Liberia: ‘NEC Must Respect Itself And Halt The Referendum’ – Former Chief Justice Warns

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Monrovia – The National Elections Commission continues to come under a barrage of criticisms from a cross-spectrum of the Liberian society over its insistence to go ahead with the conduct of the National Referendum despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that halted the process with just three propositions.

The latest to weigh in on the issue is former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott, who brazenly called on the “National Elections Commission to respect itself” and abide by the Constitution of Liberia.

Former Chief Justice Scott served as Chairperson of the Constitution Review Committee set up by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2013 to spearhead the process leading to the amendment of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.

Appearing on the popular Sky FM’s 50-50 radio program on Tuesday, Cllr. Scott said, she expected the NEC Board of Commissioners to have known better and live by the Court’s ruling.

“These are seven persons who I expected to be wise, well trained, who are grounded, who, irrespective their various ages, they have now become elders of this Republic. So, you don’t want the Supreme Court to put you under their thumb.  You don’t want that, and I think the Supreme Court respected them by giving them that leverage to think. I don’t think you want to reduce the office of the Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission. So, the National Elections Commission must respect itself and rise up to what it is, as per the law and Constitution.”

In a ruling last November, the Supreme Court stopped the NEC from conducting the national referendum with just three propositions, instead of the original eight, as passed by the 54th Legislature in a joint Resolution named and styled LEG-002/2019.

The Supreme ruling came as a result of a petition filed by the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) against the Government of Liberia.

The CPP had raised several reasons for which they sought a prohibition on the December 8 referendum including lack of sufficient time for public awareness. They had argued that electorates have not been educated enough on the various propositions of the referendum and how to go about voting.

“These are seven persons who I expected to be wise, well trained, who are grounded, who, irrespective their various ages, they have now become elders of this Republic. So, you don’t want the Supreme Court to put you under their thumb.  You don’t want that, and I think the Supreme Court respected them by giving them that leverage to think. I don’t think you want to reduce the office of the Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission. So, the National Elections Commission must respect itself and rise up to what it is, as per the law and Constitution.”

– Cllr. Gloria Musu Scott, Head of the Defunct Constitution Review Committee, Former Chief Justice

In its November 18, 2020 ruling, handed down by Associate Justice Yussif D. Kaba, the Supreme Court upheld the CPP’s argument that the government of Liberia was deviating from the clear language of the Resolution of the Legislature by combining and condensing the eight propositions into three categories which was quite contrary to the provision of Article 92 of the Constitution which specifically mandates that each of the eight propositions be stated separately on the ballot to afford voters the opportunity to exercise their right of choice. The Bench agreed that the Government of Liberia proceeded wrongly and therefore, put a halt to the printing of only three propositions of the ballot paper.

However, the High Court ruled that “Article 92 of the Constitution is devoid of any timeframe for the dissemination of information and awareness on the Referendum. This being the prerogative of the respondents, this Court is not in the position to determine what constitutes sufficient public awareness and information, especially where the petitioners have admitted in their petition that indeed, some public awareness was undertaken by the 1st Respondent [National Elections Commission] on the Referendum; consequently, the first respondent is not proceeding by wrong rule; hence prohibition will not lie.”

There have been split opinions and interpretation of the court’s ruling. The Executive Branch, backed by the NEC argues that the court did not halt the referendum but called for the propositions to be broken down into eight and, not the three as first printed by the government in the national gazette.

But former Chief Justice Musu-Scott, joining several Liberians including lawmakers, lawyers and civil society groups said, the court’s ruling was a caveat to the NEC to correct all of its missteps and conduct a credible referendum.

“This means whatever the National Elections Commission printed was illegal, whatever it put out was unconstitutional,” she said, while responding to talk show host T. Max Jlateh on the morning program.

“The second thing, it means that National Elections Commission should go and reprint. All of that is for transparency purposes. You need to take them to design the ballot… Public education for 12 months. Whatever is in there has been declared null and void by the Supreme Court. You have to come back and start all over.”

According to her, the breakdown of the positions into eight as mandated by the court was not sufficient to go on with the referendum because majority of the electorates have not been informed of the new developments, just as they were left in the dark earlier.

Speaking further, she noted that voting in favor of the propositions might be in the interest of majority of the population, but conducting the referendum hastily without educating bulk of the citizens will signal that there are some sinister motives behind the process.

She warned the process is historic and should not be influenced by one’s ego.

“This is a history making Process, and the weight of this process should be felt by everybody participating in it. Everybody, from the lowest persons, in terms of position. This is not about your individual will. It is not even about position, it is about service.”

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