The Presidential Transition Act (PTA) submitted by President Ellen Johnson to the National Legislature has been welcomed with lashes and rejection.
Upon submitting the Act about a month ago, views have emerged that the President is seeking protection and undeserved amenities under the Act in order to escape justice if need be.
On September 13 a student leader of the University of Liberia was vocal and discourteous enough to tell the President that that Act is meant to exempt her from justice, and therefore she must withdraw it because it was not in the interest of justice.
Amid such public reactions, President Sirleaf has gone ahead to write a letter to the House of Representatives withdrawing the Act with expressions that she does not need protection from anyone to live in Liberia after her tenure and government’s support to survive.
Following the withdrawal, River Gee County Senator Conmany Wesseh came out to describe the Act as “Good” for the country.
Senator Wesseh argued that it would be unfair for former Presidents and Vice Presidents of a country to turn over power and live in the country vulnerable without security.
Moreover, following a peaceful turnover of power, he said, it is good that the President and Vice President have some benefits to rely on after serving the country.
The Senator also contended that because there is no law establishing benefits for Presidents and Vice Presidents, families of some former Presidents risk living in destitution because there is no law to make provisions for their decent sustenance.
The truth remains that a lot of people commenting on the Act have not actually seen a copy to read and understand what is contained therein. Furthermore, this is the first time such an Act is surfacing in this country since 1847.
Therefore, understanding the content and its significance will be difficult for many Liberians due to the fact that it is strange and, worse yet, the public has not seen it in order to understand what it actually says.
However, so as not to give attention to illusion and ignorance, let us carefully examine the Act to see what it actually says.
The Act says that the sitting President and the President-Elect shall appoint 15 persons each to serve on the transitional team, and the amount of US$25,000 should be made available by the government to facilitate the transitional process.
It sets provisions for logistics for the President and Vice President-Elect, including a suitable office space properly equipped and furnished, payment of travel expenses and subsistence allowances and communication services. It also calls for daily briefings by all the relevant government personnel and agencies on the state of the nation’s economy and national security immediately after his or her election.
As for the former President and Vice President, the Act seeks to provide each with furnished and equipped office spaces, vehicles, security, and public papers of the President; provision of a budget for the upkeep of the former President and Vice President; and provision for dependents including surviving spouse and legal minor dependents until they reach 18 years.
It also calls for the former President and Vice President to use VIP lounges, facilities, and personnel, including tarmac side pickup and drop off whenever they travel in and out of Liberia. The former President or Vice President, according to the PTA, shall be allowed to use the presidential palaces in the various counties when not in use by the President of Liberia or Vice President.
These are just but the major benefits enshrined in the Act for the former President and Vice President of Liberia, and there are no provisions exempting any of them from prosecution or justice if need be.
Taking each at a time, the Act provides that office space and security with allowances be given the President and Vice President-Elect. Does it not make sense if such privileges and protection are given incoming leaders of the country?
How about the former President and Vice President? These are people who have carried out public discharges over the years. It is certain that some people may have their personal problems against former Presidents and Vice Presidents for whatever reason. In fact, the American Psychologist Abraham Maslow, in his five-point hierarchy of needs, spoke of security and physiological needs at different levels including self-esteem. Is it not expedient that our former President and Vice President be given some preferential and respectable treatment after leaving office?
Moreover, what will a leader who may not have the hope of getting any benefits after leaving office do to keep surviving? Does it not open a corridor for corruption?
These are some questions that come to mind when an argument about the Presidential Transition Act ensues.
We, therefore, ask the Legislature to reason with Senator Wesseh to reintroduce and debate it, instead of treating it with prejudice and neglect.