Does The Alleged Violation Of The Constitution ( Article 83c), By Nec Board Of Commissioners Amount To Contempt Of The Legislature?
The fundamental question to be asked is, what’s contempt of the Legislature? Article 44 of the Liberian Constitution and Rule 61of the Senate’s standing rule answer this critical question. These two legal citations essentially state, that contempt is any action which obstructs or impedes legislative function. What was the impeded or obstructed legislative function exercised by the board of commissioners?
The senators accused NEC of delaying to adjudicate all election related cases within the 30days constitutional period. The averment made by the senators is correct, that NEC board of commissioners have gone beyond the 30 days constitutional timeframe, but does that amount to contempt? How? In the first place, the very constitution states, anything concerning contempt must be done with due process. When the board of commissioners initially appeared before that august body, they were not represented by a lawyer. The senators should have requested that lawyer be present before they (senators) proceed with the inquiries.
Unfortunately, they missed out on one of the fundamental principles of law. The doctrine of due process states that you must be represented by a lawyer; there must be a competent tribunal, and the right to be heard. Was there a competent tribunal? Yes! Were they heard? Yes! Was or were their lawyers present? No! In a nutshell, due process was not fully accorded them. Remember, what’s not done legally, is not done at all. This means, all the processes laid down by the law must be followed.
I have heard some senators claiming that if all (30)of them are not seated, it would stall the senate from passing on legislations; it would stall committee of the senate from giving report for confirmation; it would prevent the senate from ratifying concession agreements amongst others. Their argument is that, 20 senators must agree before a statute is passed; before a concession is ratified; before a confirmation report is voted upon. This is untrue. The constitution states in article 33 that there must be a simple majority of each House, before session can begin. This means, for the senate, there shall be 16 senators present before session is called to order. If there are 16 senators in session, it means quorum has been met, and two-thirds of that number can pass on all legislations, concession, etc.
There are few conditions under which the constitution requires two-thirds of the entire membership of the Liberian senate which is 20 senators, and those conditions are: impeachment trial where you want to convict someone; expulsion resolution of its members; removal resolution of its members ( Speaker, Protempt etc); resolution to override the President’s veto; resolution for amendment of the constitution; and resolution for a state of emergency. Apart from these conditions listed supra, all other matters can be passed by simple majority of the senators seated in session. For example, out of the current 21 senators, if eleven (11) agree on a matter, that matter is passed automatically. Let assume further that 16 senators are seated for session, of that sixteen 16, if nine 9 agree on a matter, it means that matter is passed; whether it is a bill, concession agreement etc.
The basic question now is, does the Liberian Senate have laid down before it any of what has been mentioned above, in terms of the conditions for two-thirds majority which is 20 senators? They are not expelling anyone; they are not having impeachment trial; they are not having state of emergency before them, amongst others. How are they directly obstructed or impeded by the action of NEC board of commissioners? So then, where did the senators come from with their contempt charge against the board of commissioners of NEC?
Note: In the case before the Supreme Court involving NEC and the Senate, prohibition will lie against the Liberian senate. Hence, my candid two cents criminal justice opinion.