Liberia: The Residency Clause, The Case of Alexander Cummings and Daniel Cassell  (2022)

... Constitutionally, Cummings and Cassell are not eligible to run for president or vice president of Liberia because none has met the 10 years of residency eligibility prior to the election to run for president or vice president of Liberia. The basic qualifications to be met by presidential candidates for the President and Vice president positions respectively must be in line with the provisions of the Constitution of Liberia.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely of the author and do not necessarily represent that of the Daily Observer newspaper.

As the Nation prepares for the October 2023 election, the ten years residency clause qualifications of candidates contesting the office of the President and Vice President of the Republic of Liberia, have generated endless controversies.

The dominant School of thought has asserted loudly and clearly over the years, that a person is not eligible to contest election to the office of the President and Vice President unless he/she meets the residency clause requirement.

Qualifications for the Office of the President and Vice President

The office of the President is filled periodically every six (6) years by an election process conducted nationally by the National Election Commission (NEC). The Constitution provides for the basic requirements to be met by a candidate to be eligible for an election into the office of the president and vice president. It has been and is still being contested that candidates must have been a resident of the Republic ten years prior to his/her election.

Article 52(C) (as amended) has been cited in support of the contention by proponents of that view to support their position. Article 52 says: No person shall be eligible to hold the office of President or Vice-President unless that person is a: “C. resident in the Republic ten years prior to his election, provided that the President and the Vice-President shall not come from the same County.” Also in Article 52 (A) (B), Candidates contesting elections must be “a natural born Liberian citizen of not less than 35 years of age; the owner of unencumbered real property valued at not less than twenty-five thousand dollars.”

Disqualification to Contest the Office of President and Vice Presidency

According to the provisions of Article 52 (A)(B)(C) of the Liberian Constitution, a person will be disqualified for running for the Office of the President and Vice President if he/she does not meet the following qualifications: a natural born Liberian citizen of not less than 35 years of age; the owner of unencumbered real property valued at not less than twenty-five thousand dollars; and resident in the Republic ten years prior to his election, provided that the President and the Vice-President shall not come from the same County.

2011 National Referendum

In the August 2011 national referendum, the Johnson-Sirleaf government attempted to reduce the residency requirement to five years from ten years. However, the constitutional amendments were rejected in the national referendum by the Liberian People. One defeated proposal was to move back the national election date from the first Tuesday in October to the first Tuesday in November, pushing the election out of the rainy season, which might increase voter turnout, and closer to the January presidential inauguration, which would help to alleviate security concerns.

Another change, also rejected, called for a simple majority for victory in local and legislative polls, which aimed to elect officials in a single round, doing away with expensive run-off elections. Also defeated was the proposed amendment to raise the Liberian Supreme Court judge retirement age from 70 to 75. The most controversial proposition #1, which suggested lowering the residency requirement for presidential candidates from 10 years to 5 years, was massively defeated.

When the National Elections Commission (NEC) qualified the sixteen presidential candidates for the 2011 presidential candidate election, Simeon Freeman of the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) filed a writ of prohibition to the Supreme Court, arguing that these politicians have not lived in Liberia according to 52C of the 1986 Constitution which requires that anyone wishing to become president of Liberia should live in the country not less than ten years prior to the election. According to the MPC, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Prince Y. Johnson of the National Union for Democratic Progress, Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party, Rev. Kennedy Sandy of the Liberia Transformation Party, and Dew Mason of the National Democratic Coalition should not contest the presidential election on 11 October 2011.

2011 Supreme Court Ruling on the Residency Clause

The Supreme Court of Liberia ruled out the residency argument by the MPC. In the Supreme Court ruling on 5 October, Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis wrote: “Following careful review of the facts in this case and the law applicable thereto, it is hereby adjudged that for the purpose of eligibility, we hold that Article 52(C) of the Liberian Constitution requires that a Liberian citizen shall have been a ‘resident' in the Republic of Liberia for at least ten (10) years immediately preceding the presidential election in which the candidate is competing; that also, on account of the civil war and its devastating impact on the lives of the Liberian people at different periods of the nation’s history, which necessitated the flight of citizens from the country, it is our opinion that the framers of the 1986 constitution could neither have contemplated nor intended that Liberians faced with the state civil crisis be 'resident' because at some point in the future they may want to run for the office of president,” Chief Justice Johnnie said.

He also said “article 52(C) having been suspended during the state of war in Liberia and same restored as part of the ushering of a constitutional government on January 16, 2006, the principle embraced under Article 21 of the Constitution constitutes a bar prohibiting what amounts to a retroactive application of Article 52(C) to disallow otherwise qualified Liberians from running for the office of president during the 2011 presidential election”. Chief Justice Lewis concluded: “We, therefore, hold that Article 52 applies only to the Constitutional period as it was contemplated and intended by the writers of the Liberian Constitution (1986).

The Supreme Court’s decision in the aforementioned case reinforces the importance of qualification for election by a candidate and gave proof that where a candidate for president and vice president who do not duly qualify for an election is fielded by a political party, the electoral victory of such a candidate is liable to be set aside.

Alexander B. Cummings Jr., of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP)

Alexander B. Cummings Jr. was born in Liberia on December 7, 1957, in Liberia. Mr. Cummings, a former Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, retired on March 31, 2016, after more than 18 years of distinguished service to the Company according to a Coca-Cola press release.

In July 2011, Mr. Cummings traveled from his residence in Georgia, the USA to Liberia, where he received Liberia's highest honor, the Humane Order of African Redemption, for humanitarian work in Liberia and acts supporting and assisting the Liberian nation and Africa in general. In 2015, Cummings established the Cummings Africa Foundation to assist in improving education, health, entrepreneurship & agriculture in Africa, with special emphasis on Liberia.

In January 2016, the then Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company joined the 2017 presidential and representative elections as a presidential hopeful on the Alternative National Congress (ANC) ticket. He was certified by Jerome Korkyoya’s National Elections Commission as a presidential candidate of the ANC and participated in presidential and representative elections.

Cummings came fourth with total votes of 112,067 (7.21% of votes), despite Cummings not meeting the residency clause and his confession to a gathering of Diaspora Liberians in the United States that he carries a US passport because he is a naturalized American citizen. Cummings made the admission in September of 2015 when he addressed a town hall gathering of Diaspora Liberians in the US state of Minnesota, where he revealed that he carries an American passport, and insisted that he is a Liberian.

Currently, Alexander B. Cummings Jr.. is the political leader of the ANC and the Standard-bearer of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) in the 2023 pending election.

Dr. Daniel Cassell of Liberia People Liberation Party

Daniel E. Cassell was born in Liberia on January 8, 1966. He migrated to the United States in October of 1995, where he has resided since. He established the Kwenyan Professional Health Services, a mental health/behavioral and substance abuse agency and, in 2008, he became a professional counselor in the state of Pennsylvania and also a licensed clinical drug and alcohol counselor in New Jersey in 2009.

Upon his return from America, Cassell established the Dr. Cassell Foundation in July 2020 to assist with meeting the basic needs of the poor, less fortunate, and disenfranchised citizens of Liberia. In 2020, Cassell announced his intention to run for president of Liberia in the 2023 elections, establishing the People’s Liberation Party (PLP) to back his candidacy. The PLP was officially certificated as a full-fledged political party in Liberia by the NEC on December 21, 2020.

Cassell was arrested in Georgia on March 17, as a Fugitive from Justice. His company, according to the source, allegedly created fake vouchers for clients to the insurance company multiple times to the tune of US$3.7 million. Most of the funds, according to investigators, were funneled through his Cassell Foundation — the foundation through which he carries out his philanthropic activities.

On September 20, Dr. Cassell was indicted by a grand jury in the United States. According to preliminary reports the charges stem from a 2019 OIFP investigation allegedly revealing that from January 2015 through October 2021, when the Kwenyan entities ceased operations, Cassell, with assistance from his employees, engaged in schemes to defraud Medicaid and to defraud Progressive Insurance Company, which provided auto insurance coverage for a fleet of over 20 service vans used by the clinics.

A subsequent joint investigation by OIFP and the New Jersey Department of the Treasury allegedly revealed that Cassell and his wife, Bindu R. Cassell, 37, of Perkasie, PA, used the Kwenyan entities to hide income and also failed to disclose additional earned income on their jointly filed 2016, 2017 and 2018 N.J. tax returns.

Cassell is the political leader of the People’s Liberation Party (PLP) and the presidential candidate of the PLP in the 2023 pending election.

Conclusion

Constitutionally, Cummings and Cassell are not eligible to run for president or vice president of Liberia because none has met the 10 years of residency eligibility prior to the election to run for president or vice president of Liberia. The basic qualifications to be met by presidential candidates for the President and Vice president positions respectively must be in line with the provisions of the Constitution of Liberia.

These basic qualifications are provided under Article 52(a)(b)(c) of the Constitution of 1986 and any person who is disqualified for any reason stated above should not be eligible to participate in the 2023 presidential election as a presidential candidate. No provision of the Constitution should be set aside or ignored during the 2023 elections for the sake of political accommodation. Similarly, no provision should be misinterpreted or misconstrued so as to satisfy the desire of any politician or political party.

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