Referendum Wahala

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Change in the 1986 Constitution to tackle the country’s governance pitfalls and bring about reconciliation lies with the endorsement by the Legislature of all or some of the proposals from the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) leading to a national referendum.

According to constitutional lawyers, if the Legislature – the House of Representatives and the Senate –approve the CRC’s proposals, there is a possibility that the changes would take effect in the 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections, because the referendum can be held one year after the date of Legislative enactment.

However with seven days to the closure of the Extraordinary Sitting of the Legislature and the remainder of two official working days for Plenary, Legislative pundits believe that it will be very difficult to say that the CRC suggestions would be endorsed by both Houses.
Reports gathered yesterday in the corridors of the Capitol Building say that a timeline on the passage of the CRC proposals was highlighted in a consultative meeting with the House Joint Committee on Good Governance, Judiciary and Elections.

Cllr. Gloria M. Scott, chairperson of the CRC, led the 7-man delegation, comprising of Ambassador Amelia Ward, Rev. Jasper S. Ndaborlor, Soko Sackor, Dr. Elwood Dunn, and UNDP Consultant Ekuru Aurot.

It may be recalled that in President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s 8-page letter to the House of Representatives, she urged lawmakers to consider time, stressing: “Mr. Speaker, as a referendum can be held no sooner than one year after the date of Legislative action, I respectively request timely action by the Legislature to allow submission of proposals to the registered voters during the year 2016.”

At the end of yesterday’s meeting with the lawmakers, chaired by Nimba County Representative Larry Younguoi, Cllr. Scott told journalists that the meeting was geared toward providing clarity to the CRC proposals, but she did not state definitely if they would be endorsed in 2015.

“Whenever the Legislature passes it, it’s where we will start from,” Cllr. Scott said.
An impeccable source told the Daily Observer via mobile phone yesterday that in order to effect the endorsement of the CRC’s suggestions, there would be an extension in the Extraordinary Sitting of the Legislature, either to the 30th of October or the 10th of November.

According to the Constitution and Rules of the Legislature, an extraordinary session could be initiated either by the President or the Legislature.

Article 32 (b) of the 1986 Constitution states:

“The President shall, on his (her) own initiative or upon receipt of a certificate signed by at least one-fourth of the total membership of each House, and by proclamation, extend a regular session of the Legislature beyond the date for adjournment or call a special extraordinary session of that body to discuss or act upon matters of national emergency and concern. When the extension or call is at the request of the Legislature, the proclamation shall be issued not later than forty-eight hours after receipt of the certificate by the President.”

Some of the proposed amendments to the constitution called for the reduction of the presidential term of office from six to four years; reduction of the senatorial term from nine to six years; and the reduction of representatives from six to four years.

Others are the proposals that private owners on whose lands mineral or natural resources are found should share the benefits accrued by the government and be part of the negotiation; that the Chief Justice should not be elected; superintendents, commissioners, mayors and chiefs be elected and election commissioners be appointed by the president. Other proposals include respect and recognition for persons with disabilities, women’s participation in governance and national affairs; the constitution and all legal documents should carry the pronouns he/she; and the age of marriage for girls should be at least 18 years, among others.

Meanwhile, besides the CRC proposals, other endorsements needed from the Legislature include an agreement between the Government of Liberia (GOL) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) of the United States Government for a grant of US$256.7 million to assist in the development of the energy sector, road maintenance and technical capacity building.

The President also urged both Houses to ratify the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).

The implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) reports is also on the Legislature’s desk for review.

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