Liberia: LP Crisis Goes Back To Supreme Court As Embattled Chairman Bility Expresses Lack of Confidence in NEC
MONROVIA – The Musa Bility-faction of the opposition Liberty Party (LP) has filed two separate lawsuits to the Supreme Court of Liberia against the decisions taken by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to prevent the holding of its National Convention and reversing on the denial of Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence the right to withdraw the controversial constitution of the party which is currently before the body.
Mr. Bility is the National Chairman of the LP, while Senator Karnga-Lawrence remains the embattled Political Leader of the party.
By Obediah Johnson
For nearly two years now, the LP has been rocked with controversies following reports of the alleged alteration of the party’s constitution by Mr. Bility to satisfy his personal interest.
Multiple legal suits intended to showcase supremacy over the administration of the party were later filed to the NEC and the Supreme Court of Liberia respectively.
It brought a split within the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), prompting the formation of the Musa Bility faction and Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence faction of the party.
Late October, Senator Karnga-Lawrence led hundreds of executives, partisans and supporters to the headquarters of the NEC and various embassies in Monrovia to present a petition, alarming over numerous missteps from the commission since the crisis began within the LP.
Following the move, the commission instituted hearings to review the decisions it previously made, including the latest prohibition placed on the holding of a national convention by Mr. Bility and his supporters.
But addressing a news conference at the LP headquarters in Monrovia on Monday, November 21, Mr. Bility expressed frustration over the failure of the NEC to regard the laws of the country.
He said all of the legal issues surrounding the LP have passed through and have already been decided upon by the commission.
Mr. Bility claimed that the commission, as a quasi-judicial body, does not have the authority to review itself or reverse on its previous decisions taken.
According to him, the Supreme Court of Liberia and the National Legislature are the only bodies that have such a power to do so.
He alleged that the present Hearing Officer of the commission is currently behaving like “he cannot remember his own decision”, has again ruled in the same case regarding the constitution of the party after the Board of Commissioners of the body have already made a determination.
“We have noticed dangerous steps being taken by the National Elections Commission to engage in activities that it does not have the authority to do. The Hearing Officer does not have the authority to preside over any issue regarding the Liberty Party constitution because, the Board of Commissioners has already decided.”
Mr. Bility recalled that the NEC Board, on two separate occasions, ruled and informed Senator Karnga Lawrence that she has no authority to withdraw the party’s constitution which was submitted by him to the body.
He said the commission also went a “painstaking level” to inform Senator Karnga-Lawrence on the two separate ways in which the party’s constitution can be withdrawn from the commission.
He named the two ways as the holding of a National Convention to ensure amendments and the acquiring of a “non-appealable verdict from the Supreme Court”.
The Farmington agreement
On October 2, 2021, both parties of the LP crisis met at the famous Farmington Hotel in Margibi County as part of efforts to resolve the impasse.
However, the gathering turned to a merrymaking and photo gallery event that failed to yield any fruitful results up to present.
The Senator Karnga-Lawrence faction of the LP has consistently accused Mr. Bility of admitting to allegedly altering the party’s constitution during the peace talk at Farmington.
But Mr. Bility also claimed that both parties also agreed at the gathering that no law of the LP was violated during the submission of the constitution to the NEC.
He disclosed that both parties also resolved to go to the NEC to establish whether or not the document submitted to the commission was filed properly.
“We proceeded to NEC and NEC wrote us in a letter signed by the commissioners saying that, “the Liberty Party filed its constitution in full compliance with the elections commission guidelines.””
Mr. Bility, however, disclosed that the Farmington agreement has been fully enacted in the new constitution of the LP.
Division in NEC
Speaking further, the Liberty Party National Chairman observed that there exists a high level of division among Commissioners of the NEC over the selection of a company for the biometric voter registration exercise.
The commission continues to struggle to select a company after Ekemp International, which is being highly favored by the commission’s Chairperson Madam Davidetta Browne Lasannah, was rejected by both the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) and the Senate Committee on Autonomous Agencies and Corporation for poor performance.
“The Senate has now joined certain Commissioners to use Liberty Party as a pawn in their game of throne. It’s not accepted and they have no right to reverse themselves,” Mr. Bility stated.
Mr. Bility described as “shameful, disgraceful and dangerous for the elections commission to allow people to denigrate it and insult their fellow commissioners and the head of the commission accused her, without any prove of wrong doing and get on the streets to denigrate the commission-and then used that to back track.”
His comments were in direct response to the decision taken by Senator Karnga-Lawrence and her supporters to stage a peaceful protest in Monrovia to petition the NEC and other international partners on the crisis within the LP and other key national issues.
But Mr. Bility pointed out that he and his supporters are also “capable of putting people on the streets ten times the size that you saw.”
“This morning, we’ve authorized our legal team headed by Counselor Paul Hilton to file two writs to the Supreme Court. One is to let the Supreme Court know that the elections commission illegally stopped our convention. We filed a second writ to review the illegal action of the Board of Commissioners to attempt to undo what they have done. They have no such power.”
According to him, the NEC has no legal standing to prevent the holding of the LP convention unless the party is in violation of the commission’s rules and regulations.
He justified that the commission had no legal backing to prohibit the holding of the party’s national convention based upon a mere complaint filed by Senator Karnga-Lawrence and others.
“Only a court of competent jurisdiction has sure authority. So, we have asked the Supreme Court to review that action and take the appropriate action. The danger of this is we are going for elections and you are telling people that whoever gets on the streets and beat drum in your ears, the next day you will change your mind. Where you taking our country? This is very shameful, disgraceful and disgusting. ”
“We are going to the legal system because, we have no trust in them (NEC) anymore. I have lost respect for them and we are moving onto the court. The NEC which is a quasi-judicial body blatantly disregard a court of competent jurisdiction having a case of the LP at the Civil Law Court and they have with that together that says ‘you can’t hear this case because, it’s at the Civil Law Court’ and they say they can. Those people do not have respect for the law.”
He said it is dangerous to Liberia’s democracy for authorities of the commission to continue to allegedly abuse public offices.
Mr. Bility observed that Liberians are very peaceful and as such, the LP does not intend to match to the US embassy or United Nations to present petition, but the party has placed its “fate in the Supreme Court” to make a determination on the matter.
“It is our hope that justice will be done and that for once, this Liberty Party saga will come to an end and we will accept the outcome and we believe that the law is on our side and no matter what form you put it in, the law will always be the law.”
Standing by diaspora Liberians wanting to vote 2023
He used the occasion to disclose that a group of Liberians residing in the United States has petitioned the NEC evoking their rights to participate in the pending presidential and general elections in 2023 as enshrined in the 1986 constitution.
The constitution is regarded as the organic law of the land.
Mr. Bility congratulated the citizens, on behalf of the CPP, and assured that the party will “stand by them and fight” to ensure that the culture of denying Liberians who are out of the country their constitutional rights to exercise their franchise and vote will end in the nation.
According to him, diaspora Liberians are major participants in the country’s economy and as such, their right to be a part of the governance process should not be denied.
“It is the right that the constitution of Liberia guarantees and we will push the NEC to ensure that Liberians abroad, not just in the United States, but across the world have the right to vote.”
Mr. Bility maintained that the pending elections are “too crucial and it is going to affect every Liberian in in and outside of Liberia and therefore, everyone should have the chance to participate in that.”
Government trying to destroy CPP?
Speaking further, Mr. Bility accused the government and “certain opposition” of working collaboratively to “destroy the CPP.”
He observed that the CPP was previously thrashed and its lifespan shortened, but out of a sudden, the “CPP is on the rise again.”
Mr. Bility added that as a result of the rejuvenating of the CPP, the government and others are again regrouping to destroy the collaboration.
He recalled that in keeping with a mandate from the Supreme Court to ensure that every constituent member of the CPP have the right to willingly leave the collaboration, two-third majority of executive committees of both the former ruling Unity Party and the All Liberian Party (ALP) withdrawn from the CPP.
He said despite the withdrawal, the CPP, through its Standard Bearer Alexander Cummings continues to reach out to the Liberian people and as such, “fear has come again.”
Mr. Bility maintained that the CPP will not allow similar ploy orchestrated to again destabilize the collaboration.
“We remain open to ensure an opposition victory and collaboration. We are calling on the Unity Party and all other opposition parties to come to the CPP so that together we can decide and move our country forward and not to stay on the side and try to destroy us.”
On reconciliation spree
Speaking further, Mr. Bility disclosed that he has been holding series of engagements with fellow partisans of the LP “to try to reconcile the party.”
He pointed out that he and other executives of the party remain open to have a dialogue to end the crisis within the party.
“I have had two meetings with Senator Darius Dillon assuring him and our partisans that we are prepare to sit with them and reconcile our party. Our condition has been and will always be that we must do something within the confines of the law. There are certain things that you cannot do. You cannot break the law in order to bring peace. (If you do so) You are just making temporary peace.”
Mr. Bility disclosed that despite his efforts being applied to reach out and reconcile the party, decisions that were jointly taken by the LP prior to the crisis “will not be a subject for reconciliation.”
He named some of those decisions as the LP’s presence within the CPP, and its choice taken not to fuel a candidate for the 2023 elections.
According to him, it is not necessary for those decisions to again be placed on the table during reconciliation talks with the Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence faction of the party.
“It is because of our decision to stay with the CPP that Senators Dillon and Lawrence were elected on the CPP ticket. To the best of my knowledge and according to NEC laws, for a party to withdraw from collaboration, the Chairman of the party will have to communicate a decision signed by a two-third majority of the executive committee authorizing such withdrawal.”
Mr. Bility justified that as National Chairman of the LP, he has not communicated any decision to the commission for the party to withdraw from the CPP.
He added that those decisions have already been made and no reconciliation talks at the negotiation table will center on them.
He disclosed that the LP has also been approached by some friends of the party’s fallen founding Political Leader Counselor Charles Walker Brumskine volunteering to intervene and mediate between the two parties.
Mr. Bility disclosed that he and others have properly communicated their positions to those contemplating on carrying out the mediation.
He further vowed to do anything deemed undone by him from the Farmington agreement during the mediation.
On CPP Standard Bearer position
Mr. Bility disclosed that out of the two parties that are part of the new CPP, the LP has already made a decision that it will not field a Standard Bearer.
As a result of this, he said, Mr. Alexander Cummings assumes the standard bearer position because the post was defaulted by the LP.
He observed that the position cannot be negotiated unless the body goes for a convention.
Mr. Bility maintained that opposition political parties coming to join the CPP should not think about holding discussion or negotiation on the Standard Bearer position, because the CPP is already in a fixed state.
“Liberty Party has never opted to put up a Standard Bearer. Mr. Alexander B. Cummings is the Standard Bearer of the CPP and we are not going to sit down to discuss that. If you are coming, we are open to any proposal that you going to make, but not the Standard Bearer position because this proposal did not come from Liberty Party who is already in the CPP. ”
The reconciliation proffered by Mr. Bility appears to be another bluff intended to blindfold supporters and partisans of the party in the midst of the ongoing hearing at the NEC.
It remains unclear whether or not Senator Karnga-Lawrence and her supporters are willing to enter into reconciliation talks with Mr. Bility, who has already affixed his signature to a new CPP framework document which endorses Mr. Cummings as its Standard Bearer.
Senator Daniel Naatehn and Mr. Alexander B. Cummings signed the new CPP framework document as Chairman and Standard Bearer respectively of the Alternative National Congress (ANC)-one of the parties that make up the new CPP.
However, Mr. Bility only signed the document as the National Chairman of the LP, creating no room for his Standard Bearer or Political Leader to affix signature to the document.
With less than a year to the conduct of the 2023 general and presidential elections, the impasse within the LP appears to be nearing completion as evidenced by trumpeting calls for unity and reconciliation from executives.
However, the filing of the two separate writs by Mr. Bility has the proclivity of delaying reconciliation or mediation talks as two sticky issues, including the recalling of the altered constitution and the selection of a new Standard Bearer to suit the ambition of all parties remain unresolved.