The Need to Legislate Presidential Transition Law

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By: Emmanuel  Wru-Pour Cooper
Former Independent Candidate, District #9 Montserrado County 

It has been announced that Liberia will again be going through a smooth transition of power from one democratically elected president to another after seventy years. The last time such an event took place was most probably the transition of power from President Edwin Barclay to President William V. S. Tubman. The expected smooth transition of power from Liberia and Africa’s first female President Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will revive that laudable tradition yet to be enacted into law by the National Legislature.

Indeed there is a tendency in democratic nations that once elections are held and winners announced that political transitions will automatically fall in place, even in the absence of enacted laws to guide the presidential transitional phase. For example, as a case in point, even in the United States, a country with a history of successive free and fair elections, presidential transitions were initially carried out without little or no planning or cooperation from the sitting president or chief executive.

During the transition time, a president-elect is not expected in the White House in Washington D. C. until the inauguration. He was also expected to have few, if any, substantial or procedure discussions with the outgoing administration. This began to change, however, when President Harry Truman initiated a new course of action and invited President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the White House after the 1952 election, and directed the federal agencies to assist the new administration with the transition. The United States has since passed its first Transition Act in 1963 and the amended Act in 2015, an Act that grants the General Services Agency (GSA) of the United States a prominent role in the process. Since then, other elected Presidents of the United States have followed Truman’s gestures by inviting Presidents-elect to the White House to hold discussions on transition matters. (Source: en.m.wikipedia.org).

In recent time, outgoing President Barack Obama invited President-elect Donald Trump to the White House to discuss the transition in the spirit of the Harry Truman tradition. Like the United States, Ghana is another democracy with a history of successive free and fair elections, but with lapses in its political transfer of power mechanisms (Ofori-Mensah, 2011). According to Ofori-Mensah, in 2001 Ghana had its first political transfer of power from one political party to an opposition party through the electoral process. He further stated that the absence of a transition blueprint in that country at the time contributed in part to the confusion that erupted, such as forced evictions from official residences and seizures of government cars.

This unfortunate experience, however, propelled the need for that country to enact a Presidential Transition law to guide the transition of political power in that country whenever the need arises. In the words of Professor Ofori-Mensah: “The Presidential Transition Act is a law that provides a framework for managing the political transfer of power from an outgoing democratically elected President to an incoming President.”

Over the years since that historic handover of power to President William V. S. Tubman, Liberia, a country that lacks a tradition of holding a free and credible elections, has also been having her share of confusion over the smooth transition of power from one regime to another. Like what happened in Ghana, this confusion took a new form in Liberia recently, considering that after a presidential transitional act was introduced in the Senate of the National Legislature by Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County; the President also proposed her own transition of power bill to the House of Representatives in early September 2017.

What is also interesting to note is that the President withdrawing her bill from the honorable House also generated arguments among those lawmakers that were in favor and those that were against the bill. This prompted Senator Conmany Wesseh of River Gee County to revise and reintroduce the bill in the Senate, which was approved and submitted the lower House of the National Legislature for concurrence, but had yet to be enacted into law. Later, after the runoff presidential election, President Sirleaf, using the executive power vested in her, introduced Executive Order #91 establishing a Joint Transitional Presidential Team.

According to the proclamation establishing the Act, The role of the Joint Presidential Transitional Team will serve as a mechanism for the proper management and orderly transfer of political power from the current administration of the Unity Party (UP) of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the incoming administration to be led by Senator George M. Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).

Liberians hope that since there is no provision in the constitution for a transfer of power from one democratically elected administration to another democratically elected government, it is the candid opinion of the writer of this article that as Liberia makes the historic transition from the Unity Party-led government to the Coalition for Democratic Change-led government, members of the 53rd National Legislature will use the remaining few days left before the inauguration of the incoming administration to ensure the promulgation into law if the National Presidential Transition Act.

However, if time is no longer in favor of members of the 53rd National Legislature to enact into law this important aspect of an act of state; therefore, we urge members of the incoming 54th National Legislature to make the passage of such Act into law a priority, as soon as they take office. Lawmakers should be reminded that their primary responsibility is to make laws that contribute to peace, harmony in the society and enhance democratic governance.

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