-From Ellen to Weah
The House of Representatives will resume transaction of business today (Monday) after a break of three weeks, comprising an unprecedented extension of one week to the traditionally two-week Easter Break, to have a face-to-face discussion with their respective constituents about the ‘controversial’ Dual Citizenship and Landownership Bills.
The Senate resumed Thursday, April 12.
As of today’s date and before the end of its First Session on September 1, the 54th Legislature is expected to set the agenda for referendum to amend certain provisions of the constitution as suggested by former President Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf in 2016, and now demanded by President George M. Weah.
Sirleaf supported the call by some Liberians to reduce the presidential term of office from six to four years; representatives from six to four, as well as senators from nine to six years. The president also supported dual citizenship.
In 2016, the Leadership of the House of Representatives in the 53rd Legislature voted for the 25 propositions to be reduced to 6 items for the Referendum agenda. The process for the approval of the items by Plenary was interrupted by the 2017 Presidential and Representatives Elections.
Those propositions include: 1) Reduction in the Tenures of the President, Vice President, Members of the House of Representatives and Senate; 2) Restricting Citizens to only people of Negro Descent; 3) Rejecting Dual Citizenship; 4) Making Liberia a Christian Nation; 5) Enhancement of Women’s Participation and; 6) Traditional People owning their own land and being party to any negotiation with investors or concessionaires on said land.
The report was made by the Joint Committee on Good Governance and Government, Elections and Inauguration and Judiciary, chaired by Representative Larry Younquoi, after series of consultations sponsored by the government and UNDP (United Nations Development Program).
It may be recalled that in August 2012, President Sirleaf constituted a six-member committee, chaired by Counselor Gloria Musu Scott to, among other things, arrange public discourses to solicit views from Liberians across the country, and other parts of the world to make some changes in the 1986 Constitution and was about to formulate 25 propositions.
Now, the new demands of President Weah — the move by the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) to tackle the so-called racism in the constitution, which intends to open citizenship to any race as well as to allow non-citizens of Liberia to own property with certain restrictions — would require the House of Representatives to synchronize the reports of the Joint Committee on Good Governance and Government, Elections and Inauguration and Judiciary and the expected reports of the same committee, after four resolutions were submitted to be approved as the items for agenda.
The titles for the four resolutions for discussions and passage are Citizenship Amendment, Property Amendment, Qualifications, I Amendment, and Qualification II Amendment.
The Citizen Amendment is aimed at removing 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 of the Liberian Constitution.
The purpose for the adjustment of the Property Amendment is to allow non-citizens of Liberia to own property, with certain restrictions. The Amendment will affect Article 22, in which the entire Article 22 will be deleted and a new Article 22 will be written as “Every Liberian citizen shall have the right to own property, as well as in association with others.”
Also, “Non-Liberians may own property under the restrictions,” and 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 the restriction of only natural born citizens to be eligible to become members of the legislature, Qualification II Amendment is also restricting the appointment of Supreme Court justices to natural born citizens. This amendment will be done in Article 68.
However, if the agenda for Referendum is approved by the House and the Senate and attested by the president, the 1986 Constitution mandates that the education of a referendum should be at least 12 months before the referendum be put to a national referendum.
Meanwhile, according to reports from the National Elections Commission (NEC) in 2016, at least US$30 million is needed for the exercise.