-House Solicits Signature to Discharge Bill for Passage
A permissible campaign to recall the Citizenship and Land Ownership Resolutions from committees’ room has intensified in the Legislature with a credible political will of the Resolutions at the edge of passage. Besides the heat-up in the Legislature, the controversy has also deepened among the student populace in the form of ‘intellectual debates.’
The resolutions are among four that have been in committees’ room for over 30 days, since February 8, 2018 — the 8th day sitting — and the proposition has sparked intense debates across the country.
The Resolution on the Property Amendment was forwarded to the House’s Joint Committee on Judiciary, Claims & Petition; Lands, Mines & Energy; and Ways, Means, Finance & Development Planning; while the Resolutions on Citizenship Amendment, Qualification I Amendment and Qualification II Amendment were sent to the Joint Committee on Judiciary, Claims & Petitions and Ways, Means, Finance & Development Planning . They were to report after two weeks but the resolutions are delayed.
The House’s Rules and Procedures provides for bills which spend over 30 days in committee room to be recalled or discharged for discussion and subsequent passage, if a simple majority of Members of the House of Representatives affixed their signatures to a ‘Discharge Petition.’
“If a bill has been before a Standing Committee for thirty (30) days, any member of the House may issue a notification to discharge it,” Rule 39.1 of the House’s Rules and Procedures say.
39.2 continues: “Having issued said notification; the Chief Clerk should prepare a discharge petition for members to sign. On the second session day after the issuance of the notification, the Chief Clerk shall read the list of all members who signed the petition. If a simple majority is obtained in favor of the discharge petition, the Speaker shall assign the bill on the next session day following reading of the list. Discharge petition may cover only a single introduced measure and not multiple bills.”
The sponsor of the four Resolutions, Grand Kru County District # 2 Representative Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, told journalists over the weekend that one of the co-sponsors, Montserrado County District # 8 Representative is gathering the signatures for the bill to be discharged and subsequently discussed and passed. Reports said at least 21 signatures are gathered, with 17 remaining.
Serving as the Keynote Speaker and Chief Launcher at the 1st Inter-University Debate of the Youth and Development Department of the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) Cllr. Koffa told the students dual citizenship doesn’t only help to contribute to rapid development in Liberia, it also eradicates racism in the constitution.
Pressure on the Legislature
Unconfirmed reports said hopefully next week, the House will again debate, scrutinize, and vote on the four resolutions as to whether they can be items for Referendum to amend certain provisions in the constitution, but opposition say contrary.
Opposition says the offer demonstrated by the Coalition for Democratic Change and other supporting parties to pass the resolutions amid the country’s crawling economy are “a sham.”
Some members of the Unity Party, including Montserrado County District # 11 Rep. Richard N. Koon and others are willing to vote against the resolutions to stymie the bill, which Rep. Koffa and CDC lawmakers maintain is required to sever ties with other blocs and caucuses.
Some see the proposed change as long overdue, but others do not see it as a priority and want to see critical intervention on bringing the cost of living down.
If the resolutions are approved by both Houses of the Legislature, the Legislature would then set the date for Referendum to be conducted by the National Elections Commission (NEC). Liberians will vote ‘Yes or No’ as to whether the constitution should be amended or not.
What is happening?
Most opposition members against the law are arguing that they want to take the draft law to their districts to get their views before participating in its passage. Sinoe County District #2 Rep. Jay Nagbe Sloh told the Daily Observer recently that about 19 of them have agreed to that decision. This means, if the opposition members standoff to their respective consultations, the resolutions will remain in limbo until after the Easter Break.
The Four Resolutions
The Citizen Amendment is aimed to remove the discriminatory negro clause and open citizenship to any race, while at the same time defining natural born Liberians and allowing them to have dual citizenship. The amendment will upset Articles 27 and 28.
The purpose of the amendment of the Property Amendment is to allow non citizens of Liberia to own property with certain restrictions. The Amendment will effect Article 22, in which the entire Articile 22 will be deleted and new Article 22 will be written as “Every Liberian citizen shall have the right to own property alone, as well as in association with others” and “Non-Liberians may own property under (the following) restrictions…”
The Qualification I Amendment is intended to restrict certain elected offices to natural born Liberian citizens as the term may be defined in the constitution. The amendment will be done in Article 30 and is rewritten: “Natural born citizens of Liberia who meet the following qualifications are eligible to become members of the Legislature.”
In addition to restriction of only Natural born citizens to be eligible to become members of the Legislature, Qualification II Amendment is also restricting the appointment of the Supreme Court justices to natural born citizens. This amendment will be done in Article 68.
President Weah’s Proposals
It may be recalled, on Monday, January 22, during his first Annual Message to the Joint Session of the Legislature, President George M. Weah called for the removal of a “racist” clause in the constitution which restricts citizenship to black people.
The clause was “unnecessary, racist and inappropriate”, the President said, and pledged to also scrap the law that prohibits foreigners owning land.
Accordingly, Liberia was founded by former US slaves in 1847 as “a refuge and a haven for freed men of color”.
The Liberian Constitution defines black people in the language of the time, as “persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent”. Other communities, like the estimated 4,000 Lebanese people who have lived in Liberia for generations, are barred from citizenship and, by extension, land ownership.
“The restrictions introduced at the time are no longer necessary” the President said, adding that he also wanted a ban on dual citizenship to be abolished.
“It contradicts the very definition of Liberia, which is derived from the Latin word ‘liber’, meaning ‘liberty’,” he said.