By Bill W. Cooper
The Liberia Senate is expected to send the Chairperson and Commissioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC) today to the Monrovia Central Prison in Monrovia for impeding the function of that august body.
The plenary of the Senate took the decision during its 11th day sitting of the 4th session on Thursday, February 18, following a motion by Sinoe County Senator, Milton Teahjay for the NEC Chairperson and Commissioners to appear before them on Tuesday, as the motion was then amended by River Gee County Senator, Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie for the NEC officials to be remanded at the Central Prison for being in clear breach of the Constitution and rules governing the Senate.
The Senate decision was however triggered, based on a complaint by Montserrado County Senator, Abraham Darius Dillon in which he stated that the deliberate delay by NEC to certificate winners of the just ended election is grossly obstructing the function of the Senate.
Among other things, Sen. Dillon stressed that the NEC’s alleged attitude to also delay in hearing elections dispute cases to enable winners to be certified in order to form a quorum for their day business, is a clear violation of Article 83 (c) and Article 33 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
Article 83 (c) states, “The returns of the elections, shall be declared by the Elections Commission not later than 15 days after the casting of ballots. Any party or candidate who complains about the manner in which the elections were conducted or who challenges the results thereof, shall, have the right to file a complaint with the Commission not later than seven days after the pronouncement of the results of the election.”
It also added, “The Elections Commission shall within 30 days of receipt of the complaint, conduct an impartial investigation and render a decision which may involve a dismissal of the complaint or a nullification of the election of a candidate.”
While Article 33 said, “A simple majority of each House shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, but a lower number may adjourn from day to day and compel attendance of absent members.”
The Montserrado County lawmaker noted that since the Special Senatorial Elections on Tuesday, December 8 of 2020, it has been over sixty days running and that the NEC is yet to adjudicate and certificate qualified winners, indicating, “This act by NEC is not only violating the constitution but also impeding our function as lawmakers.”
He added, “Distinguished colleagues, I think it is time that we make use of the constitution that gives us the right/power to hold any government officials or ordinary citizens under contempt for impeding the working of this body because the NEC’s behavior now seems to be deliberate.”
Sen. Dillon wondered, “For how long will it take the NEC to hear cases and certificate winners, or is it that they don’t want us to do our work in confines of the law? Colleagues, because of the NEC’s attitude, we are unable to form a quorum and carry out our legislative function and I think, this on part of the NEC, is a total disservice to the Liberian people.”
Following his deliberation, several of his colleagues buttressed his argument on grounds that the almost 10 members, who are yet to be certificated by the NEC due to election disputes that is still being heard by the NEC Hearing Officers now seems to be a setback for the Senate.
The Senators all agreed that the absence of more than 10 members of the Senate is hampering and undermining the effectiveness of the Senate especially when most of the crucial decisions require two third of votes to be accepted and constitutional.
In response to the Senators’ claims, the NEC admitted to being behind time in keeping with constitutional time required to hear and adjudicate cases brought to them after elections but said the Commission had been focused on giving due process to people who complained to them about elections irregularities.
The NEC through its chairperson said, “All we have been doing at the NEC is to ensure that due process is given to complainants and that we acknowledge that giving due process to complainants is taking some time because complainants filed their complaints with their respective counties’ Hearing Officers, who heard the complaints before transferring those cases to Montserrado County. Some had to be transferred because of potential violence.”
She added, “The parties appearing before the NEC Hearing Officer have contributed to some of the delays by requesting continuance or requesting multiple witnesses and the piling of records has also been a challenge for the NEC as Hearing Officers used tape recorders to record the procedure. The Commission also ordered rerun in certain places in Grand Kru and Gbapolu Counties due to violence in those places, and as it stands, the Commission has now concluded on five election dispute cases.”
Meanwhile, several Liberians and some Media institutions as well as Political pundits are now calling on the Liberian Senate to reconsider its decision and see reason not to jail the NEC Chairperson and Commissioners.
Some argued that if the Board of Commissioners are sent to jail today, it will somehow affect the adjudication of overstayed election dispute before them, thereby calling on the Senators to do away with the jail aspect and fine them in confines with the constitution which calls for fine and imprison of any public officials who will impede the working of that body.
With that being said, everyone patiently waited to see whether the NEC Chairperson and Commissioners will be remanded at the Monrovia Central Prison or that they will be pardoned from the jail sentence and be fined by the Senate in line with the constitution under contempt charge which calls for imprison or fine.
Senate To Jail NEC Commissioners?
By Bill W. Cooper