President George Weah has now forwarded a proposition to the national legislature to revisit the issue of tenured positions in government. The President’s action comes in the wake of challenges posed to his authority and power to dismiss appointed officials from tenured positions.
In its November 2, 2018 editorial, the Daily Observer cautioned President Weah to rethink his decision to scrap tenured positions in government. Additionally, this newspaper went at lengths to provide some insight into the matter by explaining the Pros and Cons of having tenured positions or appointing individuals to tenured positions in government.
Others have also entered the fray, offering differing perspectives on the issue. President Weah, rather than effecting summary dismissals, has taken the matter further by submitting his proposal to the Legislature for review. The plenary of that body has meanwhile forwarded the matter to its various committees for review.
This newspaper, while acknowledging that the President, under the authority of the Constitution, has the power to appoint and dismiss public officials, nevertheless it also acknowledges that the Constitution confers on the Legislature the power to create autonomous commissions as may be necessary to complement the smooth functioning of government. Such commissions are structured in ways that ensure they function without direct interference from the Executive.
For example, in Chapter X Article 89, the Constitution establishes the Civil Service, Elections and General Auditing Commissions. Article 89 also says “the Legislature shall enact laws for the governance of these Commissions and create other agencies as may be necessary for the effective operation of Government.” In view of this Constitutional provision, the President lacks the power or authority to scrap or abolish rules created by the Legislature for the governance of these institutions. Such rules may include provisions for tenure.
By extension it includes other agencies created by Legislative enactment such as the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC), the Public Procurement Concession Commission etc. While the President is clothed with the authority to appoint the heads of these Commissions, he does not have the power and authority to enact laws for their governance. Only the Legislature can enact such laws which the President, under the Constitution, lacks the power and authority to perform.
Thus, the President was quite in step when he referred the matter to the Legislature for review. But should the Legislature however, not defer to the President on this, there is little or nothing, Constitutionally speaking, that he can do to compel compliance with his request. Equally so and Constitutionally speaking, the Legislature cannot and does not have the power to delegate this responsibility to the Executive nor can it divest itself of the Constitutional responsibility to enact laws for the governance of these institutions.
Given the above, this newspaper holds the view that Article 56 (a) of the Constitution does not in any way contradict or conflict with Article 89 of the Constitution. Article 56 (a) reads: “All cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials, both military and civilian appointed by the President pursuant to this Constitution shall hold their offices at the pleasure of the President.” This newspaper cannot, in view of Articles 89 and 56 a, reconcile itself to bandied suggestions that such provisions can be interpreted to mean that the President can dismiss these officials simply because they serve at his will and pleasure. Those legislators who maintain this position are urged to read the Constitution, especially Article 89.
Aside from these Constitutional concerns this newspaper called on President Weah to make haste slowly in his attempt to scrap tenured positions in Government. And this newspaper did so in consideration of the immeasurable harm the “Imperial Presidency” has wrought on this nation, as it recalled that bitter memories of the legacy of dictatorial rule remain deeply etched in the national consciousness.
Moreover, in the face of rising public concerns about the rapidly declining state of the nation’s economy, it would do this government well to instead focus its attention on addressing concerns about the economy such as the rapidly depreciating value of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar, the missing billions and the infusion of 25m US dollars in the economy. These are all concerns flagged by the Legislature as those constituting the basis of their recall from recess by President Weah.
Additionally, such apparent preoccupation with the scrapping of tenure is proving to be nothing more than mere distraction from the real issues. Some legislators appear to be adding to the confusion obviously because they have not read the Constitution in totality, preferring instead to read Article 56 a in isolation of other relevant provisions especially Article 89.
Some legislators, preferring anonymity for unexplained reasons, have even opined that the President has the unrestricted power to preside and administer the Republic of Liberia without any hindrance as sovereign Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. This newspaper simply cannot accept such blatantly false postulations because they are premised on a warped interpretation of the Constitution.
Additionally, this newspaper must again unfailingly declare that President Weah should tread lightly on this matter which has the potential to undermine public trust and confidence in his government. As observed earlier, there is so much pressing concerns piled on the President’s plate. He must be careful to not bite off more than he can chew.
He must take charge not as a rough, high riding swashbuckler but as a caretaker with a charge to lead by the force of example and not by the threat of force or violence. As much as this newspaper would like this government to succeed, yet it cannot remain oblivious to such troubling concerns laden with a potential to reverse all the gains of the past.