— Says staying too long in power creates complacency
By Shardrick Tarwily in Grand Kru County
Community leaders across Grand Kru County have joined the dialogue on electoral reform, thus calling for the reduction of tenure for elected officials.
In a series of interviews as part of the Citizens in Liberia Engaged to Advance Electoral Reform (CLEAR) project, some of Grand Kru residents said for anyone elected representative or senator to serve for six and nine years was too long, therefore, we want the tenure reduced.
Shortly after making the suggestion, there was widespread agreement from the residents across the floor in favor of reducing terms of office, or tenure for elected officials.
Howard Pittah of the Grand Kru Youth Development Association, an organization active in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, with chapters in other parts of the county the county, described the six and nine-year tenure of lawmakers as one of the “major problems” Liberia is faced with at the legislature.
In a recent interview, Pittah said the terms outlined in the Constitution were “in excess.”
His statement was re-echoed by many of his peers, who also believed that lengthy legislative tenure is tantamount to make the elected official complacent, thus obligations to the people, who elected those officials are often neglected, or even, conveniently forgotten.
“The reason you see our lawmakers so relaxed without pushing for our development objectives, is because they have longer time to stay in power. They will enjoy their time and not do any development until the end of their tenure. Some of the candidates only come around their people when election period is coming closer, pretending that they (candidates) will adequately represent the constituents. Until then, they relax,” Pittah said.
According to him, a reform is a good option for Liberia, with five years as being sufficient for both the representatives and the president, while six years as the preferable terms of office for a senator to serve the electorates.
“Sometimes of our leaders think that we are not aware. But we know that constitutional changes are possible and that through a referendum, the voices of ordinary people can be heard. Government and partners will need to listen to our concerns,” Pittah added.
Another voice, was a prominent business woman Patience Doe, who agreed that legislative and presidential tenures need to be re-examined.
Madam Doe, a used clothes seller added, “I wonder how a lawmaker feels when he stays a good six years in power, and does no development. I think the six years are plenty, that is why most of them can be bluffing.”
She further said that Liberia has already “wasted a lot of time, and should therefore not keep the country behind by keeping elected official in power for too long.”
“The 14 years of war we experienced brought us backward. Now this is time to elect people, who will be proactive about serving the nation,” Madam Doe said.
With that goal in mind, Madam Doe has begun asking Grand Kru advocacy groups to join her push a local reform agenda to attract government attention.
“When the president and the representatives’ tenure come down to five years, and the Senator’s tenure is reduced to six years for nine, it will create competition among the lawmakers. That is when we will see development unfolding,” she said.
Several other local leaders, including Wedabo Community of Gbanken Town Chief, Dioh Wilson, shared her concern.
Mr. Wilson then stressed the need to reform both Article 46 and 50 of the Liberian Constitution. The two articles outlined the tenure of the Legislature and the president, and the need for a referendum to address this, and other possible amendments to the Constitution.
“The only way we can change this situation is when we go for referendum. I think when our people are provided the basic education about the issue, they will want to change certain things in the constitution that have been embarrassing us,” Chief Wilson said.
As Grand Kru citizen-leaders continue to dialogue and mobilize their communities, Liberia’s electoral process may be moving from business as usual.