INSIDE CRC: Excessive Presidential Powers And Limitation Proposals

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Politics of the 1970’s centered on ideological persuasions. Its focus was socialism and capitalism. Both old and young Liberians were caught up in the heat generated by the logical and sometimes illogical benefits these two systems were suppose to offer.

In Africa, Liberia was the target of the cold war between the USA and the USSR on grounds of its strategic intelligence interest to the USA. Liberia’s progressives who were mostly youths, students, and professors, aligned with the eastern bloc while the conservatives, who were mostly the hegemonists, were devoted to the western bloc.

The debates over the political systems were not less focused on the constitution which at the time was not accessible by the public or used as a tool for political bickering as it is now; nor did they concentrate on devolution of powers. Socialism was looked at as a system which took everything from the people and gave to the state.  The state would, in turn, carryout equitable distribution of the wealth of the nation through a central committee to the proletariats.

On the other hand, Capitalism was considered to be a system which made the rich richer and the poor poorer. According to the debate, it created a class system which produced bourgeoisies and petit bourgeoisies in the Liberian society. During that period, those were the debates and issues which staggered our national environment. Liberia is no longer in that era and there are no debates on political ideologies.

Both old and young people of Liberia are now directing their debates towards constitutional issues. The President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has lit the flame for a more expressive democratic atmosphere by commissioning a Constitution review team known as the Constitution Review Committee or CRC.

It is on this unique platform that bullet issues affecting the nation are discussed. Drawing from our national crisis, there seems to be a national conclusion that decentralization of powers and reduction of presidential powers may be key remedies for any deadly political, social, and economic prognosis directed at Liberia. However, this has to be tested in a process established by law.  

The Governance Commission (GC) which is statutorily authorized to reform state structures and policies has recognized the need for decentralization and reduction of the powers of the president. This has been crafted by the GC to be a National Policy Document. Unfortunately, it cannot come into force without constitutional amendments.

The CRC outreaches have never failed to note citizens’ concerns on this subject. Both Cllr. Gloria Musu Scott and Rev. Dr. Jasper S. Ndaborlor are endlessly showered with citizens’ views on the need to elect county superintendents, commissioners, mayors, and even election commissioners as well as the chief justice of the Supreme Court. This is the extent to which the thirst for decentralization and reduction of presidential powers are driven.

EXCESSIVE PRESIDENTIAL POWERS:

At local intellectual centers as well as CRC outreaches, there are and have been arguments on the three branches of government. Which branch of government is most powerful? There are views that the legislature is the configuration of the powers of the people of the state which means the legislature is the most powerful.

On the other hand, the judiciary is considered the most powerful because when the two branches are locked in constitutional conflict, the only recourse is the Supreme Court (judiciary) and the judgment of that court (judiciary) becomes the law and is binding on the nation.

But there are other views which state that the executive branch is the most powerful in the land. On what pillars the arguments stand and what are the analyses? But there is a plethora of views which states that the executive branch is the most powerful. On which pillars are these views constructed and what are the reliances or analysis.

Assessing the working of the Liberian society, there are views that the excessive power of the presidency are drawn from Articles 54 and 56 as well as from Liberian political culture of looking up to the president for everything. Are these facts or hyperbolic?

In some of her regular appearances as guest on the LWDR, ELBC, UNMIL as well as community outreach, the Chairperson of the Constitution Review Committee and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Cllr. Gloria Musu-Scott said in her analysis that she is inclined to believe the presidency is very powerful.

 In her assessment, she said: “The powers of the legislature are vested in each legislator and each of them totaling 103 exercises the powers of the legislature. The powers of the judiciary are vested in the chief justice, associate justices, judges of higher and lower courts; clerks, marshals’ sheriffs etc who numbered about a thousand around the country. But the powers of the executive are vested in one person and that person is the president of Liberia who is head of state, head of government and commander in chief of the arm forces of Liberia.  Article 51 states clearly that the vice president shall not exercise any of the powers delegated to the president. No one except the President shall exercise the powers of the executive.

The president has the powers to appoint cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, assistant ministers, ambassadors, minister counselors, consuls, superintendents, county officials and officials of political subdivisions, members of the military from the rank of lieutenants or its equivalent and above. He also has powers to appoint marshals, deputy marshals, sheriffs, clerks, notary publics, justices of the peace.

The president further appoints the chief Justice and justices of the Supreme Court including judges. He has the power to dismiss traditional chiefs, though elected by their people and powers to appoint heads of public corporations and autonomous agencies among others. All these, except judges, can be dismissed by the president. These powers are very extensive and enormous according to some callers and participants in the CRC process.

It is believed the current constitutional review process is an opportunity to project limitation clauses to make our democracy expansive and to create some balances and semi autonomy. “The structure of the state is a centralized one; the counties have no economy; no financial management and budgetary systems; no revenue generating powers; no investment programs; no share of royalty accrued from concessionaires in their domain; no participation in concession negotiations; and no control over investors among many others. These powers are centralized and have impaired development over the years. There is now a need for constitution re-visitation,” says a youth participant at a CRC outreach.

 

SHOULD CHIEFS BE ELECTED? 

This is a very sensitive subject which comes up during CRC engagements. Should chiefs be elected? If so, on which platform should they be elected? What does it mean to the preservation of the Liberian culture? What are the qualifications for chieftaincy?     

Article 56b of the 1986 constitution says “there shall be elections of paramount, clan and town chiefs by the registered voters in their respective localities to serve for a term of six years. They may be reelected and may be removed only by the president for proved misconduct. The legislature shall enact laws to provide for their qualifications as may be required.”

It is being argued that elections involve campaigning and success depends on the numerical strength of one’s political alignment. This means the political party with the widest support base is the party that might lead a candidate to success. Party association is dichotomic, frictional, and segregative. It establishes platforms under which a party candidate takes oath to abide.

Another contention is that financial resources or what is known as cash violence can bring even an undesirable or unqualified candidate into power. Are these what Liberians want of their chiefs who are custodians of culture and traditions? These are the thoughts also expressed by Liberians and traditional leaders.

According to the debates, those who are versed in cultural matters may never be elected to protect the cultural heritage of Liberia. The reasons may be financial or lack of knowledge of party politics. In their stead, a youthful inexperience candidate or those who have no cultural foundation take the crown and presides over the liquidation of our cultural heritage.

Importantly, chiefs are unifiers and not dichotomists. Their involvement in party politics may bring disunity to their land and people as well as politicizing cultural matters on party platforms. This according to traditionalists is dangerous.

Senator Abel Massalay of Grand Cape Mount County, who allows himself to be quoted, says the chiefs and elders of Grand Cape Mount County called on him and expressed their belief in a process that follows the old pattern of selection rather than election. This statement was made to him after community meetings conducted by the CRC in Madina, Sinje and Robertsport.  According to him, the election of chiefs is a strange phenomenon that could destroy Liberia’s cultural heritage.   They also want superintendents and local government officials to be accountable to them through elections.

But there is this fundamental question from other quarters. Would there also be local impeachment provision, procedures and processes through a local legislative council should conditions necessite the removal of elected local officials?

Your views on these matters are very important. Share your views today with INSIDE CRC- ISSUES AND STRIDES through these contacts: Email: [email protected] or call CRC short code lines: Novafone 1986; Lone Star 1986 or CellCom 0776305715.

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