As Momentum Of PUL 2019 Elections Glow, Presidential Aspirant Threatens Lawsuit Against The Process

Photo Credit: FPA – Ms. Facia Harris determined to fight back in restoring her rights

As Contestants for the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) leadership election comes November 9, 2019 heats up around the country, a presidential aspirant who was disqualified by the elections commission of the PUL in the race has threatened a lawsuit against the process by applying all legal means to restore her rights.

Ms. Facia B. Harris reacting to the PUL-EC’s decision which bars her from contesting the presidency “based on her current role as Director of Outreach and Sensitization at the Independent Information Commission (ICC)”, the only female candidate for the PUL presidency said the decision is a gross mischaracterization of the egregious nature and serious misunderstanding on the part of the EC.

Such decision, Ms. Harris averred, requires the domains of interpretation above the EC, which by itself cannot be the law and gospel of a delicate constitutional matter as such.

“I have read the statement by the EC issued on October 25, 2019, a day after my interview, rendering my application and candidature “unsuccessful”. The decision is shocking and unfortunate. Not only that it raises several vexing questions bordering on my constitutional and democratic rights as a legitimate and good-standing member of the PUL – who can vote and be voted upon, but that the EC decision also brings into serious question the legitimate interpretation of the constitution of the PUL as well as the nationally constitutionally-grounded Legislative Act Establishing the Independent Information Commission (IIC),” Harris lamented.

The IIC, Harris stated, as an independent public interest institution, is a brainchild of the PUL.

“Consequently, the relationship between the IIC and the PUL is most closest inseparable, not least the goals of the PUL and IIC to ensure unhindered rights of access and promotion of freedom of information and expression – both by the public and the media – all aimed at engendering democratic governance, transparency and accountability in the public interest. The IIC fully works for media development as the PUL. How and why these very goals advanced by the PUL, independent civil society organizations, international media and freedom of information and expressions institutions do conflict with the very work of the PUL, need to be further understood based on facts than the precipitous opinion of four members of the five member committee of the EC of the PUL” she further disclosed.

Continuing, the lone PUL presidential aspirant said, while it remains a fact that she works for the Independent Information Commission as Director of Outreach and Sensitization – a closest comparable role routinely performed by the President and leadership of the PUL as well as the media community, the IIC is not an ordinary institution and the position of Director of Outreach and Sensitization cannot be reduced by the strike of an ink to a PRO, as done by the EC.

“This is a gross mischaracterization of the egregious nature and serious misunderstanding on the part of the EC. These calls for the domains of interpretation above the EC, which by itself cannot be the law and gospel of a delicate constitutional matter as such,” she stated.

“In consideration of these and the very dangerous decision by the EC, as a law abiding person and in the interest of ensuring that your faith and hopes are not dashed, I am exploring all relevant available institutional avenues, at this stage, to have my rights fully, impartially, and unbiasedly respected as embedded in the PUL constitution and all relevant legal instruments. However, the avenues are not limited to the institutional channels of the PUL but relevant mechanisms of social justice of Liberia. The aim is to ensure that the elections are clean and that rights are not only respected but upheld,” Ms. Harris said.

A long-time media practitioner Ms. Facia Harris became renowned for her stints at UNMIL radio during the heydays of the Liberian peace process. In recent times, Facia became the face of activism strongly opposing sexual and gender-based violence, especially against women and girls.

Despite being a good-standing full member of the PUL, Facia Harris shocked many media practitioners when she threw her hat in the race for the coveted presidency which also has two current officials vying for the same post – incumbent Charles Coffey and Vice President Octavin Williams.

“I threw my hat into the ring for the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Presidency after serious thoughts and consultation with some professional colleagues, many who are gauging their opinions on what they aspire for the Head of our Noble Institution. Many were of the opinion that they need a new breed of leaders with integrity, results-oriented, etc. They believed I possess those characteristics; hence I answered to that call. A call that was clear, ‘Come let us reimage and rebrand the PUL’ and advance a progressive agenda for a genuine institutional reform, credible and independent professionals,” said Harris.

Thanking all of her well-wishers for the outpouring of support, Facia said, “Honestly, I am overwhelmed. Be assured that I remain committed to the PUL as a full member. For the good of any sector of our society, we will not hesitate to step forward.”

However, the writ was served on the respondents and a return made to the Court

For Facia Harris, the current division and uncertainty within the PUL has left the door wide open for a strong female candidate to come in and weather the storm of uncertainty

Since its establishment on September 30, 1964, PUL had fielded only one female president, Madam Elizabeth Hoff, who now heads the Union’s Media Council that arbitrates matters of ethical transgressions and complaints amongst and against media practitioners.

History Repeating

Flash Back: Court’s Bailiff reading the Writ of Injunction in Buchanan (Photo credit: Daily Observer November 26, 2013)

In November 2013, as activities marking the second tri-annual congress of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) were interrupted on Saturday, November 9th, after the Civil Law Court at the Temple of Justice, issued a writ of injunction on the union’s leadership.

The Buchanan congress was held under the theme, “Standing for Press Freedom and Professional Journalism.”

An injunction is a writ granted by a court of equity whereby one is required to do or refrain from doing a specified act.

As in the case of the PUL elections, slated for Saturday in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, the court acted upon the receipt of the judge’s orders whereby two members of the Union, who had been disqualified by the PUL elections committee, requested the Civil Law Court to put off the elections until the matter had been properly looked into by the Court.

Messrs W. Omecee Johnson, vice presidential candidate and J. Cholo Brooks, presidential candidate of the PUL, petitioned the court for a declarative judgment against the president of the PUL, Peter Quaqua, Prof. James Wolo, chairman, PUL 2013 Elections Commission, and the Commission’s members, Misses Elsie A. Zokar, secretary, and Wede Williams, Sam O. Dean and Mr.  Lewis T. Togbah, Sr.

The PUL stated that Messrs Johnson and Brooks had been  disqualified based on Article 4, Section 1 of the PUL constitution, which says full membership of the PUL shall be granted to Liberian Journalists who hold degree (s) in Journalism or Mass Communications from a recognized institution of higher learning and have practiced journalism for two years.

Under this constitutional clause, PUL Elections officials argued that Mr. Brooks had submitted  questionable academic credentials, while Mr. Johnson had reportedly not practiced as a journalist with any media house in the country.

The two disqualified candidates, however, petitioned the court that Section 43.2 of the Civil Procedure Law captioned “Construction of Writings and Statutes” provides that, “Any person interested under a deed, will, contract, or other writings constituting a contract, or whose rights, status, or other legal relations are affected by a statute…..may have determined, any question of construction or validity arising under the instrument, statute or other relation thereafter, etc.”

Also, the petitioners, as members of the PUL, said they are in good-standing as evidenced by their preliminary qualification by the Union’s Elections Commission to contest for the positions of vice president and president.

The two men further argued that the PUL—under the leadership of the chairman and members of PUL’s Elections Committee—without any cause, disqualified petitioners and denied the exercise of their rights to contest, purporting to rely on the PUL Revised Constitution and By-Laws, adopted October 10, 2009. In so doing, the Union, through its officers, sought to disenfranchise them of their rights to contest the above-mentioned positions.

A Drama At The Time

The drama erupted at around 10 a.m. when the proceedings at the Buchanan Fair Grounds were disrupted following the emergence of the bailiff from the court, who entered the meeting hall unannounced to serve the writ.

Before, the bailiff or the court sheriff could enter the main hall; Mr. Quaqua had announced the cancellation of all other proceedings, urging the delegates assembled to go ahead with the elections of officers for the next three years.

The appearance of the bailiff was welcomed with mixed reactions from members and officials of the Union; some had opted for a debate before the conduct of the elections, while others agreed with Mr. Quaqua’s suggestion to speed up the elections before the writ could be served.

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