By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW) As it is often said, laws are made to guide our conduct. Whether it is in the home, community and state, there must be laws by which our actions, attitude and behavior would be guided. As the book, “STREET LAWS,” defines law “ as the set of rules made and enforced by the government that regulates the conduct of people within a society.“ It went further to say that, “laws generally reflect and promote a society’s values; these values can be moral, economic or political” and that as these values change, laws may change too.
It is based on this that nations establish constitutions, which are the Organic Laws, as the guiding law, to ensure that whatever laws, regulations or rules that are made whether by the government or instituti9ons and groups other than the government are in consonance. This means that every law, regulations or rules that are made to regulate the conduct of people within a society, must not contravene any provision of that organic law.
Notwithstanding, it should be noted here that the existence of laws does not mean that there would not be deviants. But they are necessary to ensure orderliness, peace and tranquility, as well as respect for the basic and fundamental rights of people. This is why these laws go with certain punishments for any violations thereof. Unarguably, there can be no society without laws, which may carry the synonymous rules, precepts, regulations, canons or code of conduct.
Because of the importance of laws, every group always establish what is known as ‘by-laws and constitution’ or even code as their working tools to ensure orderliness and proper conduct of its members. In professional groups, or the status quo, this is sometimes referred to as code of ethics or code of conduct, as is being presently debated by the National Legislature at the Capitol Hill.
Interestingly, the much talked-about code of conduct which has recovered from years of coma has now been passed by both houses, but with some unresolved issues which are expected to be sent to a joint conference committee to iron out those unresolved issues before sending them to the President for her approval or disapproval.
I am happy for the stage of the code of conduct thus far. I take particular interest because of the way some of our lawmakers see this code, failing to realize the ‘unitary’ nature of the government. As we know, there are three separate and distinct branches of government; however, they function as a unit, meaning that laws to be made must reflect this unitary nature of the government. But what I see is that part of the code is being done to exclusively affect those holding appointed positions than those elected.
On the Access declaration, the just passed Code of Conduct by the House says, Access should be declared to the relevant authorized authorities in the three branches of Government and be made accessible to both the public employer and the general public in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act or a Court Order.
Part X: Section 10.2 talks about repository and contents of declaration explained that in the Legislative Branch with the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives; in the Executive Branch with the General Auditing Commission (GAC); in the Judicial Branch with the Clerk of the Supreme Court.
As for the conditions for contesting elected positions, Part 4: Section 5.12 in the draft Code of Conduct is read out saying an appointed official of Government may offer himself or herself as a candidate for election to a political office but such official must resign his or her job at least one year prior to the date of election.
This portion of the document was debated in the Senate for a long period of time but its Plenary took a decision to act on two years instead of the one year proposed. This version went down to the Lower House where a public hearing was heard and later taken to session for debate and action by Plenary. Last week, the House Plenary passed on the document adding another year to the Senate’s version making it three years for those appointed officials to resign after he/she wants to contest elected post.
In short, the two issues at bar are that only appointed officials of government are to resign, and that those in the legislature will not resign; the other issue is that only “appointed officials” of the government will directly declare their assets to the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC), while those in the Legislature and Judiciary will do so through their respect offices, or certain individuals in their respective offices.
As I ruminate on these two critical issues, I am reminded of the issue of the purpose of the code of conduct for government officials. The code of conduct, as it is common sense, is intended to guide and regulate conduct of governments. And therefore, to begin to categorize these officials as a way that would shield others, especially the lawmakers from being affected by some aspects of the code is what I am really concerned about.
The purpose of this code is to make sure that officials of government whether appointed or elected, act in certain ways to avoid abuse of the public office and acts incompatible with their status as public officials
Furthermore, the purpose of the issue of resignation is to make sure that incumbents do not use state resources, which they enjoy to have undue advantage over other aspirants or candidates during elections. It is because that those interested in elective posts are required to resign certain time before the elections. And so to exclude the lawmakers from this will be unfair. The lawmakers were elected for a specific time or tenure, and that if they are interested in seeking reelection, “it is a new ball game,” therefore, the rules must apply, as failure to do so would also put them in an advantageous position than others who are not lawmakers, but vying for such elective posts.
Regarding the declaration of assets, there is no need to departmentalize this by dealing with certain individuals in the various branches, except the LACC which has statutory mandate on such matter. I see unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks in this whole asset declaration issue. The purpose of this is to check against public officials acquiring wealth through dubious means, thus depriving the nation of some of its needed resources.
I am raising these concerns because all is not yet lost as the joint committee is still at work, and that this is the appropriate time for public inputs and suggestions on the matter of resignation and also asset declaration.
As for the time of resignation, I support one year prior to elections as contained in the original draft of the code of conduct for public officials rather than three years as proposed by the House of Representatives. I also support six months for lawmakers. The lawmakers are public officials because they were elected to seek the interest of the people, while those appointed were appointed to seek the interest of the people.
I conclude by insisting that the code should not be designed to shield any public official against others. The code must not be discriminatory; it must be holistic for all public officials. Until reasons prevail, I Rest My Case.
Definitions of public official and public authority
Public authority includes the following:
(a) a Government Department or the Teaching Service,
(b) a statutory body representing the Crown,
(c) a declared authority under the Public Service Act 1979,
(d) a person or body in relation to whom or to whose functions an account is kept of administration or working expenses, where the account:
(i) is part of the accounts prepared under the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983,or
(ii) is required by or under any Act to be audited by the Auditor-General, or
(iii) is an account with respect to which the Auditor-General has powers under any law, or
(iv) is an account with respect to which the Auditor-General may exercise powers under a law relating to the audit of accounts if requested to do so by a Minister of the Crown,
(e) a local government authority,
(f) the Police Force,
(g) a body, or the holder of an office, declared by the regulations to be a body or office within this definition.
Public official means an individual having public official functions or acting in a public official capacity, and includes any of the following:
(a) the Governor (whether or not acting with the advice of the Executive Council),
(b) a person appointed to an office by the Governor,
(c) a Minister of the Crown, a member of the Executive Council or a Parliamentary Secretary,
(d) a member of the Legislative Council or of the Legislative Assembly,
(e) a person employed by the President of the Legislative Council or the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly or both,
(f) a judge, a magistrate or the holder of any other judicial office (whether exercising judicial, ministerial or other functions),
(g) an officer or temporary employee of the Public Service or the Teaching Service,
(h) an individual who constitutes or is a member of a public authority,
(i) a person in the service of the Crown or of a public authority,
(j) an individual entitled to be reimbursed expenses, from a fund of which an account mentioned in paragraph (d) of the definition of public authority is kept, of attending meetings or carrying out the business of any body constituted by an Act,
(k) a member of the Police Force,
(k1) an accredited certifier within the meaning of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979,
(l) the holder of an office declared by the regulations to be an office within this definition,
(m) an employee of or any person otherwise engaged by or acting for or on behalf of, or in the place of, or as deputy or delegate of, a public authority or any person or body described in any of the foregoing paragraphs. COURTESY: www.google.com