On May 12, 2014, the President of the Republic of Liberia signed into law the Code of Conduct Act which regulates the behavior of public officials and government employees.
The Code of Conduct, which has been a long drawn contentious issue even before its signing is actually underpinned by Article 90 (c) of the Liberian Constitution which provides that the Legislature shall prescribe a Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees stipulating the acts which constitute conflict of interest or are against public policy, and the penalties for violation thereof. Among other things, the Code of Conduct, in line with Article 5.1 (a – c), forbids all officials appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia from engaging in political activities, canvassing or contesting for elected offices; using government facilities, equipment or resources in support of partisan or political activities; and serving on a campaign team of any political party, or the campaign of any independent candidate. The Code also says that any other official appointed by the President who holds a tenured position and desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post three years prior to the date of such public elections. Against the backdrop of this catchy legal clause, the Unity Party held its 2016 National Convention in Gbarnga City where several personalities, some of whom are prominent government officials, became elected to steer the party to the 2017 presidential and legislative elections and beyond. But even as the delegates, officials and contestants were moving about campaigning to showcase their respective candidates, the issue of the Code of Conduct seemed like an albatross on the necks of those candidates who would be most likely affected by the public policy law. Speaking to the media following his election as the new UP Secretary General, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe said, although the Code of Conduct has a noble intent, yet it should not be used to stifle his constitutional right to participate in politics. “If anyone feels injured by my participation in politics as minister, let them go to the Supreme Court for interpretation,” Nagbe said. The Minister’s assertion might actually be supported by Article 17 of the Liberian Constitution which states: "All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations." Adding his voice to the disenchantment of Eugene Nagbe as regards the unconstitutional prohibition of political participation posed by the Code of Conduct, the Secretary General of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE), Richard Panton, strongly believes that part of the Code of Conduct must be scrapped. “Participation is clear in the constitution; you cannot deny people of participation because they are government officials and so the code of conduct is contradicting the constitution,” Panton declared. While it remains conjecture that the political provision within the Code of Conduct was inserted to stop some serious presidential aspirants from leveraging their financial potency to unduly influence the 2017 elections, it is clear today that the newly elected Unity Party officials who are affected by the Code of Conduct are now singing the same swan song with Dr. Mills Jones of MOVEE. This is just a sign of what is to come if we are not careful with how we handle the little things that matter before we get to 2017. Free, fair and transparent democratic electoral processes require level playing field created for all participants. If we start creating the impression that the laws are good for one set of people but not good for others, we tend to jeopardize the process, risk embarrassment and invite backlash.