the present attempt to amend.  Again, our reliance on the 2015 Constitution is supported by the fact that a filing requirement, statutory or regulatory cannot be used to negate the Rights to Association and other rights under the Constitution of Liberia -especially so when there is no timing requirement,” the group said.

The concerned LP partisans noted that in the instant case, the alleged amended constitution is the product of a Constitution Review Committee (CRC) appointed at a Retreat held in Buchanan in 2019.”

“It is our understanding that subsequently, there was a sitting of an Executive Council that endorsed the report of this Committee as an amendment to the Constitution,” the group maintained.

Listing reasons why a convening of Executive Council that led to endorsing the report of the CRC was a blatant violation of the Party’s Constitution, the concerned LP partisans said Article XII of the standing Constitution provides the process for its amendment.  It states, amongst other, that “The Constitution and By-Laws may be amended at any time by 2/3 majority of the delegates at a national or special Convention”.

The group furthered that Article V provides, inter alia, that the National Convention is the highest decision-making body of the Party and shall be presided by the Chairperson of the Party. Its composition consists of registered members of the Party who are in good standing and are also registered voters in the Republic, duly accredited by the Convention, noting that the Constitution provides for three categories of accredited delegates presented below for easy perusal:

“Category 1:  The Standard Bearer/Political Leader, members of the Executive Council, members of the advisory council and current legislators of the Party; the five (5) elected county officials from each County to include the County-Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary-General, Women Wing Chair and the Chair of the Youth Wing; and three representatives of Diaspora Chapters.”

The Constitution, the group further stated, provides that a quorum of the National Convention shall be a simple majority of those accredited with representation of a simple majority of the counties consistent with the Constitution, worthy of note that a National or Special Convention is not spontaneous, but is the product of a Convention Planning Committee.

“At the risk of repetition, the alleged Amended Constitution is the product of a Constitution Review Committee appointed at a Retreat held in Buchanan and approved by an alleged sitting of the Executive Committee and not at a National or Special Convention, as evidenced by the records of the Secretariat. 

“It is therefore debatable whether the appointment, in the first place, of such a “Constitution Review Committee” at a Retreat is a usurpation of the functions of the Executive Committee.  Surmising that the retreat was a sitting of the Executive Committee, does the Executive Committee have the power to amend the Constitution?  The answer is ‘NO.’  Again, if in error the Committee was appointed, this is a legal error, a fit subject for adjudication. We submit that it is nobler to err and make amends than to continue in error,” the concerned LP partisans lamented.

The group assumed further that the purported amended constitution is flaw on its face.  “It is a general accepted principle that it is the Secretary General that is the sole custodian of the records of an organization. It is he who certifies or confirms that the document represents the true decisions of a proceeding – obviously approved by the head of the organization.

“In the instant case, the Honorable Jacob Smith, Secretary-General, and the Hon. Stephen Zargo, Chairman of the Party/Presiding Officer of the Convention.  Cllr.  Hilton’s report cannot therefore be deemed an Amended Constitution.  The product of his committee can only, at most be deemed a report to be submitted to the Executive Committee for onward submission for inclusion in the Agenda of a National Convention or for the Convening of a Special Convention in keeping with Article VIII in accordance with provisions for the hosting of a National or Special Convention,” the group noted.

“The Purported Document is again flaw on its face as it is presented cosmetically as a new Constitution.  The proper procedure is to file “Articles of Amendments” listing the Articles to be amended first in the original form followed by the Proposed Amendments,” the group stated.

“We want to reiterate that the Proposed or alleged Amended Constitution does not meet the requirements stipulated in the Constitution of the Liberty Party and has the potential to create a schism within the Party detrimental to our focus of maintaining and recreating additional seats in the ensuing election. It is against this background and in an effort to mitigate this potentially explosive situation, that we request that the filing of the purported “Amended Constitution” be aborted, or if already filed, be withdrawn and that all discussions on amending be tabled until after the ensuing election when a Special Convention can be convened in keeping with the Constitution.”

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