I am calling on all Liberians to honor the mandate of the Supreme Court of Liberia regarding the cancellation of the pending or proposed ‘National Referendum’ that was scheduled to take place along with the Special Senatorial Elections on December 8, 2020, due to the following reasons: 1. Constitutional Violation; 2. Inadequate voters’ education; and 3. Security concerns.
Also, any attempt by any of the three separate but equal branches of the Liberian government to overturn the decision of the highest court in Liberia will be considered a travesty of independent and transparent justice. It will send a clear signal to the world that uninformed Liberian voters are being forced to hold a quasi ‘national referendum’ in the wake of constitutional violation and inadequate voters’ education. Further, changing the presidential terms from two to three will lead to political instability in Liberia and the subregion. Below are the reasons for my argument.
Since some Liberian politicians and warlords violated the Constitution of the Second Republic (1986) when they perpetrated the treasonous act of waging a rebel incursion in Liberia on Christmas Eve (December 24, 1989), Liberians have not returned to genuine rule of law. What I mean is that we knowingly violate provisions of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia every day. We do not adhere to it in most of our national decision-making processes. As a result, Liberian politicians and warlords play with the Constitution as if it were an ordinary piece of paper.
Additionally, over the past thirty-one years, those in power in Liberia have tampered with this sacred body of laws to satisfy their egos and/or whims and caprices so that they can perpetuate themselves in power and prolong our national crisis. For this reason, Liberian politicians hand-pick sections of the Constitution that suit them; and when they contravene the law, they pretend the Constitution does not exist, by brushing their criminal acts under the rug.
For instance, portions of the Constitution that address the issue of convicting someone for taking up arms against the state and subsequently causing destruction of human lives and properties have been ignored over the past three decades. For this reason, those in power opt for “Let bygones be bygones” when there is a need to prosecute war and economic criminals to restore genuine rule of law!
Further, the decision to ‘elect’ or ‘appoint’ felons to high positions of public trust in the Liberian government, be it the national legislature, the judiciary and/or the executive, are all violations of the Constitution. Hence, it comes as no surprise when once again those in authority today are taking another jab at our already bruised up Constitution.
I speak in direct reference to the recent Supreme Court of Liberia’s unanimous decision on Wednesday, November 18, granting the Collaborating Political Parties’ (CPP’s) request for a writ of prohibition and mandate for the National Elections Commission (NEC) to abandon the referendum because “the act of the Executive Branch of the Government of Liberia, in deviating from the clear language of the Resolution of the Legislature by combining and condensing the eight propositions into three categories, quite contrary to the provision of Article 92 of the Constitution which specifically mandates that each of the eight propositions be stated separately on the ballots to afford voters the opportunity to exercise their right of choice, the Government proceeded by the “wrong rules.”
What the Executive Branch Did That Was Wrong
The Supreme Court stated that the Legislature did its job correctly consistent with Article 91 of the Liberian Constitution by adopting a Joint Resolution, proposing a constitutional referendum to amend EIGHT ARTICLES of the 1986 Constitution. Note that in its request, the Executive Branch did not request to amend one Article but eight Articles.
Therefore, Article 92 of the 1986 Constitution states, “If more than one proposed amendment is to be voted upon in a referendum, they shall be submitted in such manner that the people may vote for or against them separately.”
“Contrary to the resolution, the Executive Branch of the Government, in an official Gazette published on October 8, 2019 in “Volume XIX, No. 52”, condensed the eight proposed amendments into three Ballot measures, on which the electorate would have been required to vote “Yes” or “No”.
Long story short, we must thank the Supreme Court for observing and clamping down on a corrupt act by the Executive Branch to slyly squeeze in its request for a third term of office for the President of Liberia along with the “Dual Citizenship” proposal, which would mean if you said “Yes” to “Dual Citizenship” you would be saying “Yes” to the Executive request for a THIRD TERM of Office for the President!
Inadequate Voters’ Education
Referendums are no play, play civic activities. They are very crucial because when you are making constitutional amendments you are tampering with the sacred body of laws in the land. You are altering decisions the citizens of the nation made in their best interest and that of the state. Therefore, whenever, a national referendum is proposed, it is MANDATORY to provide the citizens adequate education and information regarding what changes the government or the people through their representatives would like to make. Therefore, national referendums are not held overnight. You must give the electorates enough time to think over the requests you are making, and you must conduct interviews, hold town hall meetings, make announcements in the local vernaculars for months, at least six months.
Senators, Representatives, local government officials must return to their constituencies to interact with their constituents, get feedbacks that they can share among themselves and the entire nation. There must be enough literature printed to circulate in schools, universities, various communities, towns, villages, institutions of learning, religious and civil society organizations, human rights organizations, and among representatives of foreign missions, clearly stating the reasons or need for the change.
The Ministry of Information, the public relations wing of the government, is not just there to write press releases and rebuttals. Its primary function is to keep the citizens adequately informed and to bridge the communication gap between the citizens and the government. Its job is to motivate citizens to get actively involved in collaborating with government to implement its policies but it is not the place of the Ministry of Information to DEMONIZE patriotic citizens who express their opinions or exercise their right to free speech, especially when the government is not forthcoming in its service delivery to the citizenry. In view of the foregoing, you will agree with me that not one percent of what I have enumerated was done, not to even mention outreach to the literate voting population, let alone the 90% illiterate voting population. Therefore, it is a big “No, no” to holding the referendum currently.
A final issue we must take into consideration with regards to the extension of presidential terms is national security and the security in the subregion. Already, mounting tensions are brewing in neighboring la Cote d’ Ivoire and Guinea regarding the abrupt change of presidential tenures. Those opposing such changes are gradually finding themselves in exile and crossing over to neighboring African countries. Tampering with the Constitution to have Doe change from military leader to civilian leadership led to the bloodbath that paralyzed the Liberian nation and its infrastructure. After thirty years we still have not resolved that upheaval. Therefore, are we prepared to tread that path again? It is my conviction that any change in the tenure of the president of Liberia will lead to another bloodshed in the country.
I would like to close by expressing my disappointment about the attempt of the Minister of State to contradict or refute the decision of the Supreme Court of Liberia. If we must have a thriving democracy, then we must respect the equality of the three separate branches of our government. Hence, when it comes to INTERPRETING THE LAW, that is not the role of the EXECUTIVE nor the LEGISLATIVE but the SOLE RESPONSILILITY OF THE JUDICIARY!
Hats off to the Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia. Genuine rule of law comes when the three separate, but equal branches of our democracy can carry out their functions independently and transparently without any interruption from the other two branches.
Rabbi Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.
November 23, 2020