A bottom-up approach, the opposite of a top-down approach, is a process whereby decisions are made by the masses of ordinary people and forwarded to the leaders for concurrence. Using a bottom-up approach, the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), through the President of Liberia, submitted 25 proposals for amending the constitution of Liberia. However, all great constitutions including that of the United States were obtained using a top-down approach. A constitution is not about the will of the majority; it is about equal rights for both the minority and the majority. This is why a 2/3 majority of Legislators must concur before changes are made to the constitution, even if such changes are recommended by one or one million people. If the proposals submitted are allowed to transform our constitution, the effects could be disastrous, with possible grave consequences for the stability and economic viability of the state. Setting up a CRC to solicit popular views is not the same as a popular discontent with specific sections of the constitution by 10,000 people or more. The CRC method is non-constitutional and seems to be a ploy to browbeat the Legislature into concurrence by using a large number of Liberians whose proposals the law makers are placed under duress to ratify.
All of the world’s great books, constitutions and charters were written either by individuals or a small group of individuals. On the contrary, a collection of dreary views will be codified into a poorly written document by consulting crowds of people and documenting their collective views. Great concepts are obtained from historic documents such as the Magna Carta – (“to no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice”); and the book “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill – (“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person was of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind”). Writing or amending a constitution is a process whereby the voting public is given for ratification, a proposal that has already been rationalized and made convincing (Article 92). It is my view that most of the proposals presented are not convincing enough to replace concepts that were better researched by the original framers. Few examples of such proposals are presented below.
1. Reduction of the Term of Office for President, Representatives and Senators
If the term for senators on the one hand and the president and Representatives on the other are reduced to 6 and 4 years respectively, and if Election Commissioners, Superintendents and Commissioners are to be elected, national elections will have to take place annually. Election of Election Commissioners will take place during the first year, followed by election of Superintendents, Commissioners, Mayors and Chiefs during the second year. The election of Senators will take place every three years (inclusive of mid-term elections) and finally will be the election of the President and Representatives during the fourth year. In addition to frequent bi-elections, the cost of elections will probably quadruple (costing up to 300 million USD). By failing to organize elections for mayors and chiefs, we have failed to uphold our constitution because of the lack of money. Since Liberia cannot afford comprehensive elections for all elective officials under the six-year tenure, it would be absurd and untimely to reduce the term of office for elective officials.
Secondly, very frequent elections (almost on an annual basis) would mean a proliferation of squabbles, scuffles and infighting among Liberians, simply for a piece of the “elephant meat.” Instead of the electorate contributing to the election funds of the candidate, the electorate solicits money and services such as toilets, hospitals, scholarships and sometimes cash. Under such a system, chances for the rich and corrupt are better than that for the poor and patriotic. Such indirect forms of corruption will only proliferate with increased frequency of elections.
Dependency on grant money for elections that are essential to our nationhood, questions our sense of pride and independence. In my opinion, a better way of creating a frequent turnover of elective offices is in fact to create a one-term, eight years tenure for all elective offices. If elections are held every eight years (Senatorial elections every four years), corruption will reduce and elected officers will learn to better invest their money and minimize the indirect bribery of their electorate. An eight-year single term will also reduce the cost of elections, reduce political wrangling and promote unity in Liberia. The 300 million extra savings will be of much help to this poor nation.
2. Liberia should be a Christian Nation (Proposal # 24)
Proponents of a Christian Nation should clearly define their meaning of a “Christian Nation.” They should highlight pros and cons of a Christian State. Are there examples of Christian States that are satisfactorily well-off to be emulated? Will other smaller religious groups enjoy equal right with Christians? If not, will this not be a contravention of Article 11 of the Constitution? Will there be gender equality under their version of a religious state? It appears that the enactment of a “Christian Nation” is mutually exclusive with most other proposals concerning women’s rights.
3. Election Commissioners should be elected… (Proposal # 13)
Will the Elections Commission (EC) really become more transparent if political party candidates take over the commission? Will the commission perform better if people, irrespective of their qualification but simply because of their money and popularity, occupy the EC? Should a technical entity be transformed to a political one? Does the participation of “all Liberians,” including the wayward, the mentally deranged, laggards and criminals strengthen our constitution and legal system?
4. Other Proposals
That the Vice president should not preside over the senate because of separation of powers breaks with tradition and history, and is therefore absurd. Though the first and second branches of Government are separate, they must collaborate on many issues. For example, the Legislature through its various committees should monitor and help coordinate activities of the various ministries and agencies. The presence of the vice president in the senate is to break the tie in case of even votes and also to ensure that the Executive is not left in the dark when laws are made. As the presidency is gradually divested of power under a multi-party system, the election of Superintendents could bring about a form of federal system whereby some counties could be more under the control of political parties than under the control of central government.
Though Britain does not have a codified constitution, no one thinks about amending the Magna Carta. Is the Liberian Constitution becoming a dumping ground for prospective laws? How can customary laws, as unspecific and diverse they are, form a part of the Constitution? Are there parts of the constitution where the non-use of “he/she” disadvantages men or women? The question of putting proposals about “he/she” or “tear-tear” in the constitution appears to be excessive gestures. Can’t these concepts be made legal by other means? The constitution should not be a lengthy document; it should be well written, with quotable quotes, dwelling mainly on how the Government is constituted plus other cherished and durable concepts that would not lend the document to frequent alteration.
FINAL REMARKS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
There is a need for our Legislature to scrutinize the proposals and the entire constitution to derive alternative proposals in the best interest of our country. The practice of a large group of people to vote in support of their selfish interest is not democracy; rather, it is “dictatorship of the majority.” A constitution is not about majority wishes but depends on what makes the best sense to the framers and what can be rationalized enough to convince the voters. In this case the use of foreign expertise, people with vast experience and having no selfish interest at stake, to prepare a rationalized first draft may be recommended. We hope that whatever proposals are selected will be appropriately rationalized according to Article 92. The fully rationalized and justified proposals should then be made available to Liberians through the information service and through a website that will make the proposals available to intellectuals at home and abroad. After a period of not less than 6 months, comments will then be gathered by the Legislature to finalize the proposals that will be subjected to a referendum. The Legislature should not be in a hurry to change the constitution. And due to the limited time remaining for the 53rd legislature, it might be advisable to simply keep the proposals for the action of the 54th Legislature.