Applying systematic and careful analysis to the facts and the law, the NEC Hearing Officer appropriately dismissed the Complaint filed by Ambassador George Weah and the CDC.
Hearing Officer Blidi began his ruling by discussing the procedural issues related to the Complaint including motions for consolidation, continuance, and the issuance of subpoena deuces tecum, which he properly disposed of in each case. The Hearing Officer then granted CDC’s motion for continuance to contact their witnesses. It is extremely unusual for a party to appear at a hearing without at least some of their witnesses, nonetheless, apparently in the interest of justice (even though he was not legally required to) Hearing Officer Blidi granted the motion.
When the Hearing resumed, two very significant issues raised by CDC were whether the matter should be heard by a Hearing Officer and whether Hearing Officer Blidi should recuse himself. CDC may have made a strategic legal error by not waiting until the election results were certified, and thereby pose their Complaint as a “post election” contest to be heard directly by the full Commission. In any event, the Hearing Officer basing his reasoning on the appropriate statutes determined that the matter was properly before him.
On the question of recusal, the Hearing Officer ruled that the recusal motion failed to state the legal grounds on which he should recuse himself. In general terms grounds for recusals which have to be proved include prohibited relationships, interested party standing, conflict of interests and similar connections; CDC failed to assert, much more show any of these grounds. The Hearing Officer correctly denied the motion.
CDC presented 13 witnesses. The testimony of these witnesses showed in general that they purported to present evidence on matters not of their own certain knowledge, spoke on issues in which their expertise were not established, testified to what others told them (“they say oh”), made statements that were totally insupportable by the available evidence, and made statements that were conclusory, which is an assertion for which no supporting evidence was spresented. Witnesses assumed facts not in the record, or just made plain inflammatory statements. Several CDC’s witness actually presented evidence that contradicted or undermined the fundamentals of Ambassador Weah’s and CDC’s allegations.
Ms. Sandra Worjloh conceded that she was not present when the documents she testified to was prepared and reconciled. Another witness testified that CDC’s representatives signed the Tally Sheets, but “their signatures were an attestation of what occurred at the polling places; they were attesting to excess ballots.” This witness statement carried no credibility because the witness could not legally present evidence as to why other persons signed those documents. The question that is likely to come to the mind of the trier of fact is why the signers were not brought to testify. Witness Charles Sumo testified that he was present throughout the process from opening the ballot box, throughout the voting, counting, and tallying processes, and that he agreed with what appeared on the Tally Sheet. Mr. Andrew Flomo testified that he did not witness what he testified to,
Witness J. Abel Richards testified that he did not follow the normal procedure when voting and obtained 3 ballots for evidence. He said he did not trust international observers, but also very significantly, that he failed to inform CDC’s representatives at the polling center of his “evidence.” One wonders if he did not trust his party’s representatives also. Witness Sam McCrounada conceded on cross examination that he was not testifying to matters in his personal knowledge. Another witness testified that on November 8th, he was given 17 ballots pre-marked for Unity Party, but he had not seen the person who gave them to him since that day. Witness Ranny Gbatu, CDC Nimba County Chairman testified that he visited all polling stations in the County and received complaints from only one.
The other CDC witnesses testified in a similar vein. Evidence is defined in general as “every type of proof legally presented at trial (allowed by the judge) which is intended to convince the judge and/or jury of alleged facts material to the case.” By usual legal standards, much of what CDC’s witnesses testified to was not “admissible evidence.” Admissible evidence must be relevant, material and must not violate the rules against “hearsay.” Much of the testimony adduced at that Hearing appeared to be matters that ordinarily would be declared inadmissible. The Hearing Officer clearly allowed CDC’s lawyers great latitude, even permitting witnesses to testify to matters that would not usually be allowed, and would be stricken on objections. It is likely that Hearing Officer Blidi, exercising his discretion, permitted this so that there could be no later claims that CDC’s witnesses were not allowed to testify.
Finally, it is significant that CDC did not bring a single witness who testified that they were denied their constitutional right to vote on that day. One can conclude that all Liberians who were eligible and wanted to vote on November 8, 2005 did; that in itself is a fundamental requirement of constitutional democracy.
The Hearing Officer also carefully analyzed the testimony of witnesses for the NEC and the testimony of the Chairman of Unity Party, taking into account the evidence presented by those witnesses.
Hearing Officer Blidi laid out five issues and proceeded to discuss each and apply the law to the facts offered before the Hearing.
First the Hearing Officer reasoned that the allegation that the Chairman of the National Elections Commission had engaged in “campaigning” in responding to a reporter’s question related to a nonsensical (my characterization) claim by Ambassador Weah that he had won the October 11 2005 election by 62% was not in keeping with the applicable statute. He found that the Chairman was exercising her role as spokesperson for the Commission and that her action could not be rationally considered campaigning as defined by law. One could argue that the Chairman was intemperate in her reaction (I take that position), but her statement cannot be construed in any manner as a form of campaigning against Ambassador Weah. This is a correct application of the meaning of campaigning by the Hearing Officer.
Second Hearing Officer Blidi spoke to the issue of whether CDC’s representatives at the polling places were agents of the party and its standard bearer and were therefore acting on their behalf when they signed the Tally Sheets. In Liberia, signing the Tally Sheet is an acknowledgement that the signer agrees with what is stated on the Tally Sheet, not some post election delusional assertion of “massive fraud” and “excess ballots.”. The Hearing Officer showed that under the law, once those CDC representatives signed the Tally Sheets, they bound their party and Ambassador Weah to what was stated on the Sheets. No ex post facto remonstrations can change that. Ambassador Weah and CDC are legally tied to the Tally Sheets and what is on them. The Tally Sheets proved that the CDC representatives actually concurred that the results on them were true and correct on the day of the elections.
Third Cllr. Blidi discussed hearsay evidence. It was totally useless evidence under the circumstances of the Hearing. Statements by persons not in the Hearing (but presented by witnesses in the Hearing) has no probative value; it is not acceptable evidence, but is second-hand evidence in which the witness is not telling what he/she knows personally, but what others have said to him/her. This form of evidence is not sufficient evidence for showing “massive fraud and irregularities”. Hearing Officer Blidi also reached the correct decision on this issue.
Fourth Hearing Officer Blidi then addressed the assertion that “massive fraud and irregularities” could be extrapolated from “errors” in selected district. If this were correct, no election anywhere in the world would ever be final. There will always be errors. Errors that are harmless (meaning they do not affect the outcome) are not used in law to change results. The Hearing Officer correctly reasoned that establishing election fraud cannot be predicated on speculation or isolated irregularities. (I hold the view that CDC’s witnesses failed to even prove isolated irregularities.) CDC needed to show that the will of the people of Liberia was not effected on November 8, 2005. The evidence they presented in the hearing did not meet that standard.
There was no proof presented at the hearing that there was fraud in the casting or the counting of the ballots to the level of “massive fraud and irregularities.” The sheer fact that Ambassador Weah says otherwise will not make it otherwise. The Hearing Officer was correct in deciding that mere speculation and extrapolation did not meet the standard and that CDC failed to prove that any election changing fraud occurred.
Finally, the Hearing Officer considered whether the totality of the evidence presented by CDC was legally sufficient to sustain the allegations. Clearly, it was not. Hearing Officer Blidi considered that even if the allegations made in his presence were true, 21 ballot samples (when 800,000+ citizens voted), in less then 20 (of 3070 precincts) in 4 (of 15) counties, concerning 6 of (18,000+) elections workers did not establish “massive fraud and irregularities.” The Hearing Officer, following Supreme Court guidelines, ruled that fraud cannot be established by “presumptions, hypothesis and deductions”; but rather fraud has to be proven by credible facts.
The decision by the Hearing Officer dealt with important legal and constitutional issues with logic and reason. These are the cornerstone of law; without them there can be no rule of law. Cllr. Blidi applied the law justly, considering the facts before him and reached the correct conclusion. Hearing Officer Blidi joins the rest of the world in proclaiming again that Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was properly and legitimately elected President of Liberia. The Supreme Court of Liberia will unanimously uphold this decision when it considers this matter. Another question though is will Ambassador Weah accept any decision other than that he was the one elected President. I cannot answer affirmatively or negatively, but if he does not, then certainly neither he nor his supporters can say in honesty he believes in the rule of law or the best interest of Liberia.