Weah Wants By-elections Abolished

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President George M. Weah

— Among other proposed constitutional amendments 

President George Weah has asked the 54th Legislature to consider the approval of eight revised propositions for referendum to amend some provisions of the 1986 Constitution.

Among the eight revised propositions, the President is suggesting reduction in the tenures of president and representatives from six years to five years, and the Senators from nine to seven years.

According to Weah, the Legislators can seek re-election continuously, but a president will not seek more than two terms.

He is also recommending that individuals, one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia and may hold the citizenship of another country, but shall not qualify to be appointed or to hold certain positions in government, specifically elected position.

By-elections Dilemma

However, another proposition forwarded by President Weah is about an issue that as been the bane of his Presidency for the past ten months — by-elections. The President has proposed that any vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsions or otherwise of a senator or representative, it should be filled by appointment by the “duly elected County Councils” within 90 days from the time the notice of vacancy is announced to the County Council by the presiding officer of the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Weah also said that the duly elected County Council shall formulate the guidelines by which the vacancy can be filled. The proposals did not mention how the County Council shall be constituted and what would be their other functions.

The President has not given reasons for wanting to do away with by-elections.

In fact, by-elections of late have become an opportunity for political re-posturing by already elected lawmakers with upward or horizontal ambitions. If a sitting member of the House of Representatives wins a by-election for a senatorial post, filling the newly vacated representative seat requires another by-election. Many in civil society, the media and some in government have sounded words of caution about the expense involved in having such chain-like by-elections. However, amid the quest for political dominance in the Legislature, neither the powers that be or the powers that used to be appear interested in addressing the expensive dilemma.

However, the President’s proposition comes at a time when the ruling party — the Coalition for Democratic Change — is on the verge of losing its third consecutive by-election. Pundits suspect that this proposition could be a ploy by the ruling coalition to create and exploit loopholes to circumvent the constitutional principle of representation by the ballot.

Earlier, the Daily Observer reported that at least 20 members of the House of Representatives had already expressed intentions to run for just 15 senatorial posts that would come up for grabs in the up-coming 2020 Senatorial mid-term elections. And while the 2020 election will not be not a by-election, the concept is just the same. In the just-ended Montserrado Senatorial by-election, Rep. Samuel Enders threw his hat in the race for the senatorial post but was outdone by Abraham Darius Dillon. In the 2017 Presidential and general elections, Edwin M. Snowe, then a two-term representative of of Montserrado County District #6, ran and won the Bomi County District #1 representative seat.

Overtaken by Time and Circumstances

The President however appealed to the lawmakers to pass (ratify) pieces of legislation pending at the Legislature that are part of the government’s legislative agenda for fiscal year 2019/2020, some of which are contingent on financial agreements from which Liberia stands to lose US$40 million in this fiscal year, if nothing is done.

The President made the suggestions when he spoke at the formal opening of a two-day Presidential-Legislative retreat at a resort in Margibi County.  He said the purpose of the retreat is to appeal to the Legislators to consider the passage of the pending bills before the lawmakers depart for their “Annual Break.”

“We have realized that the laws of our country, including the Constitution have been overtaken by time and circumstances, consequently, I have decided that it is now time to undertake a review of the Constitution,” President Weah said.

“You can recall that in 2012, my predecessor, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf initiated the Constitution Review, for which she appointed a six member Constitution Review Committee (CRC) with specific mandate, including reviewing the Constitution, and identifying all provisions to determine whether they require amendments, and to propose such amendments,” the President said.

He added, “The CRC completed its work, and submitted its report to then President, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who subsequently forwarded the Committee’s 25 propositions to the Legislature.”

“Each of the propositions,” he said, “did not generate the required legislative mandate to prepare the process into referendum. However, they further advanced a constitution review process.”

President Weah continued, “The unfinished work of the CRC has to devolve on the Law Reform Commission, which has a general mandate to keep under review, all laws of the Republic.”

He said that the Law Reform Commission has since embarked upon series of consultations with members of Legislature, beginning with members of the 53rd Legislature, and continues with the 54th Legislature.

Weah said that consultations have also been held with civil society groups, professionals, laymen, as well as chiefs and prominent persons in society. While these consultations may have been useful and promising, the constitutional review process is still opting for the necessary approval of the Legislature to advance to the referendum stage, which might be elusive if nothing is done now and immediately.

“It is for this purpose, that I have invited you here to act upon the propositions for referendum,” the President said.

Another reason for the retreat, according to the President, is for members of the Legislature to pass on priority bills pending before it, as the country stands to lose US$40 million if nothing is done to meet certain legislative benchmarks.

President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Albert Chie, said President Weah called the lawmakers for “very important” reasons, including issues that emanated from the nationwide consultation, which suggests changes to be made in the 1986 constitution; some of which are been presented to the Legislature as propositions.

Chie said other pieces of legislation before the Legislature are linked to the forward march of the country and, therefore, he called on his legislative colleagues to prioritize pending bills to progress national development.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bhofal Chambers, said the Legislature is the fulcrum to the growth and development to any democratic society or state.

Chambers expressed optimism that the objectives of the two-day gathering will be actualized.

The two-day’s retreat which began on Friday, August 16 ends on Saturday, August 17, 2019.

Sixty-five members of the House of Representatives and 23 Senators were in attendance, as well as Cabinet members and representatives of civil society organizations.

Shortly after making a presentation, Law Reform Commission chair, Cllr. Boakai Kanneh, informed the Daily Observer that if the eight revised propositions are approved by two-thirds of each House, they will form part of a referendum after one year, to be decided by Liberians through a voting process.

He said that any proposition, which has been approved will affect onward elections, including the 2020 Senatorial midterm elections, and amendments will be included in the constitution.

Eight Propositions

Proposition 1: To amend Article 28 to provide for dual citizenship of persons who are Negroes or of Negroes decent.

Article 28 reads: Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country. No citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality.

Suggested amendment: Any person one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; no citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality. A citizen of Liberia may hold the citizenship of another country, but shall not qualify to be appointed or to hold the following positions:

  1. President, Vice President, Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, Speaker, President Pro-Tempore, Deputy Speaker, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassadors, Minister of Defense, Minister of Justice.

Proposition 2: To amend Article 45 to provide for filling vacancies created by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise of Senators.

Article 45 reads: The Senate shall be composed of Senators elected for a term of nine years by the registered voters in each of the counties, but a Senator elected in a by-election to fill a vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, shall be so elected to serve only the remainder of the unexpired term of office. Each county shall elect two Senators and each Senator shall have one vote in the Senate. Senators shall be eligible for re-election.

Suggested amendment: The Senate shall be composed of Senators elected for a term of seven years by the registered voters in each of the counties. A vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsions or otherwise, shall be filled by appointment by the duly elected county councils within 90 days from the time the notice of vacancy is made known to the County Council by the presiding officer of the Senate. Such notice shall be given not later than 30 days following the creation of such vacancy. The appointed Senator shall serve only the remainder term of the office. The duly elected County Council shall formulate the guidelines by which the vacancy can be filled. Each county shall elect two Senators and each Senator shall have one vote in the Senate. Senators shall be eligible for re-election.

Proposition 3: To amend Article 46 to provide for the reduction in the tenure of Senators.

Article 46 reads: Immediately after the Senate shall have assembled following the election prior to the coming into force of this Constitution, the Senators shall be divided into two categories as a result of the votes cast in each county. The Senator with the higher votes cast shall be the Senator of the first category and the Senator with lower votes cast shall be the Senator of the second category; provided that no two Senators from a county shall be placed in the same category. The seats of Senators of the first category shall be vacated at the expiration of the ninth year. In the interest of legislative continuity, the Senators of the second category shall serve a term of six years only, after the first elections. Thereafter, all Senators shall be elected to serve a term of nine years.

Suggested amendment: Immediately after the Senate shall have assembled following the election prior to the coming into force of this Constitution, the Senators shall be divided into two categories as a result of the votes cast in each county. The Senator with the higher votes cast shall be the Senator of the first category and the Senator with lower votes cast shall be the Senator of the second category; provided that no two Senators from a county shall be placed in the same category.  The seats of Senators of the first category shall be vacated at the expiration of the ninth year. In the interest of legislative continuity, the Senators of the second category shall serve a term of six years only, after the first elections.

Without prejudice to the interest of legislative continuity, immediately upon the passage of this amendment, all Senators shall be elected for a term of seven years.

Proposition 4: To amend Article 48 to provide for the reduction in the tenure of Representatives.

Article 48 reads: The House of Representatives shall be composed of members elected for a term of six (6) years by the registered voters in each of the legislative constituencies of the counties, but a member of the House of Representative elected in a by-election to fill a vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, shall be elected to serve only the remainder of the unexpired term of the office. Members of the House of Representatives shall be eligible for re-election.

Suggested amendment: The House of Representatives shall be composed of members elected for a term of five years by the registered voters in each of the legislative constituencies of the counties. A vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, shall be filled by appointment by the duly elected County councils within ninety days from the time the notice of vacancy is made known to the County Council by the presiding officer of the House of Representatives. Such notice shall be given not later than 30 days following the creation of such vacancy. The appointed Representative shall serve only the remainder term of the office. The duly elected County council shall formulate their guidelines by which the vacancy can be filled. Members of the House of Representatives shall be eligible for re-election.

 Proposition 5: To amend Article 49 to provide for the election of a Speaker, Deputy Speaker and other officers of the House of Representatives.

Article 49 reads: The House of Representatives shall elect once every six years a Speaker who shall be the presiding officer of that body, a Deputy Speaker and such other officers as shall ensure the proper functioning of the House. The Speaker, Deputy Speaker and other officers so elected may be removed from office for cause by resolution of two-thirds majority of the members of the House.

Suggested amendment: The House of Representatives shall elect once every five years a Speaker who shall be the presiding officer of that body, a Deputy Speaker and such other officers as shall ensure the proper functioning of the House. The Speaker, Deputy Speaker and other officers so elected may be removed from office for cause by resolution of two-thirds majority of the members of the House.

Proposition 6: To amend Article 50 to provide for the reduction in the tenure of the President.

Article 50 reads: The Executive power of the Republic shall be vested in the President who shall be Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The President shall be elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and shall hold office for a term of six years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the election. No person shall serve as President for more than two terms.

Suggested amendment: The Executive power of the Republic shall be vested in the President who shall be Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The President shall be elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and shall hold office for a term of five years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the election. No person shall serve as President for more than two terms.

Proposition 7: To amend Article 66 to provide for the establishment of Regional Intermediary Appellate Courts.

Article 66 reads: The Supreme Court shall be the final arbiter of constitutional issues and shall exercise final appellate jurisdiction in all cases whether emanating from courts of records, courts not of records, administrative agencies, autonomous agencies or any other authority, both as to law and fact except cases involving ambassadors, ministers, or cases in which a county is a party. In all such cases, the Supreme Court shall exercise original jurisdiction. The Legislature shall make no law nor create any exceptions as would deprive the Supreme Court of any of the powers granted herein.

Suggested amendment: The Supreme Court shall be the final arbiter of constitutional issues and shall exercise final appellate jurisdiction in cases of first degree felonies and in civil matters were the thing or amount involve exceeds one million United States dollars or its equivalent in Liberian dollars, whether emanating from courts of records, courts not of records, both as to the law and fact except cases involving ambassadors, ministers or cases in which a county is a party. In all such cases, the Supreme Court shall exercise original jurisdiction. The Legislature pursuant to its powers in article 65, shall establish Regional Intermediary Appellate Courts in the Country with appellate jurisdiction above the Circuit Courts and decisions by these courts shall be final except in cases were the Supreme Court has jurisdiction. The Legislature shall make no law nor create any exceptions as would deprive the Supreme Court of any of the powers granted herein.

Proposition 8: To amend Article 80 to provide for additional representatives seats for female candidates.

Suggested amendment {Article 80 (f)}: Notwithstanding Article 11 of this Constitution, in order to address historical imbalances and gender inequality experienced by the female population, one female constituency seat shall be established and reserved exclusively for women representatives in each county. Only female members of political parties shall qualify to contest as candidates for the Female Constituency seats. The female candidate contesting for such seat and who obtains the highest votes in the county shall be elected for a term of five years.

In the event of a vacancy of a Female Constituency seat in the Legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, the presiding officer of the House of Representatives shall within thirty days notify the political party on whose ticket the female representative contested to fill the vacancy; provided that where such vacancy occurs within ninety days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections.

  • Any Female Constituency Representative who resigns, or is expelled from the political party on whose ticket she won the election, that representative shall forfeit the Female Constituency seat of that county thereby creating a vacancy. The said political party shall have the right to fill the vacancy created by such resignation or expulsion within 30 days following the notification to the Presiding officer of the House of Representatives provided that where such vacancy occurs within 90 days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections. 

15 COMMENTS

  1. Propositions 2 and 80 are bad suggestions. Appointment of County Councils to decide on the replacement of Legislatures is a very bad idea. Besides being bad, it is a slick move. Will the County Council be elected or appointed ? Who will appoint the County Council? President Wean need to be specific in his suggestion of Proposition 2. This Council, if appointed will be nothing but a rubber stamp for the sitting President to fill available seats with his partisans. I strongly believe that we need to let the people elect their Superintendent. The sitting Superintendent with no political ties to the President will appoint somebody who lives in the County to finish the term of that Legislature. On the other hand, this Council adds to our already bloated bureaucracy. Where will the money come from to pay this so called Councils in our 15 Counties? Proposition 2 is a bad idea. Take it off the table..

    Proposition 8 is also a bad idea. Liberia cannot afford to create 15 more Legislative seats just for women. Where will the money come from to pay their salaries and allowances? Mr. President, you have several cabinet positions at your disposals. Ministers, deputy Ministers and assistant Ministerial positions . Give some of those positions to women .

    I will address other propositions and suggestions later.

  2. With reference to Proposition 8, Liberia could be looking for trouble in the future.What if the disabled decides to have representation in the Legislature, are we going to create new seats for them ? What , if Muslims decides to be represented, are we going to create seats for them also ? I know some people have been requesting a Muslim holiday in the past because others have Christmas. We need to be careful.

  3. I am firstly concerned about the by-election:

    1. If such vacancy is created, the candidate with the second highest vote in the election that brought the vacated leader in power should assume the seat. If this second person is NOT interested anymore or is NOT available or is NOT capable, the next person down the ladder shall assume the vacated post. If none agreed to occupy said post, there MUST be by-election!

    2. However, if there were only two contestants in that election, but the defeated candidate is Not available or declines to filling the vacated position, there MUST be by-election!

    3. Further, if the election was won on White Ballot, there MUST be by-election.

    Now, I would like to encourage all of you politicians to participate in every election cuz if by-election came you would have stood a chance.

    I may comment on the other propositions.

  4. The suggestions that have been put forth by Mr. Weah are not dictatorial in any sense, but rather common sense issues that could serve all of us well. I will give him a credit for his effort in this regard. Usually, I unknowingly anger my colleagues on this blog when I credit Mr. Weah for doing the right stuff. I certainly hope that’s not the case this time. Secondly, Mr. Weah’s move is unlike his predecessor, Madam Johnson-Sirleaf, in so many ways. Example, when she became president, Madam Johnson-Sirleaf immediately appointed a Nigerian military official (unnaturalized) to a top post in the Liberian military. Johnson-Sirleaf’s action was taken before she called for a revision of the constitution as have been alluded to above.

    The issue of dual citizenship is on the minds of the Liberian people. The issue has been a sticky point for quite sometime. It seems that now is the opportune to address it. And yes, it’s being addressed in a sensible democratic fashion. Should the lawmakers act on it in good faith, I am sure that the dual citizenship issue will become a done deal.

    A lot needs to be done in Liberia. The Liberian people are doing their level best in order to survive. Almost everyone that I know is doing business.
    We are the world’s 7th poorest and the third poorest in Africa. That’s not a good position to be in. Countries like Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast are richer than us. We have to exonerate ourselves from the grip of poverty. But, surprisingly, and maybe thankfully, the poor world status in which we find ourselves in was not caused by Mr. Weah. Of course, Mr. Weah is the President. No excuses are intended by me. But, Madam Johnson-Sirleaf raised the leadership bar of incompetence during her 12-year reign. Liberians are partly catching hell because of that.

    Let’s consider some disturbing issues that occurred under Madam Johnson-Sirleaf:
    1. The lawmakers were paid exorbitant salaries and given lucrative perks when public school students (did not) and (do not) have their full set of textbooks or flushable toilets. Hopefully, if Dillon sticks to his campaign promises, the lawmakers will consider a reasonable pay cut deal. When that happens, the government will be saved some money.

    2. The government of Jonhson- Surleaf had allowed our youth to be trained by the Ghanaians in Ghana in the area of immigration. Just think! Do the Ghanaians know the Liberian terrain better than the Liberians themselves? Won’t it have been sensible for an immigration curriculum to have been assembled in Liberia? Or are Liberian educators not competent enough to train Liberians in the area of immigration? Going to Ghana is not free by plane neither is the school that the Liberian students were sent to. In the interim, when they returned home from Ghana, they didn’t get paid well. Just take a look at the downtown Immigration office. Stacked with papers sky high on the desks with no computers to keep accurate records.

    We have a lot to do in order to catch up.

    Note:
    For those who may have wondered where I have been or what had happened to me during the past month, please note that I am well. As a submarine, I submerged in the Pacific ocean in July and raised my head in the Atlantic ocean just a few miles behind JFK in Liberia. I did not buy a one-way ticket to “Mon ro viaaa”. Last week while passing through the Red Light area in order to negotiate with a foreign trader for an ice maker, my phone from the states got stolen. Not discouraged about Liberia, but I cannot believe how the phone got stolen.

    Peace.

    • Some of you should be old enough to know happenings back home. The appointment of a Nigerian to the most top post in the military was born out of the Accra Peace Agreement (APC) and not out of Ellen’s own will….that pave the way for the restructuring of an ARMY that had been infiltrated by opposing warring factions. These things we need to know so that we stop putting out the wrong information.

  5. Mr. Concerned Citizen,
    Yes. You’re right. The Liberian economy needs a major repair job. The president’s harmonization plan is expected to pick up steam. By spending less on services across the board as the government is doing, it is believed that savings will kick in soon.
    I am somewhere in Liberia as I write. I am taking it easy. But since my arrival, I am amazed and somehow encouraged at what I see. Most Liberians are busy doing something in order to survive. I brought with me a lot of seeds to plant. Because of the constant downpour (this is rainy season), I cannot do much. But, take a listen,….. a very few people I have given some seeds to plant are happy. All I hear is “oh thank you uncle”. I am not that old, Mr. Concerned Citizen.

    But, brother man, please desist from calling people “idiots” who think differently than the way you think. It is highly unlikely for all of us to think the same way.

    Just a thought, not an Old or a New Testament gospel. Egg plant stew with cow skin, chicken and fried Snapper will be gulped by me today. If you want to join me, it’s okay. But drop $10.00 under the table cloth.

  6. I personally feel that the terms of limitation for both the president and the representatives should be no more than four years and six years for that of the senators.

    Having a group of elected officials to serve long terms while the nation is lingering under the yoke of underdevelopment is not good. Liberia is recovering from war and in this token, it needs progressive minds, that would proffer ideas to move it forward.

    Having a lame duck administration to preside over a country that desperately yearns for progress is a recipe for disaster.

  7. Harmon-
    The truth is that nothing was said incorrectly. A Nigerian was appointed to a top military position in EJS’s government. Irrespective of what the APA said, Johnson-Sirleaf had a right to oppose that line of Peace Plan. I wonder, if she had opposed that particular proposal, would she have been crucified upside down? Or, would the Ecomog nations take a jungle position to invade Liberia? Frankly, it didn’t make sense than and now by the Ecomog authorities to have acted so autocratically. I unashamedly say that EJS had all the right in the world to refuse that particular line in the APA.

    How’s about the training of Liberians in Ghana by Ghanaians in the field of immigration? I hope the APA didn’t demand EJS to have Liberians trained in Ghana for immigration studies. I am not anti Ghana! Please don’t get me wrong. I think that Africa’s oldest republic ought to put itself in a prestigious position. Sending our young men and women for immigration studies on a constant basis to Ghana did not show political sophistication, but rather political weakness and gross incompetence.

    Shortly after she became President, EJS requested help from the US Treasury Department. The US government agreed to train our men and women in the area of collecting sales taxes. The training occurred. Since that time, the trained Liberians have been able to collect a sales tax from grocery stores in and around Monrovia. However, in the Ghana case where Liberians were constantly sent, it didn’t make sense by doing it all the time. One time of sending Liberians to be trained in the area of immigration was okay.

    Ghanaians and others show no respect for Liberians sometimes because of how our leaders misuse us. It’s got to stop. EJS did her part. We give credit where credit is due. In the above situations, EJS came up short.

  8. Concerned Liberian, where did you read about anyone being worried about 2020 election? Nobody mentioned anything about 2020 election neither do I believe that people in this forum mentioned or have forgotten about the poor state of the economy. We all are concern about the present state of the economy but are also keeping an eye on what is going on everyday. While you sit there and don’t see or read about what is to take place and call other people idiots, please read carefully about the propositions that have been put forth and how it will affect you, myself and generations to come. Please pay special attention to proposition 2 and 8 .

  9. You must be joking, how can a elected position turned to a appointed position, let me see which one of the don’t know laws, lawmaker going to agree to this confused president.

  10. Miss Dennis,
    Each of the Prepositions that have been put forth in the above article is followed by a “suggested amendment”. The suggested amendments were not dictated to the Liberian people in the form of autocratic demands.

    The legislators have an obligation to act swiftly. By swiftly, I do not imply an overnight debate. But yet at the same time, the suggested amendments shouldn’t be allowed to die a slow painful death through political posturing. The responsibility of the Liberian people is to inform their elected lawmakers about how they feel about the suggested amendments.

    As you know, there are a lot of prepositions that have been handed down to us. One of them talks about presidential term limits. For instance, instead of having to serve for 6 years, as President, it’s been suggested that 5 years should be considered. Given that scenario, a President who runs for re-election and luckily wins….. he or she can serve for another 5 years instead of 6 years.

    What do you think?

  11. Weah your proposal on terminating by-elections along with the ambiguity associated with the composition of your proposed “county council” seems to undermine the integrity of elections and is a ploy to subvert the will of the Majority.

    Why not require your candidates to subject themselves to medical health screening to establish if they can live to the end of the term as a means to avoid re-election ?

    If you are terminally ill you must not run for office in Liberia.

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