NAYMOTE Partners for Democratic Development has completed eight in a series of town hall meetings bringing lawmakers face to face with citizens in Bong and Nimba Counties, to discuss the Joint Legislative Committee’s Report on the recommendations of the Constitution Review Committee.
These meetings, according to NAYMOTE Executive Director Eddie Jarwolo, discussed the eight propositions recommended by the Joint Legislative Committee, which included: reduction in the tenures of elected officials; granting citizenship to people of non-Negro descent; dual citizenship in Liberia; enhancement of women’s participation in national affairs; traditional Liberians owning their land; and being parties to negotiations with investors.
Others include: changing the date of the election from October to March of the election year, election of local leaders, and the reduction of political parties in Liberia to four.
These meetings, Jarwolo said, were geared towards deepening citizens’ understanding and engagement in the Constitution Reform Process in Liberia. These engagements provided opportunity for citizens to assess and give feedback on the Joint Legislative Committee’s Report on the recommendations of the CRC.
During the meetings, the lawmakers deliberated on the process, which highlighted the Joint Legislative Committee’s work, the strategies applied, consultations held, the legislative retreat, the public hearings and findings that led to the development of the 8 propositions recommended by the Joint Legislative Committee as well as the rationale for their selection.
Participants expressed appreciation for meeting their lawmakers face-to-face to discuss critical national policy issues and thanked NAYMOTE and its partners for the initiative.
The town hall meetings included a mock referendum to test participants’ support for or against the propositions. Results gathered from these mock referendum exercises showed overwhelming support for the reduction in the tenures of elected officials, reduction in the number of political parties, elections of local leaders, and traditional land ownership. It was also observed that participants expressed limited support on the issues of opening citizenship to people of non-Negro descent and the acceptance of dual citizenship in Liberia.
Citizens said they needed more clarity on the dual citizenship and opening citizenship to people of non-Negro descent. Participants across the eight districts were concerned whether these two propositions will allow someone with dual citizenship and white people to have the rights to purchase and own land, run for president, senator and representatives in Liberia.
While there was overwhelming support for local government elections, some participants were concerned that the election of local leaders could be done based on tribal affiliation rather than on the basis of experience and competence. Others were also
concerned with the election of superintendents and senators: who will report to whom and who will be the real elected representative of the people?
The same concerns came to the fore with electing district commissioners and an electoral district representative. However, the institution mentioned that the Local Government Act will handle more of the fears expressed by the participants, including a clear reporting system.
A youth leader, Thony Quoi, of electoral district eight in Nimba County could not hold back his feelings during the Flumpa town hall meeting with citizens and Representative Larry P. Younquoi. He said, “Unlike in the past when major decisions concerning our country were made in Monrovia, we are now experiencing something different. To come here today and talk about our country’s Constitution, I think we are all part of history making.” He believes that the eight propositions recommended by the Joint Legislative Committee are important to the political and economic development of Liberia.
He admonished civil society organizations like NAYMOTE to create a platform to help citizens clearly understand the propositions better before the referendum so that they can make informed decisions.
During a phone-in program on a local radio station (Radio Gompa) in Ganta, Nimba County, most callers supported the reduction in the tenures of elected officials, election of local leaders and the reduction of political parties in the country. The callers, however, recommended more clarity on the dual citizenship and non-Negro descent naturalization propositions.
From all indications, Liberians appear eager and passionate about making amendments to their Constitution; however, they need more awareness on the merits and demerits of the propositions.
NAYMOTE’s Executive Director Eddie Jarwolo urged participants especially young people to take their participation in the Constitution reform process seriously and make recommendations that will ensure their voices and views are included in the reform program, adding that it was great to see lawmakers actively involved with the institution’s program and hoped other national policy formulations could go through similar processes, where citizens could make their voices heard.
He thanked the UNDP and USAID for the support and said the second phase of the town hall meetings for the southeastern part of Liberia will start in December 2016.
Speakers at the four town hall meetings included Rep. Larry Younquoi, Lester M. Paye Sr., George S. Mulbah Sr., Prince O.S. Tokpah, Adam Bill Corneh, Samuel Kogar, and former Rep. of Nimba Country, Zawolo Zuagele.