by Henry A. Clements, III (July 17th 2005)
"... If the NEC is unwilling or unable to handle straightforward issues on which it has already ruled, what does this tell Liberians and the world about how it will handle the more complex and complicated issues that will certainly arise related to the election process? The Commission must demonstrate its integrity and impartiality (it must show its juice!) by acting on LAP’s complaint......"
One of the basic responsibilities assigned by law to the National Elections Commission (NEC) of Liberia is to make and enforce the rules governing the electoral process in Liberia. It is one of the few regulatory agencies in Liberia that is empowered to make and enforce its own rules. This imposes a level of heightened national responsibility, particularly because it is the agency charged to implement the initial steps for instituting democracy in Liberia. The NEC has only one chance to get it right and we cannot afford for them to get it wrong.
Regardless of how the Liberian Action Party (LAP) or its standard bearer Cllr. Varney Sherman or their supporters may view the recent ruling the Commission issued against the party and Cllr. Sherman, those rulings assumed the status of enforceable law. Importantly, their enforceability does not apply only against LAP and Varney Sherman, but because the rulings set out specific standards regarding the issues considered by the Commission, they are enforceable in respect to all players in the political process. Unlike a court of law where rulings are enforceable only against those under the court’s jurisdiction (parties to the lawsuit), rulings by regulatory agencies such as the NEC are applicable to all entities similarly situated, in this case to all candidates and political parties participating in the Liberian elections.
In effect, upon the issuance of the rulings against LAP and Cllr. Sherman the NEC ought to have appropriately declared that their ruling was binding on all parties and candidates so as to give them appropriate guidance and direction. Indeed, lawyers advising other parties and candidates, acting as good legal counsel, ought to have advised them that the rulings automatically laid standards that they were obligated to abide by. For example, the ruling against LAP and Cllr. Sherman automatically required every party or candidate that had a web site to remove them from the Internet even if no specific complaint against them was filed. Every one was put on notice as to what was appropriate.
Following the NEC ruling, LAP filed a specific complaint against several parties and candidates, providing direct evidence showing how these candidates and parties were engaging in the same activities and actions that the Commission had declared unlawful in the case of LAP and Cllr. Sherman. LAP’s complaint did not raise difficult issues. For some of the violations such as party or candidate web sites, the NEC (using the web addresses that LAP provided) needed to simply access the World Wide Web and verify their existence. This was not something that required a rocket or DNA scientist to prove. Under the terms of the LAP/Sherman ruling, the very existence of a web site in the name of a party or candidate was sufficient to sustain a violation of the Elections Guidelines.
Significant time has expired since LAP filed its complaint and yet the Commission has failed to act. It is very troubling that the same kind of speedy diligence that was applied in handling the complaint against LAP/Sherman is conspicuously missing regarding their complaint against other parties and candidates. The NEC could not have been clearer in its ruling against LAP and its standard bearer: it is unlawful for a web site to exist in the name of a party or candidate that is contesting the Liberian 2005 elections. It is especially important that the NEC has failed to act on LAP’s complaint when it is considered that the ruling explicitly declared what was not permissible. Under the circumstances, since the rule is plain on its face, any party or candidate that engages in the impermissible activities is acting unlawfully. There is no further interpretation required by the NEC.
If the NEC is unwilling or unable to handle straightforward issues on which it has already ruled, what does this tell Liberians and the world about how it will handle the more complex and complicated issues that will certainly arise related to the election process? The Commission must demonstrate its integrity and impartiality (it must show its juice!) by acting on LAP’s complaint. If the NEC continues to delay until “campaigning” is declared opened (as some observers believe), then it would have created a situation where only LAP and Varney Sherman would have been ruled to have violated the Election Guidelines when other parties and candidates were engaging in the same activities. The delay in NEC action is wrong and unconscionable.
The National Elections Commission must hold all candidates and parties to the same standard. What is declared unlawful in the case of LAP/Sherman must also be declared unlawful if done by others. The NEC by “sitting” on the LAP complaint is doing a disservice to itself, being unjust to LAP and Cllr. Sherman and raising the specter that it cannot carry out its sacred duty to the Liberian people to conduct free and fair elections. The Commission must act on LAP’s complaint now and impose the same standards on all parties and candidates. To do otherwise is anti-democratic, disgraceful, shameful and worrisome for the democratic political process in Liberia.
Henry A. Clements, III
Liberian For Good Governance
( A Varney Sherman Support Group )
Upper Marlboro, MD