Constitutional Crisis Looms

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been cited by the House of Representatives based on rivalry decisions affecting the country’s educational sector. Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to have the President appear before the full plenary today along with her ministers of Information and Education

The lawmakers’ action was prompted by the President’s letter dated June 25, 2015 addressed to the National Legislature “instructing” her Education Minister to “ignore what appeared to be instructions conveyed to him under cover of a letter dated June 23, 2015 by the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives.”

Plenary recently voted to undo the decision of the Education Minister to shut down grade schools by July 31st in order to introduce reform measures to rescue the school system already regarded by Madam
Sirleaf as being “in a mess.”

This is the first time in post-war Liberia that the President has been so openly and directly challenged by the Legislature. Political commentators believed it questions the popularity and political strength of the Chief Executive.

“Whether she will appear or not, the fact that such decision was taken against a sitting President certainly injures her local and international profile, an analyst observed.

In her June 25th letter to the National Legislature, President Sirleaf cited the constitutional provisions (Article 3) regarding the separation of powers as the justification for her action and as such, the Legislature must not interfere in the operations of the Executive.

“Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches shall exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the other two branches except as provided in the Constitution.

“The Constitution further provides in unequivocal terms at Chapter VI (The Executive) Article 50 that the Executive power of the Republic shall be vested in the President who shall be Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia,” the President declared.

In keeping with that, she asserted that she took oath under Article 53 to defend, protect and uphold the Constitution. As such, the Legislature must not interfere in the operations of the Executive.
Mindful of Article 56 which subjects ministers and other state executive officials of government to the authority of the President, Madam Sirleaf was clear that the decision from the House must be ignored.

Lawmakers took exception to her comments, describing them as a “slap in the face of the Legislature.”

Beginning the debate in plenary, Montserrado County representative Thomas Fallah termed the Chief Executive’s move as an “affront and out of order.”

Montserrado and Nimba Counties’ Representatives Munah Pelham-Youngblood and Garrison Yealue, respectively, reminded President Sirleaf of Article 34 (B) and (L) which states: “The Legislature shall have the power b) to provide for the security of the Republic and (L) to make all other laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this
Constitution in the Government of the Republic, or in any department or officer thereof.”

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Samuel Garyah Karmo, claimed that constitutional provisions cited by President Sirleaf were “misleading,” an action that carries contempt charges.

Based on a motion from Lofa County Representative Eugene Fallah-Kpakar, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to have the President appear before full plenary today along with her ministers of Information and Education to provide reasons for her letter.

While the debate was ongoing about the President’s controversial letter, another letter was again sent from the Executive Mansion calling for a conference with the leadership of the House. That letter was received by Speaker Alex Tyler and consultation was done, but it appeared too late to protect the image of Madam Sirleaf as a majority was resolved to take action, legislative sources said.

That, however, will most certainly not be the end of the story. In the wake of what threatens to be a constitutional crisis, President Sirleaf has the option to run to the Supreme Court of Liberia, the nation’s chief interpreter of its Constitutions and laws.

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