A joint ECOWAS delegation comprising the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commission (ECONEC) and the ECOWAS Fact-finding Team has raised concerns regarding hate messages being spread by some media institutions and on social media ahead of Liberia’s presidential and representatives’ elections.

But President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf has told the delegation in Monrovia Wednesday, 19 July that government is determined to manage such situation without infringing on the right to free speech.

“We must ensure that peace reigns before, during and after the elections because the 2017 elections constitute Liberia’s defining moment, which will test whether the country can move forward with political maturity or retrogress,” Mrs. Sirleaf said during a meeting with the ECOWAS delegation.

The joint delegation comprising ECONEC and an ECOWAS Fact-finding Team was led by Professor Mahmood Yakubu, President of ECONEC and Chairperson of the Independent National Election Commission of Nigeria.

Mrs. Sirleaf has assured the ECOWAS delegation that a lot of progress has been made towards the successful holding of the 2017 general and presidential elections and those outstanding challenges are being addressed both by the Government of Liberia and its international partners.

She however says logistical support in particular remains a priority of the government and partners of the country. On the Code of Conduct, President Sirleaf assured the delegation that the matter is being resolved through the Supreme Court of Liberia and expressed confidence that the best legal solution will be found through the court process.

In welcoming the ECOWAS delegation, President Sirleaf thanked them for the visit to Liberia at a very crucial period and acknowledged the important contributions ECOWAS has made in Liberia including the intervention of ECOMOG during the civil crisis. She committed her administration to the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible elections in Liberia.

Speaking earlier, the President of ECONEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu provided updates on their mission to Liberia. He informed President Sirleaf that his delegation has held talks with the National Elections Commission (NEC), the diplomatic community, Governance Commission, United Nations Mission in Liberia, the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, the leaderships of both Houses of the National Legislature, Inspector General of Police and partner organizations, among others.

Prof. Yakubu points out that the primary goal of ECONEC is to ensure the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible elections within the ECOWAS region and consolidate the democratization process.

He congratulates President Sirleaf for her overall leadership in Liberia, the ECOWAS region and particularly for her role in resolving the political crisis in The Gambia.Prof. Yakubu commits to the return of ECONEC to Liberia in October to monitor the General and Presidential Elections, and tells President Sirleaf that a high-level delegation from ECOWAS led by the President of the ECOWAS Commission will visit Liberia soon.

Member of the delegation which was led to the Office of the President by the ECOWAS Special Representative to Liberia, Ambassador Babatunde Ajisomo include Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairperson of Nigeria and President of ECONEC; Mr. Newton Ahmed Barry; Dr. Maria do Rosario Gonacalves; Prof. Antonio Simbine; Prof. Bolade Eyinla; Mr. Paul Ejima and Mr. Chinedu Chinedu.

Others were Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan, Head of delegation of the Fact-finding Team; Madam Halima Ahmed; Mr. Francis Oke, Mr. Barou Luther Y. Youkou and Mrs. Bukola Ayoola.

Authorities at the National Elections Commission or NEC has commended Liberians here in the wake of the unparalleled upsurge of protests being filed against candidates believed to be in violation of some general provisions of the ongoing nomination process.

The Commission says the move by the some citizens to file protests is symptomatic of the level at which the Country’s fledgling democracy is taken root. In a news release the Commission says the essence of the publication of the provisional candidate listing is exactly what the citizens are taking advantage of, by challenging the legitimacy individuals they strongly feel might be in violation of some of the basic requirements for qualification.

The Commission guarantees the public that all protests filed will be looked into in accordance with the election process. Article 12.1 of the candidate nomination regulations calls for the publication of provisional list of candidates “on the NEC website, in newspapers, broadcast on local community radio stations and NEC’s local magisterial offices across the country”.

Meanwhile, the Commission has assured the public that it will endure to remain in the ambit of the law and will continue to treat every aspirant or candidate equally. However, NEC says it is not possible for its technicians to know everybody who are turning up at the SKD Sport Complex for nomination. Hence, the identification of any individual believed to be in violation of some provisions of the election laws should not be construed as prejudice or deliberate.The Commission also emphasized the candidate nomination is a process that is still ongoing.

President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf says she wants stronger punishment against people that are not paying taxes, suggesting that the Liberia Revenue Authority looks at the law to withhold the salaries of all non - compliant officials including ministers, legislators and judges at the end of a month.

“And enforcement means there’s got to be a punishment for not paying taxes. And let’s look at the law … and say if all the government officials have not paid their taxes then they shouldn’t get paid at the end of the month. So by this time I expect our LRA to extend letter to every minister, every legislator, every judge, you have not paid your taxes”, Mrs. Sirleaf suggested Tuesday, 18 July.

While moderating a panel discussion at the National Revenue Symposium at the Monrovia City Hall on Tuesday, Mrs. Sirleaf commended the LRA’s sensitization of the people on the need to pay their taxes, but stressed that it is not enough on grounds that “we got to have enforcement”.

Mrs. Sirleaf complains that “we have a weak judicial system” and if tax fraudsters are taken to Court, the matter would go nowhere, thus urging the need to expose tax fraud.
She says the tax laws here are difficult to understand, pondering as to why in this time LD$5.00 is being paid for one acre of land as tax which creates a room for people to amass ten thousand acres of land.

But she says when the land rights law goes into effect, it will change such tax system to improve the tax laws here. Mrs. Sirleaf notes that many times it is said here “that we’re proud of the fact that we pay taxes’, but to the contrary, she says “the real truth is we don’t”. According to President Sirleaf, 142 percent of Liberia’s budget comes from outside from external resources, thus suggesting that until Liberia can make sure that it has domestic revenues to cover its own development agenda, “we’ll” not go anywhere.

The first panel discussion included former Rwandan Revenue Authority Commissioner Madam Mary Baine, ECOWAS Special Representative to Liberia Mr. Babatunde Ajisomo, Representatives of UNDP Country Director, AfDB, House Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay’s office staff Mr. Julius Caesar and Commercial Court Judge Eva Mappy Morgan.
While thanking the LRA for undertaking the survey and working with the people on issues of taxes, Mrs. Sirlea however reminds Liberians that the external environment is changing, and the country will not find the kind of support that it has been getting.

“And this is why it’s important that we ensure that we begin to introduce things for ourselves, that we get our tax systems right so that we can be able to carry the burden”, she adds.

Making a presentation earlier on the LRA’s findings from regional dialogue, Commissioner General Madam Elfreda Stewart Tamba reported that a lot of people have said they are not paying taxes due to lack of development, too much corruption, lack of awareness and lack of LRA offices in some communities.
She says locals are also holding a perception that government officials might not be paying their lawful taxes, particularly for real estate, while also complaining about the lack of police in their communities.

Finance and Development Planning Minister Boima Kamara says the development of Liberia, the attainment of the goals that are set in terms of becoming a middle income country rest on the people, noting that it must come through the efforts of making sure that the revenues generated domestically have to be in the lead.
ECOWAS Special Representative to Liberia Mr. Babatunde Ajisomo says the issue of taxation involves everyone, and stressed that the role of government is very critical in that light.

The Plenary of the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly trashed a request for House Speaker Emmanuel James Nuquay’s recusal as head of the Legislature.Plenary, which is the highest decision - making body of the House of Representatives voted in session on Tuesday, 18 July and overwhelmingly threw out the request made by Maryland County Representative Dr. Bhofal Chambers and Montserrado County Representative Acarous Moses Gray.

The Plenary says the Speaker Nuquay recusal request has no constitutional or statutory magnitude and should be treated as though it has never existed before.The two anti - Nuquay lawmakers Rep. Chambers and Rep. Gray appear to be expressing lack of confidence in the ruling Unity Party (UP) vice standard after he was picked by Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai as running mate for the October Representatives and Presidential elections.

Dr. Chambers had written the Plenary to seek its endorsement of his request for Speaker Nuquay’s recusal since he is now a vice standard bearer of the governing UP.Rep. Chambers insists that it is best option for the House to ask the speaker to step aside. “Speaker Nuquay, now the vice standard bearer of the ruling Unity Party of which the current Vice President of Liberia Joseph Boakai, is the standard bearer”, Rep. Chambers says.

He argues that Mr. Nuquay should recuse himself from presiding over the Plenary for conscience’s sake and to further avoid the temptation of compromising the interest of the Liberian nation. He specifically expresses fears that Mr. Boakai and Mr. Nuquay could compromise national interest especially in instances where the presiding officers of both Houses have to sit and make decision on critical matters or issues that require independent minds, objectivity and and balance in the best interest of the Liberian people.
Rep. Chambers says it behooves him to act with swiftness and sagacity to protect the sacred institution and the noble state without fear or favor.

Rep. Gray had earlier accused Speaker Nuquay of betraying the trust of those who supported him to be Speaker to take over from dethroned Speaker Alex Tyler. “There is strong distrust in his ability to reunite the legislature and such action demonstrates his administrative ineptitude to run the legislature”, Rep. Gray claims. He argues that Speaker Nuquay specifically promised the Liberian people that he would unite and bring dignity to the Legislature.

But the Montserrado County lawmaker claims that Speaker Nuquay’s action has brought disunity to the Legislature, thus calling for his removal on the basis of administrative ineptitude. “It is not a quest to remove him, but one that is intended to ask him to recuse himself. As someone who has presided over the budget and appointed the presiding officer on the budget, we are afraid that the budget will be tampered with”, Rep. Gray adds. He concludes that Speaker Nuquay’s action is not only destructive and greedy, but one that shows disrespect to his colleagues who stood by him to be speaker.
By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor--Edited by Winston W. Parley

Members of the House of Representatives have passed the draft 2017/18 national budget and has subsequently forwarded it to members of the Liberian Senate for possible concurrence.

The Plenary of the House voted in Session Tuesday, 18 July for the passage of the budget which is in the tune of US$526,548,000.00. The 2017/18 national draft budget was submitted to the Liberian Legislature by the Executive Branch of government for scrutiny and passage. Following the passage in Plenary, Bong County Representative Prince Moye, who is the chairman on Ways, Means, Finance, and Budget, reported that the budget is now off the shoulders of the lower house.

According to Rep. Moye, the committee submitted the Budget to Plenary for passage after vigorous and thorough scrutiny of the instrument along with authorities of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, line ministries and agencies, the Liberia Revenue Authority and members of the public. He reports that during the cross - examination of the budget, his committee was able to discover US$37,015,432.00 as additional and unencumbered revenue.

Rep. Moye told the media that of the total amount, US$11,968,188 is considered as contingent revenue comprising tax, non tax, and the World Bank Millennium Challenge Corporation Road Fund, while US$25,047,244.00 is considered as a core revenue comprising also tax, and the World Bank Millennium Corporation Road Fund.
“After all of these adjustments in both core and contingent revenue, we realized a net effect in terms of additional and unencumbered revenue of over US$37 million, thus, bringing the total adjusted revenue for fiscal year 2017/18 to US$563,563,423.00”, he says.

According to Rep. Moye, the amount when converted to Liberian Dollars is LRD$61,428,414,088.00 or (sixty one billon, four hundred twenty eight million, four hundred fourteen thousand, eighty eight Liberian dollars).

He narrates that the US$37 was submitted to the Executive Branch. Taking into consideration critical needs in the justice and security sector, health, education, infrastructure, the judiciary, and the pending 2017 Representatives and Presidential elections, he says there were some apportionment made in such direction.
In keeping with the Constitution of Liberia, the Executive Branch of government on 21 May submitted to the Liberian Legislature the fiscal year draft budget 2017/2018 in the tune of US$ 526.6 million.

It accounts for 12.3 % reduction from the US$ 600.2 million approved for FY2016/2017, reflecting 3.5% decrease on the end of year forecast of US$ 545.5 million.The budget [indicates] that the total revenue envelope comprises of US$ 483.7 million in revenue raised from domestic sources (taxes and non-tax revenue).In the budget presented to the Legislature, tax revenue of US$393.6 Million is decreased by 8.8 percent from the approved amount for FY2016/17 budget with non-tax revenue of US$90.2 Million.

There is US$ 37.9 million in grants from external sources and US$4.8 million in contingent revenue from domestic resources.The budget also shows that Non-Tax revenue of US$90.2 is projected to decrease by 8.2 percent compared to the US$98.3 million that was approved in the FY-2016/2017 budget.
According to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, this is an improvement to the current year-end estimated and is driven by anticipated increase in petroleum storage fees, forestry, mineral mining, cellular mobile networks, as well as expected improvements in State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) like Liberia Petroleum Refining Company, National Port Authority and others.
By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor-Edited by Winston W. Parley

Liberia’s Supreme Court has upheld the National Elections Commission (NEC’s) decision rejecting Assistant Post and Telecommunications Minister Abu Bana Kamara’s quest to stand in the October elections while he still occupies his appointed post in violation of the Code of Conduct.

The nation’s highest court handed its opinion on Monday, 17 July in Monrovia, warning that Mr. Kamara’s action of remaining in his position is not only in violation of the Code of Conduct, but “an utter affront to the decision of this Court”.

“Under the circumstances, we do not see the need to reverse the decision of the NEC, though made without due process, since the conduct amounts to an egregious violation of the Code, and we concur with the NEC’s rejection and disqualification of him from contesting an elective position in the 2017 elections”, Supreme Court rules.

Section 5.1 of the Code of Conduct bars all presidential appointees from contesting elected offices, with an alternative provided in Section 5.2 (a) that any appointed official who desires to contest for public office shall resign the occupied post at least two years prior to the conduct of elections.
Further in Section 5.2 (b), the Code of Conduct gives public officials in tenured offices who desire to contest in elected offices three years to resign their post prior to the elections.

As assistant Minister, Mr. Kamara falls in the two years resignation category, but the Supreme Court finds that even up to the time it renders its decision on his petition for a writ of prohibition against the NEC over his rejection, he still occupies the post.

Reading the Supreme Court Opinion, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. says the Court expects every affected public official appointed by the president including Mr. Kamara to take due note of its earlier decision in March this year in which it ruled that the Code of Conduct was constitutional.

“The petitioner failed or refused to take due note of the Opinion handed down by this Court, but instead, the petitioner decided to flaunt the decision of the Court such that up to the date of hearing of this case, and even to the date of this judgment, the petitioner is still maintaining and holding onto the position …”, Chief Justice Korkpor says.
Recalling the case involving Selena Polson Mappy vs Republic of Liberia, Chief Korkpor notes that the Court made it clear that the defining intent of the Legislature concerning public officials covered under the instrument is found in Article 56 (a) of the Constitution.

He says it names the officials as all cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials both military and civilian that are appointed by the president. “... [The] alternative writ of prohibition issued is ordered quashed and the peremptory writ of prohibition prayed for is hereby denied”, the Court rules.

While the Court recognizes the failure and errors of the NEC to have accorded Mr. Kamara due process before rejecting him, it however rules that his request for prohibition is not the proper remedy because the case is an election matter which requires expeditious hearing and determination.Citing Article 83 [c] , the Court says the NEC, within days of the receipt the notice of appeal shall forward all records in the case to the Supreme Court which in no later than seven days shall hear and make determination.

The Court therefore says Mr. Kamara did not only pursue the wrong course but risked undue delay in the election matter which was clearly against the intent of the law.The Court also dismisses Mr. Kamara’s argument that the amendment made to the Code of Conduct by the Legislature by giving certain responsibility to the NEC instead of the Office of the Ombudsman, contravened the ECOWAS Protocol.

Rather, the Supreme Court decides that the procedural change from one public agency to another is not substantial in nature and is therefore not within the prohibition of the ECOWAS Protocol.The NEC has however been mandated to conduct hearing and give all aspirants the opportunity to explain any deficiency or perceived deficiency to set the basis for a determination as to the penalty to be imposed, as otherwise the imposition of a penalty could cast a doubt on the process before the NEC.

By Winston W. Parley-Edited by Othello B. Garblah

Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire have held bilateral talks aimed at strengthening cooperation in the areas of security, energy, roads, agriculture and regional affairs. An Executive Mansion release issued Sunday, 16 July says the talks took place in Monrovia on Saturday, 15 July when Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara paid a one-day working visit to Liberia.

Both countries stressed the need for promoting and strengthening security between Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire that will lead to joint patrols to enhance the safety of the two nations.

On energy, both sides recognized the ongoing Cross-Border projects currently underway in Nimba, Maryland and Grand Gedeh counties, the CLSG, which saw groundbreaking during the just ended ECOWAS 41st Summit in Liberia as well as plans to construct a dam on the Cavalla River.

Both delegations noted the need for roads, which remain critical to the promotion of trade and commerce as well as the free movement of goods and services. They underscored the urgency of the Ganta – Saniquellie to Danane corridor and agreed to take steps to prioritize it soon.

The two delegations acknowledged agriculture as vital to economic prosperity and growth and called for cooperation that will lead to improved trade and commerce between both countries and peoples.

Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire agreed to work together to promote regional and continental cooperation at the levels of the Mano River, ECOWAS and the African Union.

Meanwhile, President Sirleaf and her Ivorian counterpart Mr. Ouattara acknowledged the sisterly and friendly relations between the two countries during a press stakeout. President Sirleaf said the visit was a way of honoring President Ouattara in recognition of his invaluable contributions to humanity.

For his part, President Ouattara praised President Sirleaf for her leadership and her role in transitioning Liberia from a state of conflict to stability.--Press release


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