On Executive Order 65: Did CDC And Others Act Properly?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Last week one of the stories that made major headlines in the media was the Executive Order Number 65 by President Sirleaf, prohibiting, banning or proscribing “mass movement of people, including rallies, parades and demonstrations,” in the wake of the Ebola virus. The order came at a time of mounting public concern about the mass gathering of people during this senatorial campaign period. The concern stemmed from that fact that the Ebola virus can be contracted through body contacts and the fluid of persons with the disease.

An Executive Mansion release on the Executive Order said,” President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has issued Executive Order No. 65 ordering all concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia during the ensuing special elections, including in particular rallies, demonstrations and parades prohibited and for 30 days after the announcement of election results.

According to an Executive Mansion release, Executive Order No. 65, signed by the Liberian leader on December 3, 2014, is intended to strengthen the efforts of the Government of Liberia to contain the spread of Ebola, protect the security of the State, maintain law and order, and promote peace and stability in the country.

Executive Order No. 65 noted that the existing law requiring persons desiring to march or demonstrate to obtain prior permits from the Ministry of Justice have proven ineffective to address rallies, parades and concerted mass movements on the streets of Monrovia and its environs.

 It further stated that the Government has noted with concern the increasing number of incidents of concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia and its environs, including in particular rallies, demonstrations, and parades, which have led to persistent and frequent violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Laws of Liberia, obstruction of the free flow of traffic and the movement of peaceful citizens, the disruption of economic activities, and concomitant panic in the city with total disregard of the consequences thereof.

Executive Order No. 65 states that to allow the said conduct to continue with impunity and without control, will frustrate efforts to contain the Ebola virus disease in Liberia, undermine the security of the State and the maintenance of law and order, and negatively impact the economy.

Expectedly, following the issuance of the order, many persons and group expressed complete opposition to it, stating that it violates the fundamental rights of the people to gather and also to associate. Noticeably, 14 lawmakers in Montserrado County have vehemently rejected the Order, and called on the President to immediately retract or rescind it. They termed the order issued last week as “Tyrannical Order” which they said has the proclivity to thwart our nascent democracy, noting that there shall be reversal of the democratic gains we have made through the blood and sweat of our fellow compatriots.

Also, candidate Robert Sirelaf, the son of President who is one of the contenders for the Montserrado County race, objected to the order, claiming that it is “discriminatory, punitive and wrong” and therefore threatened legal action against the government for issuing the Order, something I am told he , through his lawyers have done with the Supreme Court, prompting a stay order.
Similarly, independent candidate Chris Neyor, has also denounced the Executive Order. Mr. Neyor, as was reported yesterday said, Independent Senatorial Candidate Christopher Neyor has said attempt by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to arrogate onto herself the power to abrogate the Constitution is ”reminiscent of the dark days” of the one-party dictatorship and Decree 88 (A), where the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people were openly abused. Mr. Neyor noted that the President’s action is not only unacceptable but completely appalling and altogether disturbing.

In the wake of the debate and opposition to the issue at bar, the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) besides the statement from lawmakers supporting the candidacy of Mr. George Weah, the candidate of the party, called on its supporters to gather at the Capitol Building yesterday to massively express its opposition to the order. However, the party later called off its planned sit-in action at the Capitol, after it was learnt that a writ of prohibition had been filed in its behalf by the lawmakers, something that resulted to a “stay order” by the Supreme Court.

During the weekend the planned move of the party to gather people made major headlines in some local papers, as many persons who felt that gathering people at the Capitol Building was not the appropriate things to do, as one paper reported:”Weah defies Ellen… Calls for Mass Gathering, “while another reported: “CDC Storms Legislature Today…To Protest Ellen’s Executive Order.” Another headline stated, “Defiance of Executive Order 65: Weah Commands Troops To Action…”

Howbeit, the fears that were heightening as a result of his planned protest action, gradually dissipated, when it was learnt that the party had called off its planned sit-in action and has resorted to the legal process by flying to the Supreme Court, which is the “Final Arbiter” of constitutional issue. Accordingly, the court granted the writ of prohibition, thus issuing a “Stay Order’ on the enforcement of the Executive Order.

Today, I take interest in this matter because there have been some things positive despite the plethora of opposition following the issuance of the Executive Order. The contest of who actually was the first to seek the writ, stopping the enforcement of the Order is not my concern. My main point is that the aggrieved parties have done something that, I, feel is in the right trajectory by applying the rule of law, and not resorting to any act detrimental to national security.

Many times we speak of the issue of this country being “a country of laws and not men.” This is exactly what is being referred to by making use of the legal processes. The courts are in existence to dispense justice and as such, it is necessary for those with issues justifiable before the court to do so. No matter the situation, one cannot “oust the court of its functions.” This is why I am happy that the CDC that had planned a sit-in action has now fled to the Supreme Court with this writ of prohibition, while Mr. Sirleaf, had also sought similar writ of prohibition. Let me once say that my interest is not who first initiated this action. But I am happy that they have pursued the right path.

Yes, there is no denying that we have problems in this country, but the fact that people, with grievances on this pending elections and the recent Executive Order can resort to the legal process is something worth commendable. To continue to refer to ourselves as being in a country of law, it means utilizing all legal means in addressing whatever grievances or issues.

Again, let me thank all of those petitioners that went to the Supreme Court to make a determination on the matter. This is the kind of Liberia we all must strive to project, as anything to the contrary would undoubtedly affect all of us. I Rest My Case.