NEC Clears Sherman, Saytumah…Supreme Court Reserves Ruling In Certification Issue

By Morrison O.G Sayon & Edwin Wandah

The Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC) has reaffirmed the Election of Cllr. Varney G. Sherman and Morris Saytumah as Senators of Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties, respectively.

The Board took the decision in a ruling handed down on Friday at the Commission’s headquarters in Monrovia.

The ruling in the Grand Cape Mount County case was rendered from an appeal case filed before the Board of Commissioners of the NEC by Senatorial Candidate, Dr. FodayKromah, who complained of “Electoral Irregularities and Fraud” in the county during the December 20, 2014 Special Senatorial Election.

On December 29, 2014, Dr. FodayKromah, candidate of the Congress for Democratic Change, filed a two-page protest letter to the Elections Magistrate of Grand Cape Mount County in which he alleged irregularities and fraud in the conduct of the election.

Dr. Kromah’s allegations include the alleged printing of outdated (2005) Voter Registration cards; the use of outdated (2005) Voter Registration cards; non-eligible persons voted; the outright and malicious discarding of ballot papers.

Other allegations include, persons voted more than once; and the duplication of voters registration cards with different names and codes. However, on the basis of that complaint, Dr. Kromah recommended that the NEC conduct a recount of the ballots.

After hearing the case, the Elections Magistrate of Grand Cape Mount County ruled that Dr. Kromah did not prove the allegations contained in his protest and therefore the case was dismissed.

Dr. Kromah then announced an appeal before the Board of Commissioners of the NEC.

The ruling of the Board of Commissioners read by Chairman Jerome G. Korkoya stated that it is the decision of the Board that a recount of the ballots from the Special Senatorial Election in Grand Cape Mount County is not a remedy that could prove any of the allegations stated in the Appellant’s complaint of December 29, 2014.

Chairman Korkoya therefore stated that a recount of the ballots would amount to an exercise in futility.

In its ruling in the Election Irregularities and Fraud Case from Bomi County filed by the National Patriotic Party (NPP) against the NEC and Morris Saytumah, the Board of Commissioners said the appellant (National Patriotic Party) failed to take an appeal from the Hearing Officer’s decision concerning a recount on December 24, 2014.

The Board also ruled that in the instant case, where counsel for NPP requested continuance on account of engagement at the Supreme Court, the Counsel was required to attach evidence in support.

The Board’s Ruling which was read by Co-Chairman Sarah Toe, said the NPP request for continuance was unsupported by law and that the documents attached to the Counsel’s request actually required the respondents and not the petitioner (NPP), to file their returns before the Supreme Court on or before January 9, 2015.

“Accordingly, we agree with the Hearing Officer for denying same because the NPP Counsel was not due to physically appear before the Supreme Court as claimed,” the ruling noted.

The Commission indicated that the issues of irregularities and fraud raised in the NPP’s previous complaint of December 22, 2014 were the same issues raised in the NPP complaints of December 31, 2014. That the allegations of irregularities led to the NEC conducting a recount on December 24, 2014 of the votes cast in Tulaymu; and that the issue of fraud was referred to the police for investigation.

“Therefore, we agree with the Hearing Officer that the issues in the NPP’s December 31, 2014 complaint, having already been heard and finally determined based on the NPP December 22, 2014 complaint, same can only be reviewed by a higher tribunal, not the Hearing Officer. Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the final ruling of the Hearing Officer of January 9, 2015, has hereby confirmed appellant’s appeal denied and dismissed. It is hereby so ordered,” the Ruling concluded.

In a related development, petitioners’ lawyers in the political case of Margibi County on Friday informed the Supreme Court of Liberia that the National Elections Commission (NEC) was in error by attempting to certificate the wrong candidates.

Appearing for hearing on Friday in the prohibition case filed by Professor D. Ansu and others against the NEC, the lawyers claimed and also argued that certificating the wrong persons will set a negative precedent for the nation to follow.

One of counsels for petitioners, Cllr. QuaquaGbasay in his arguments told the court that certificating the wrong people as Senators could have been extended also to the Presidency, where certain immunities would have been afforded to the wrong persons instead of the legitimate winners. They called on the Supreme Court not to grant such issue in favor of the National Elections Commission, in order words, the NEC has violated its rules.

In his arguments, Cllr. Theophilus C. Gould buttressed his colleagues as they all told the court that the certification of the candidates were more than mere pronouncements of election results, or an announcement, but was a tangible and guarantee for taking seat in the National Legislature.

Quoting 83© of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, which talks about the returns of the elections shall be declared by the Elections Commission not later than fifteen 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 Elections Commission.

It further stated that such complaint must be filed not later than seven days after the announcement of the results of the elections. The Elections Commission shall, within thirty days of receipt of the complaint, but petitioners argued that that aspect of the constitution was not carefully followed by NEC.

Cllr. Gould further argued that while investigation was ongoing, NEC went ahead to certificate the disputed candidates. Something, petitioners’ lawyers disagreed with.

Meanwhile, NEC, the Respondent in the case informed the court that it was not in error as been claimed by the petitioner. NEC however raised another issue, the seating of candidates which it said has less or no jurisdiction over, and so, it can not be held liable for that.

Respondent’s third lawyer, Cllr. Nagbane Warner, told the full bench of the Supreme Court that NEC only had the constitutional powers to certificate candidates, but was not clothed with the responsibility of seating a candidate.

Cllr. Blidi who is legal counsel of NEC, B. Elliot of the Sherman and Sherman Law firm both contended that NEC was not in error for certificating candidates. They believed, the action to certificate candidates was directly in the confines of the National Elections Commission statutory mandate, and so, NEC should not have been held liable for any wrong or violation.