By Edward N. Boakai
It is common knowledge that only a constitutionally elected government has mandate to print new currencies or mint new coins for use by the people of a country which gave such Government the authority at the polls during General Elections. Thus, was the ‘LIBERTY’ Five Liberian Dollars Bank Note, printed by the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) as well as the Five Liberian Dollars Coin, otherwise known as the “Doe Coin”, minted by the Peoples Redemption Council (PRC) Government actually legal tenders in Liberia at the times of their respective printing and minting? The answer, constitutionally, is a resounding NO! Why? Both the junta and the interim leaderships were not legitimate since they did not acquire their mandates from the polls, so to speak.
I begin this article by first defining the words, INTERIM and JUNTA, respectively. Interim, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is defined as “an intervening time: interval; or, used or accepted for a limited time: not permanent,” whilst Junta is defined as “a military group controlling a government after taking control of it by force.”
As can be vividly recalled, on April 12, 1980 when a group of enlisted men of the National Army overthrew the legitimate Government of Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr., in a bloody coup d’état, a group of Liberian women took to the Streets of Monrovia and its environs, jubilating and chanting, “native woman born soldier, soldier killed Tolbert” barely a year after the infamous April 14, 1979 rice riot. But their hopes soon “went down the drain”, as the leadership they were jubilating for changed color overnight and became brutal and tyrannical to their own detriment.
Likewise, on November 22, 1990 when Dr. Amos C. Sawyer took over the helm as head of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), a government formed in the Gambia under the auspices of ECOWAS, most Monrovians took to the streets too, and galvanized support for a government politically orchestrated and voted in only by thirty-five leaders representing seven political parties and eleven interest groups and not a vast majority of the Liberian people at the polls, as enshrined in the 1986 Constitution of Liberia. Howbeit, their hopes and aspirations too, soon faded, if not shattered as the government glaringly went beyond the scope of its mandate and became short-lived without achieving the much needed results!
Abraham Lincoln, a famous American President and statesman once said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” So was the case with Samuel K. Doe and Dr. Amos C. Sawyer: Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, as Head of State and Chairman of the erstwhile People’ Redemption Council (PRC). They may have thought that they “fooled all of the people at that time” when they minted the coin and printed the new bank note in the face of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, particularly that section which legitimizes the printing of currency or the minting of coins by a constitutional government. Power belongs to the people and it is only a vast majority of the people can empower anyone to lead them or mint coin and print currency for them, so to speak.
The 1986 Constitution, the organic laws of this land is explicit when it entrusts the authority of printing bank notes and minting coins to the National Legislature, being that members of such august body are all elected by the people which they govern, as enshrined in Article 34. Article 34(d) is specific when it states that the Legislature has the power to: “levy taxes, duties, imposts, excise and other revenues, to borrow money, issue currency, mint coins, and to make appropriation for the fiscal governance of the Republic, subject to the following qualifications”…Article 34(d) (ii) also states that: “no monies shall be drawn from the treasury except in consequence of appropriation made by legislative enactment and upon warrant of the President; and no coin shall be minted or national currency issued except by the expressed authority of the Legislature…”
The aforementioned constitutional provisions are the legal preconditions for minting coins and printing national currency by a legitimate and constitutional government. Any act or conduct outside of this framework is deemed unconstitutional.
Let us now take a close look at Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe, who took the helm of power on April 12, 1990 by overthrowing Dr. William Richard Tolbert, Jr., through a bloody coup d’état. Head of State Samuel K. Doe, two years after his take over as junta leader, minted the “Doe Coin” in 1982 and put it into circulation against the United States Dollars which was unopposed. What significant impact then, did the “Doe Coin” have on the Liberian economy?
In my view, the “Doe Coin” played a major role in shifting the Liberian economy in contrast to the “Liberty” Bank note of Dr. Sawyer, even though it did not receive a constitutional mandate. For during the circulation of the “Doe Coin” on the Liberian Market, Liberia saw massive speedy growth in term of infrastructure, as well as economic and social development. There was the construction of the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex previously initiated by President Tolbert, the Central Bank of Liberia, the Ministry of National Defense, etc. What then about Dr. Amos C. Sawyer’s “Liberty” Bank note? What impact did it make?
Dr. Sawyer was in error by printing new bank note when one was already existing as legal tender: The J.J. Roberts Bank note was legitimate and already existing when Dr. Amos C. Sawyer became Interim President and not constitutionally elected as such. He who was the Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee in 1986, certainly knew better. One may be tempted to say that the act of Dr. Sawyer was somewhat deliberate and only intended to undermine the Liberian economy, the aftermath of which we are obviously experiencing today: the economy is in shambles, as the Liberian Dollar has lost its relevance on the local and international market.
The bottom line is that neither did Samuel Doe have the right to mint coin, nor Dr. Sawyer the right to print new banknote in the absence of constitutional mandate.
One may be tempted to state that the “Liberty” bank note is one of the factors largely responsible for the downward trend of the Liberian economy today. Why? Because it was printed at a time when the country was experiencing a civil crisis which devastated almost every fabric of the society, and there was nothing to support the economy, or the said dubious bank note, so to speak; for, its unconstitutional existence only helped to exacerbate the fate of the already ailing economy at the time, which negative impact still lingers on up to present, as is evident by the prevailing economic situation of our time.
Even though there is a drastic reduction in the prices of basic natural resources on the global market, such as iron ore, rubber, timber, etc., as a result of which the value of Liberian Dollar has fallen at a rate of US$1.00 to LD$200.00, but the negative impact which the “Liberty” bank note in particular created is still haunting our economy; thus, the inflation and the economic shambles.
In a nutshell, neither Head of State Doe nor Dr. Sawyer was right to print bank note and mint coin without constitutional authority. Liberia is “a country of laws and not of men”; thus, everyone ought to be respecter of the organic laws of the land. Doe might have minted the coin out of ignorance since he was a military man, whilst Dr. Sawyer might have printed the “Liberty” bank note intentionally or unintentionally being a seasoned politician. But whatever the case, one thing is sure: our economy is unstable despite the existence of two different Liberian bank notes on the market as against the most powerful United States Dollars; yet, the both of them cannot defeat the United States Dollar. Then the question which remains to be pondered is: when will the Liberian Dollar gain its pristine value and when will our economy be stable again? The answer is anyone’s guess.