-CSO Worry Over President Weah’s Long Stay Out Of Country Amidst Census And 2023 Elections Preparation

By: R. Joyclyn Wea

MONROVIA-Naymote Partners for Democratic Development notes with concern the prolonged absence of President George Weah from Liberia amid controversies and uncertainties over the conduct of the National Population and Housing Census, and preparations for the 2023 General and Presidential Elections.

“President Weah’s prolonged absence has caused an apparent leadership void over these crucial national exercises,” Naymote’s Executive Director said.

The Liberian head of state had been away since November 1, 2022, and is receiving US$2,000.00 as an incidental allowance each day — this is in addition to hotel expenses and daily sustenance allowances at the expense of the ordinary people who paid their taxes.

“Weah’s absence from the country for a period of over 40 days is in stark violation of the Government of Liberia’s revised travel ordinance of 2016/2017,” Eddie Jarwolo told a news conference on Thursday.

The law states that the total government-funded delegation at any program or event held outside of Liberia shall not exceed five persons regardless of how many entities are involved. The ordinance also provides that the total number of days spent on any particular trip shall not exceed seven (7) days for which per diem and accommodation shall be funded by the Government.

There is no publicly available information on the number of people on this delegation and the total cost of funding this delegation for over 40 days.

Jarwolo is calling on the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, and the Presidency to be transparent on this matter saying “We caution President Weah against violating the laws he was elected to enforce, and the oath he took to defend the constitution and provide stable leadership for Liberia.”

At the same time, Jarwolo is worried that less than a year before the 2023 general and presidential elections, President Weah has yet to approve critical legislation that could make it possible for the NEC and other stakeholders to conduct free, fair, and credible elections in 2023.

Two important laws have been passed by both Houses of the Legislature pending presidential approval since September 2022: (1) An Act to amend certain Sections of the New Elections Law (1986) was passed by the Liberian legislature in 2022.

This bill includes amendments to Section 4.5, which also states that political parties “shall have no less than 30%” of either gender in their leadership and on their list of candidates for electoral offices; (2) The bill amending several sections of the Code of Conduct Act, including a provision that would oblige appointed officials aspiring to run or canvass for elected offices in the October 2023 elections to resign one year before the elections.

Accordingly, he says the current situation with the conduct of the National Population and Housing Census which has been delayed by four years is deeply concerning. Even though the original deadline set in a Joint Resolution of the Legislature mandating the Executive to conduct the Census from October 14 to November 7, 2022, has expired, there are valid concerns that the current exercise might not produce credible results due to mismanagement and leadership failure.

Jarwolo notes that the recent extension of the exercise from November 22 to January 12, 2023, and further delays will have grave implications for the conduct of the elections in 2023, particularly in demarcating and apportioning electoral constituencies.

He says “Given the delays with the Census and controversies over its conduct, there are meaningful risks that the NEC may not have sufficient time and resources to fulfill its mandate in using the Census results to apportion constituencies as provided for in Article 80(e) of the Liberian Constitution which states: “Immediately following a national census and before the next election, the Elections Commission shall re-apportion constituencies in accordance with the new population figures so that every constituency shall have as close to the same population as possible; provided, however, that a constituency must be solely within a county.”

The Naymote boss further mentioned that President Weah’s failure to approve the key electoral bills and the continued underfunding of the NEC risk undermining both the management and conduct of the polls, the integrity and credibility of the outcomes, and a potential constitutional crisis. 

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