Consistent with its mandate to perform a national consultative process to review the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) has conducted a successful consultation with youth organizations and student groups in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. The Buchanan consultative meeting, which took place on July 9 and 10, was a continuation of the ongoing nationwide and Diaspora consultative process by the CRC to gather the views of all Liberians as the government prepares reform of the 1986 Constitution and replace it with a new one that harnesses the views of vast majority of Liberians, if not all.
Over 300 young delegates, from all 15 counties of Liberia, participated in the two-day meeting, which drew speakers from the CRC, the Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Grand Bassa County officials.
The Buchanan deliberations, which took place at Fairground, were centered mainly on six constitutional topics: Land, National Elections Commission (NEC), Citizenship, Integrity in governance, Qualification of Elected Positions, and Decentralization.
Views solicited from delegates on the six constitutional topics indicate that most youths are in agreement to reduce the tenure of the presidency from six to four years and that of the Legislature, from nine to six years for Senators and six to four years for Representatives, respectively. They also want the President and legislators to hold at least a Bsc. degree in any discipline. The young people also want the superintendent and chiefs, amongst others, to be elected to ensure stronger check and balance.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, CRC Commissioner Madam Amelia Ward challenged the young people to make positive contributions to the formulation of the new constitution. According to Madam Ward, the views of young people are very critical to preserving the peace and stability of the new Liberia.
The government of Liberia, through the CRC, has pledged to do everything within its powers to consult all strata of the Liberian society irrespective of age, creed, religion, tribe, culture and place of residence. Many Liberians, including Acting Foreign Minister Mr. B. Elias Shoniyin, believe that the failure of the 1986 Constitution to address social and political issues among Liberians led to the country’s civil war in 1989.
Mr. Shoniyin, who is Deputy Foreign Minister for International Cooperation and Economic Integration, deputized for Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan who should have delivered the keynote address for the Buchanan consultative meeting.
The Deputy Foreign Minister observed that the 1986 Constitution falls short of addressing contemporary issues, including, nationality and tenures of elected public officials and land rights, amongst many others. He noted that though the constitution review process is belated, there is still hope for Liberians to have a better constitution that leads them to the future.
Mr. Shoniyin thanked the government of Liberia and the CRC for commencing the constitution review process which, he observed, will unite the country and lead it to national reconciliation and development as it would include their voices.
He used the occasion in Buchanan to extended special thanks to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for supporting the constitution review process through the CRC. He also thanked the CRC itself for ensuring the decentralization of the consultative process in a manner that the views of all Liberians including the youths, religious, political, social, traditional leaders and other organizations are heard.
Mr. Shoniyin concluded by challenging the young people of Liberia to take responsibility of the opportunity being afforded them by the CRC to give their inputs into the new constitution.
“The opportunity being afforded you today is very crucial because in the past people of your age never had this opportunity to have a say in their constitution,” he said.
Earlier, CRC Commissioner Soko V. Sackor challenged the young people of Liberia to take responsibility of the constitution review process as it is intended to address their future and the future of their children.
Commissioner Sackor noted that the views of the young people in the new constitution are crucial, as they will make them [young people] take ownership of the new constitution.
For her part, CRC Chairperson Cllr. Gloria Musu Scott welcomed the strong youth delegates to the Buchanan consultative forum and challenged them to be very meticulous in making their inputs. She informed the delegates about the importance of the CRC-led constitution review process and said “it is now time for all Liberians to have a say in the making of their constitution.”
The former Supreme Court Chief Justice disclosed that the 1986 Constitution fell short of meeting the views of majority of Liberians at the time.
“Not many Liberians knew what was in the 1986 Constitution when the referendum was held. And not many Liberians supported it because it was looking like a foreign document,” the CRC Chair said. Cllr. Scott explained that she was a student of the Louis Arthur School of Law when the constitution review process on the 1847 Constitution was held in 1984.
“It was very strange to me at that time because as a graduating senior from the Law School, I knew very little about the review process which indicates how closed the process was,” she said.
The CRC boss also explained that a similar mistake was made during the country’s first referendum in 1847, where only 500 people voted. She observed that as a result of the low participation of the citizens, majority of Liberians considered the 1847 Constitution as a foreign document.
“We must learn never to repeat that mistake again, said Cllr. Scott. The consultative meetings are geared toward deriving proposals for amendments, which would be submitted to the National Legislature and subsequently to the voting population in a referendum for approval.