LIBERIA: Ellen Signs Code of Conduct Law; Applies to all Public Officials and Employees of Government

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has finally signed into law the Code of Conduct Act. Article 90 (c) of the Constitution 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.”

According to an Executive Mansion release, the Liberian leader signed the historic document at a ceremony in the Cabinet Room of her temporary office at the Foreign Ministry on Monday, May 12.

Speaking during the ceremony, President Sirleaf thanked the leadership and members of the National Legislature for fulfilling its Constitutional duty by passing the Code of Conduct which now applies to all public officials and employees of the three branches of Government.

“As the law requires, it now has to be printed in handbills to be fully effective; but with this signing today, we now go to the final step to have it printed and to have it distributed to the public at large,” the Liberian leader pointed out. She noted that this law will be posted on the different websites, including the Executive Mansion and Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, so that it is shared by all of those who may not be in the country.

She used the occasion to highlight portions of the Code of Conduct Law that public officials and employees of Government must observe and become familiar with.

Section 5.1 stipulates that all appointed government officials wanting to contest for elected positions in government must resign at least three years prior to the date of the election.

Section 5.2 states, in part that, in case of vacancy for an elected official, any appointee of government that offers to take up such elected position must resign three months prior to the date of the by-election.

Highlighting Section 9.1, Bribes and Gifts, the Liberian leader reminded public officials and employees of government that the Code of Conduct prohibits receiving or encouraging the giving of any form of bribe or casual gift in connection with the performance of his/her duties, whether for himself or herself or members of his or her family.

She, however, indicated that this provision does not apply to gifts given during traditional ceremonies and celebrations, and fees paid for lobbying, adding, that the Legislature shall enact laws for the regulation of lobbying activities. “We will be coming back to the Legislature for them to fulfill their constitutional duties by being able to enact appropriate laws to enable us meet this provision.

President Sirleaf also stressed Section 11.3 on Sexual Harassment, which frowns on unethical and unbecoming behavior such as the use of rude, abusive and obscene language, indecent dressing, and sexual gestures which constitute sexual harassment and violation of human dignity and human rights.

Section 13.1 provides protection from reprisal or discipline, for public officials and employees of Government who, in good faith, report allegations of wrong doing in contravention of the Code of Conduct.

On Section 13.2, the Code of Conduct encourages members of the public to report complaints of misconduct by a public official or employee of government. All persons making such complaints shall be protected from reprisal for reporting in good faith, allegations of wrong doing in contravention of the Code of Conduct, and are further protected by the Whistle Blower Protection Law.

She noted that there were many other provisions in the Code of Conduct law including a Section that relates to Nepotism, Declaration of Assets, among others that all need to read very carefully and obliged to respect.
“Any law is only worth its grain of salt when we all respect it and ensure its implementation,” President Sirleaf stressed, adding that all of us must commit to it, including civil society, which are the watchdogs of society.

On the Section that highlights the Declaration of Assets, President Sirleaf pointed out that since the Code of Conduct now covers all three branches of government, it is expected that colleagues from the other branches will follow the example of the Executive Branch to declare their assets.

Also speaking, the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, Gbehzongar Milton Findley, said the Legislature had fulfilled its obligation in accordance with the 1986 Constitution by prescribing a Code of Conduct that will guide all public officials and employees of the Government of Liberia will know how to conduct themselves.

Bong County Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, who was very instrumental in getting the Bill passed by both segments of the National Legislature, said that the Law was significant for the country which is the first step. “The second step is that all of us try to adhere to it so it doesn’t just become a piece of paper but sets the standard for how you behave so you can raise the level of integrity in our country,” she said.

Governance Commission Chairman, Dr. Amos Sawyer, said signing the Code of Conduct is indeed a legacy. “For you, Madam President, the Senate and distinguished Members of the House of Representatives who have seen this through, this is an enormous historic credit,” adding, “the way in which it has evolved and come through our legislative process is a credit to all of us,” he said.

In March, the House of Representatives concurred with the Senate on the passage of the Code of Conduct with some adjustments.

The adjustments included the establishment of an Ombudsman with responsibility for oversight, monitoring and evaluation of the Code of Conduct, and also to receive complaints on public officials and employees of government who violate the Code.

The Ombudsman will also submit the names of violators to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Ministry of Justice or any other relevant agency of government. The President of Liberia shall appoint the Ombudsman, who will then be confirmed by the Senate.

They further indicated that assets declared to the relevant authorities within the three branches of government must be made accessible to both public employers and the general public, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act or a court order.

The Bill, which was submitted to the National Legislature in 2009 by the Executive Branch of government, was passed by the Senate last year and sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

By: Jerolinmek Matthew Piah – Presidential Press Secretary/Office of the President

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