The Constitution Review Committee (CRC) has taken a major stride towards achieving its mandate. At a Buchanan consultative meeting hosted by the CRC, registered political parties of Liberia seized the moment to generally endorse the constitutional review process and have appreciated the CRC’s flexible engagement policies which make every Liberian citizen important and a part of the review process.
The political parties have had several engagements with the CRC and had assured it that a set of proposals would be submitted by them that would aim at addressing crucial national issues that require constitutional considerations.
Prior to the Buchanan’s meetings, registered political parties had submitted initial proposals representing each party’s concerns about the 1986 Constitution. Those proposals which constitute national debates are subject to the approval of the Liberian people in referendum.
The Buchanan’s meetings set the grounds for inter-party collaboration and the development of a joint position on critical national issues requiring constitutional interventions. The CRC’s Chairperson, Cllr. Gloria Maya Musu-Scott told participating registered political parties that the Committee did not come to the meeting with a sealed envelope containing proposals for deliberation. The issues for debates and adoption would be generated by participants themselves with the CRC as note takers. However, the CRC told representatives of parties that issues developed and discussed at the consultative meeting would not be considered conclusive as the review process continues and would be embracing other views and counter views.
Interestingly, the motivation of political parties needed no second guessing as regarding their determination to move the process into action. About nine crucial issues feature on the floor. These were: (a) Decentralization (b) Land (c) Qualification (d) Integrity (e) Citizenship, (f) Elections Commission (g) Gender (h) Property (I) Reduction of presidential powers.
Democratic choices were made through the voting process and out of the nine crucial issues; the first six were chosen. They are: Land, Decentralization, Qualification, Citizenship, Integrity and Elections Commission. In an effort to guide the process, six Committee members were tasked to help supervise the conduct of the deliberations with no inputs and positions of their own. The thematic groups’ or focus groups’ discussions were democratic as well as their submissions made to the plenary of the consultative meeting.
On the question of land ownership, the assigned focus group critically looked at Article 22 (a) of the Liberian Constitution and proposed an amendment to include the right of customary ownership of land. They also proposed that Article 22 (b) gives rights to property owners to benefit from mineral resources found on or beneath their land at a 5% rate. This issue has been one which has, for some time now, generated the interest of the Liberian population. In their thought, the current land laws especially contained in the 1986 constitution provides prosperity to foreigners than Liberians and accounts for making them super rich and Liberians super poor.
This columnist observed the anxiety and enthusiasm of political parties to reach a decision on this issue as well as on each topical issue and the analysis which followed their decisions. Another critical issue which generated interest as land was decentralization of governance. However, there were dissenting views on the issue of the election of chiefs. This generated mixed reactions; but the majority took the day.
Articles 54 (d) & (e) and 56 (e) captured the concerns of parties. The focus group assigned to this critical task proposed that superintendent and district commissioner; paramount, clan, and town chiefs should be elected; while their removal should be done through special petition by eligible voters in their respective localities and not by the President or a legislative assembly. The petition shall follow due process which means court action. They also proposed that the constitution empowers the Chief Justice and Associate Justices to appoint marshal, deputy marshal, sheriff, justices of the peace and other court officers instead of the president. This in their reasoning, would reduce excessive presidential powers.
The debate on what constitute nepotism has been attracting diverse views from the Liberian public for a long time. There are those who believe that when the president or official of government relative or children are qualified, they should not be discriminated against. To do so would be a violation of their constitutional rights. Others don’t think kindly about that. However, registered political parties’ focus group hearings on Integrity have proposed that the President shall not appoint more than two of his relations in the executive branch.
According to the presentation of the group, no public official shall appoint a relative to institution they supervise. The President also shall not appoint more than two members of the same ethnic background to senior ministerial positions.
In a bid to control or exterminate corruption, the group also proposed that anyone convicted of corruption under Liberian laws shall not be eligible for appointment in public offices. They want the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission or LACC to be constitutionally empowered to immediately prosecute after investigation. Any official accused and under LACC investigation shall not continue in office until the contrary is proven.
The group further proposed that officials accused of acts of exploitation-be it sexual or financial-shall be immediately prosecuted and if found guilty, shall be dismissed. On public assets, it was recommended that the General Services Agency or GSA be given constitutional mandate to recommend the prosecution of anyone found abusing public assets.
On electoral matters, the focus group assigned to deliberate and recommend to the plenary of registered political parties at the consultative meeting, as expected, did not allow such glorious opportunity to slip away without discussing issues affecting their existence and operations. Two key issues (elections and qualification) were religiously discussed by them.
At the conclusion of their deliberations, the group submitted that political parties, civil society organizations and the religious community should be constitutionally empowered to recommend nine names of commissioners to the President out of which seven names would be derived as commissioners of the National Elections Commission to serve for a period of five years and not more than two terms.
They further submitted that a fixed amount be constitutionally endorsed to be declared in financial statements to the Elections Commission as required by Article 83d. The amount proposed is US$500.00 in addition to assets. They want other fees to remain as stipulated in Section 7.3 of the electoral laws.
One of the amendments voted against prior to the 2011 elections was debated by the focus group and seemed to have received consideration by registered political parties. In their opinion, the second Tuesday in November would be appropriate for elections. This thought is generated from the inconveniences suffered during the raining season as well as low voters’ turnout due to torrential rain falls around October. The plenary of the consultative meeting endorsed the submission.
The group, by democratic accent, also expressed disagreement over the Elections Commission adjudicating cases brought against them by aggrieved parties. They want the Constitution to establish Election Courts around the Country to adjudicate electoral complaints. In their thought, the commission cannot be the defendant and the judge at the same time.
With the intent to prevent undue influences, the group has proposed financial autonomy for the Elections Commission as well as state funding for political parties. They also proposed voters registration to be conducted twice before Presidential and General Elections. These issues seem to have received general consensus.
The debate on qualification of electable public officers was rigorous. However, the group believes the minimum age requirement for the Presidency and Vice Presidency be set at 35 considering that young people account for 60% of the population of Liberia. They have also recommended gender sensitivity in regards to qualification for the presidency and vice presidency. It is their view that the current constitution is masculine.
To qualify for citizenship, the thematic group on citizenship proposed that natural born Liberians should contest for President or Vice President and that the parents of the candidates must have been Liberian citizens at the time of birth and belong to one of the tribes, clans, chiefdoms, provided that descendants (Americo-Liberians) who can trace their roots to a settlement will not be disenfranchised. However, a consensus was derived by the Consultative Forum’s Plenary that Articles 27(abc) remains as it is and that Article 28 be maintained. They also rejected dual citizenship.
Political parties’ position on the 10 years residency clause for those aspiring for the Presidency or Vice Presidency as enshrined in Article 52c be retained with a proviso that candidates cannot come from the same county and region of the country. These recommendations to the CRC do not constitute the CRC’s final version of reports to be submitted to the President of Liberia for onward submission to the National Legislature for amendments. They are initial proposals. As the process continues, more proposals are expected from individual political parties, stakeholders and citizens from around the country.
These debates are subject to more debates. If you wish to make your contributions to the CRC on the political parties’ proposals, please contact the following: Email: [email protected] or call CRC short code lines: Novafone 1986; Lone Star 1986 or CellCom 0776305715.