The Chairman on Governance in the House of Representatives, Larry Younquoi, recently told a meeting of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) that the long expected Referendum on the 25 constitutional issues will not take place. The reason, he said, was that the Government of Liberia (GOL) could not raise the US$20 million to finance the exercise.
Several questions immediately arise. First, does this mean that GOL is so broke that it cannot raise US$20m for the Referendum? Second, is it truly as a result of the lack of financing that the referendum cannot take place? Or is it something else?
Third, if this were true, what is that something else?
Fourth, is that something else attributable to the failure of the Executive branch to submit to the Legislature the details of procedures for the conduct of the Referendum? Or is it, fifth, the failure of the House of Representatives to act on the Referendum proposals before itself (the House) that has delayed the process?
We cannot leave out the sixth question: Is the Legislature itself afraid of the referendum because of the very serious implications for itself (the Legislature), which are embedded in the Referendum propositions?
We have now been told that whatever the Referendum decides on the issue of tenure will not affect the current Legislature but those elected after the inauguration in January, 2018. It is, however, possible that some legislators are taking the long view that upon their reelection tomorrow, they would continue to benefit from the longevity of tenure embedded in the 1986 Constitution.
Given the fact that the legislators of both houses have since 2006 given themselves such exorbitant salaries and benefits, plus the recently passed Financial Autonomy Act that demands that the Legislature will have direct access to any monies allocated to itself, does this mean that the Legislature is afraid of the referendum, and therefore does not want it held?
Our seventh question is: Who authorized Rep. Younquoi to make that announcement? Did it come from a joint resolution from the House and Senate? Or did the Executive inform the Legislature that there was no money for the Referendum therefore the Legislature should tell the people that the thing is cancelled because of no money?
In addition to all these questions, we have this last one: When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf decided to appoint the CRC to travel through the entire country to get the people’s opinions in preparation for the Referendum did she have a plan for where the money would come from? Or was she taking a wild chance and also giving the people the impression that she was at least doing something to update the Constitution?
We think not, because she appointed and continuously supported the Governance Commission, which itself toured the country and gathered the people’s views about what kind of country and governance they wanted. It was this exercise that set the stage for the Referendum. Several of the propositions in the referendum relate to the devolution of power from the Executive to the people; for example, the election of County Superintendents.
We await the answers to these questions from the Legislature and the Executive. The answers will express to the Liberian people why they have to face this great disappointment in the cancellation—or postponement—of the Referendum on which they and their government have spent so much energy, money and time.