‘Ellen Did Not Breach Constitution’

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The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Petitions, yesterday submitted a report to Senate plenary in which it cleared President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of breach of the Liberian Constitution when she commented on the 25 proposed recommendations of the Constitution Review Committee’s (CRC) report, which she submitted to plenary.

The Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Varney G. Sherman, in its reading of the “President’s letter and a research of the Constitution, finds no constitutional breach by the President by merely expressing her constitutional rights as provided for, and guaranteed under Chapter III – Fundamental Rights, Article 14, of the Liberian Constitution.”

Article 14 states (in part): “All persons shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment thereof except as may be required by law to protect public safety, order, health, or morals of the fundamental rights and freedom of others…”

It may be recalled that on August 13, 2015, President Sirleaf wrote the Senate, submitting the 25 proposed recommendations from the CRC, containing certain recommendations, “to be studied by the Legislature for possible action that could constitute proposals that would be submitted to registered voters for ratification through referendum.”

However, on August 26, 2015, Grand Bassa County Senator Jonathan Kaipay wrote a letter requesting the Senate’s action for breach of the Constitution by the Executive.

Kaipay alleged that the President breached Article 1 of the Constitution by “not submitting verbatim a copy of the CRC’s report to the Legislature. Instead, the President chose to act on the report by approving and disapproving some of the propositions before finally submitting it to the Legislature.”

Article 1 says, “All power is inherent in the people…”

Additionally, Senator Kaipay alleged that the President breached Articles 35 and 91 of the Constitution. Article 35 says: “Each bill or resolution which shall have passed by both Houses of the Legislature shall, before it becomes law, be laid before the President for approval.”

However, Article 91 says, “This Constitution may be amended whenever a proposal by either two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature or a petition submitted to the Legislature, by not fewer than 10,000 citizens which receives the concurrence of two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature, is ratified by two-thirds of the registered voters, voting in a referendum conducted by the elections commission not sooner than one year after the action of the Legislature.”

But according to the Sherman Committee, what the President did was to give her comments on each of the 25 recurrent views from the general consultations among the citizenry without making any change to any of their views.

“Therefore, the committee recommends that Senator Kaipay be advised that the President has not breached any portion of the Constitution,” it said.

Meanwhile, the committee has recommended that the Senate endeavor to have the suggested draft language of changes to the Constitution as stated by the President, in order to complete her submission to the Senate for exhaustive deliberation, and recommendation by the Judiciary Committee to plenary.

“Notwithstanding, the committee will engage the Lower House in discussions with regard to the Legislature meeting its constitutional obligation under Article 91 of the Constitution.”

In August 2012, the CRC was established with specific mandate to review the 1986 Constitution and recommend proposals, where need be, for possible constitutional amendments as provided for under Article 91 of the Liberian Constitution.

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