Liberia: Rep. Kogar Takes Issue with NEC over Change of Lofa By-election Date

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MONROVIA – Nim ba County Representative Samuel Kogar has taken the National Elections Commission (NEC) to task over its unilateral decision taken to postpone the by-election in Lofa County as a result of multiple circumstances.

Sometimes ago, the Board of Commissioners of the NEC announced the postponement of the Lofa County by-election due to the ongoing legal issues between the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), Unity Party (UP) and the All Liberian Party (ALP).

The election was previously scheduled for May 10 but was postponed barely a few days before its conduct.

The decision was triggered following a complaint from the Alternative National Congress (ANC) and Musa Bility faction of the Liberty Party, calling on the commission to invoke Section 8.5 (2) of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) framework document as a means of rejecting and denying “any application from the ALP and UP to field candidates in their names in any election until the expiry of the 2023 elections, including up to six (6) months thereafter, same being the agreed contractual life of the CPP.”

However, the Unity Party and the ALP have taken exception to a ruling from the Board of Commissioners upholding its Hearing Officer claimed that he lacks jurisdiction to render any judgment in the matter due to the constitutional questions and concerns raised.

The NEC staff ruled that due to the constitutional issues, in this case, the NEC is hereby prohibited from proceeding with any action regarding the endorsement of the Unity Party’s candidate for the Lofa County Senatorial by-election until the Supreme Court considers the constitutional questions involved.

Despite the postponement of the election, the Supreme Court is expected to make a determination on the matter.

But speaking when he appeared as guest on the OK Morning Rush on OK FM99.5 in Monrovia on Monday, May 16, Representative Kogar termed as “unconstitutional” the action of the commission to delay the conduct of the by-election in Lofa.

He maintained that the move does not only undermine the country’s constitution, but it also downplayed the efforts of those who have heavily invested their finances towards campaigning for their candidates during the campaign period.

 “NEC does not have authority to postpone elections on its own when they are given a timeline. The constitution provides that when even there is a vacancy at the House or senate, the Speaker or Pro-Tempore should inform the NEC about the vacancy being created and within 90 days, the NEC should put everything in place that will inform the people of the election in that identical local and the time bound should be officially given”.

Representative Kogar maintained that if there are hiccups or bottlenecks strangulating or circumventing the conduct of the by-election, the NEC should inform the House of Representatives.

According to him, the House will in turn hold consultations with various stakeholders because, the postponement of electoral processes or timeline borders on “constitutionality”.

He emphasized that “for the common good and wellbeing of the people”, members of the House and Senate will now recommend a suitable date for the conduct of the election.

Representative Kogar added that in the absence of lawmakers’ approval, only an Executive Order or Supreme Court’s mandate can order the NEC to postpone an election.

In the case with the Lofa County by-election, he claimed that nothing was done in keeping with the constitution.

He stated that a serious setback has been created for those who spent monies and time canvassing for the candidates as a result of the commission’s unilateral action.

He questioned the rationale behind the decision taken by the NEC to postpone the process even though there was no budget shortfall reported to justify its action.

NEC Chairman Davidetta Brown-Lasannah announced that the commission has already received the budgeted amount of US$1.2 million for the conduct of the by-election in Lofa County.

“For NEC to get up by itself and make a decision in that manner, it undermines the constitution and undermines those that already invested their capital to campaign in that area. Who will pay those monies now that they used during the campaign process? The only way that can happen if there is a budget shortfall and you need to inform the House (of Representatives). But you can’t sit by yourself and make such a decision”.

Representative Kogar pointed out that he and his colleagues would invite the Board of Commissioners of the commission to give reasons why the previous date set aside by the National Legislature for the Lofa by-election was unilaterally postponed by the NEC.

Playing games to prolong in power?

The Lofa County by-election, which was recently postponed by the National Elections Commission (NEC) as a result of legal battles, was triggered following the denial of Mr. Brownie Samukai from taking his seat after he was declared the winner in 2020.

Sometimes ago, the Supreme Court ordered the imprisonment of Mr. Samukai and two others for their failure to meet up with the 50% payment of the US$1.1 million money of soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) money which was misapplied by them.

Mr. Samukai, who is the former Minister of National Defense, Joseph Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller were found guilty of the crimes of theft of property, misuse of public money and criminal conspiracy. He was ordered jailed for two years, while the co-defendants were given six months jail terms each but with a condition that their sentences shall be suspended if they restitute 50 percent of the fund within six months and make full payment within a year.

But to prevent his incarceration, President Weah bowed to public pressure and granted clemency to Mr. Samukai in keeping with the 1986 Liberian constitution.

Representative Kogar observed that the current happening in Lofa could have a negative spill over to other counties in Liberia if the right things are not done.

 “What affects one county, affects the entire country. You know when you are elected at times people want to prolong in power and so, they will play other games. People that they feel are powerful or popular, they will circumvent them”.

He maintained that supporters and loyalists of candidates who have been denied from taking their seats because they have gained political relevance or popular are aggrieved.

He said these citizens would vent out their anger through their votes come the pending elections.

Samukai did nothing

Representative Kogar noted that despite the indictment against Brownie Samukai and the others, vast majority of citizens in Lofa still believe that he (Samukai) did nothing wrong.

As evidenced by this, he stated that, citizens of the county overwhelmingly voted Mr. Samukai in the December 2020 special senatorial election.

He stated that the citizens’ action to unleash a country devil, stage multiple peaceful protests and others as means f venting their anger were all downplayed by the government.

He said President George Manneh Weah should have played a leadership role through the issuance of an executive order in keeping with the people’s power to maintain and guarantee peace and stability in Lofa and Liberia in particular.

Representative Kogar observed that despite the failure of the Liberian leader to act in accordance with the voters’ action to elect Samukai to represent them, citizens of Lofa remain resilient and peaceful.

Representative Kogar alleged that Mr. Samukai was coerced and continues to suffer from series of intimidations in a bid to get him out of the body politics of the country due to the President’s alleged failure to use his presidential powers to mitigate the situation.

Antagonizing opposition           

He further claimed that the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led government is allegedly “antagonizing” those who have not agreed to work with or in line with its plans.

“When people are given authorities, they want to be untouchable; they want to behave like demon-god and disregard the citizens that elected them”.

He observed that though the ruling party is not fielding a candidate in the Lofa by-election, majority of its hierarchies are currently stationed in the county campaigning for an independent candidate.

PUP will be determinant

Representative Kogar is an executive committee member of the opposition People’s Unification Party (PUP).

According to him, the party is engaged into “consultative works” instead of showcasing strength or flamboyancy.

He pointed out that the PUP will not proffer a candidate for the pending 2023 general and presidential elections in Liberia.

Representative Kogar added that though the party will not field a presidential candidate, it will serve as a “determinant factor” for the election of Liberia’s next President.

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