The plenary of the Senate has empowered its leadership through the Secretary to write President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and request her to submit the additional report on the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) to enable that body to complete its work.
The decision was taken on Thursday after Grand Kru Senator Albert Chie requested an update on the fate of the CRC Report from the Judiciary Committee headed by Senator (Cllr.) Varney G. Sherman.
Senator Sherman informed the plenary during its very late afternoon sitting that the reason for his committee’s delay in reporting to that body that their hands were tied; and that without the additional report expected to come from President Sirleaf, his committee will wait, “because in the absence of that nothing can be done.”
Majority of the Senators expressed fear that the ordinary citizens will not understand that it is no fault of the Senators that a discussion on the CRC Report has not yet started.
“Our constituents are already blaming us that the delay is because we stand to benefit if some of the propositions are not changed, such as the terms of the Representatives and Senators,” the Senators noted.
In his argument during the debate, Senator Sherman reminded his colleagues that even if the additional report was received now, it will not affect the 2017 elections; “because according to the law, referendum must be held a year before the elections.”
Others buttressing his argument agreed that the holding of referendum with so many propositions expected to be up for voters, entails lots of work before the process; and by the time it is completed, there will not be sufficient time to use it for the 2017 elections.
“The National Election Commission (NEC), among other things, will need citizens’ education on each of the propositions that will be approved for the referendum, which requires time and money,” other Senators argued.
In August 2012, the CRC was established with specific mandate to review the 1986 Constitution and recommend proposals, where need be, for possible amendments as provided for under Article 19 of the Constitution of Liberia. Article 19 says, “No person other than members of the Armed Forces of Liberia…in active service shall be subject to military law, or made to suffer any pains or penalties by virtue of that law or be tried by court martial.”
On August 13, 2015, President Sirleaf wrote the Senate and submitted 25 proposed recommendations from the CRC, which contained certain recommendations, “to be studied by the Legislature for possible Legislative action that could constitute proposals that would be submitted to registered voters for ratification through referendum.”
Also in the latter communication, the President stated that in furtherance of her individual suggestions to the recommendations submitted by the CRC, she would submit shortly a draft suggested language of changes to the Constitution that could be agreed upon by both Houses for submission to the registered voters in referendum as proposal for the amendments to the Constitution.
While the President’s communication was in committee room for review and the final report to plenary, Grand Bassa County Senator Jonathan Kaipay on August 26, 2015, wrote the plenary accusing the President of breaching Articles 1, 35, and 91 of the Constitution by not submitting verbatim copy of the CRC’s report to the Legislature. Instead, he claimed, the President chose to act on the Report by approving some of the propositions before finally submitting them to the Legislature. Article 1 in part says, “All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require.” As for 35, it says, “Each bill or resolution which shall have passed both Houses of the Legislature shall, before it becomes law, be laid before the President for approval…”
The nine-member Judiciary Committee mandated to investigate Senator Kaipay’s complaint, however, recommended in a report that the Grand Bassa Lawmaker be advised that the President “has not breached any portion of the Constitution, but rather, gave her comments on each of the total 25 recurrent views from the general consultations amongst the citizenry without any change to any of the 25 recurrent views of the Liberian people.”
Meanwhile, there have been reports that Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the international community, which helped with finance and humanitarian means to restore peace following the 14-year civil crisis, have in recent time raised concern over reports that Liberians are opting through a referendum, to make the country a Christian nation.
ECOWAS, for instance, is urging proponents of the Christian state debate to think carefully about where the country has come from and the need to sustain the almost twelve years of peaceful co-existence and religious tolerance.