The Constitution Review Commission’s two days symposium was money spent in the right direction. Since the Liberian civil war, it seems that the review process is the first substantive move to deal with causative factors which led to the Liberian conflagration. The Chairman of the National Council of Chiefs, Chief Zanzar Kawor, with vehemence, spoke the minds of traditional leaders.
The Liberian Constitution: The Great Debate Continues As Pro-Temp Findley Counteracts Amb. Wesseh at Review Symposia -“The Legislature Is Independent”
In his words, “the constitution has not been working in the interest of traditional leaders.” Analytically, it has therefore not worked for majority of Liberians. Traditional leaders are custodians of Liberia’s traditions and cultures. Their constituents are the natives of the land who, in rough estimate, account for almost 80% of the population of Liberia.
The January 25, 2013 session dealt with the development of methodologies to review the Liberian constitution. That session attracted speakers such as, Honorable Gbezohngar Findley, President Pro-Temp of the Liberian Senate, Mr. Kamudoni Nyansulu, Director of Legal and Judicial Support System Division and DSRSG, UNMIL, and Honorable Zanzar Kawor of the National Council of Chiefs.
Chief Kawor sounded a caveat that unless the review committee ensures that the views of Liberians are fully assessed, documented and contained in the amendment, the path to social cohesion, economic growth and political stability would be jeopardized. He wants Article 77a to be reviewed. He feels that Liberia has borrowed everything including governance styles, civilization and way of life from the United States of America; but has failed to adapt its political strategy of two political parties. Says the chief: “There are so many political parties in Liberia than the United States of America. Where are we going my people”?
The National Council of Chiefs expressed apprehension over economic decisions which deprive traditional people of economic benefits. The Chief cites the case of traditional forests and benefits belonging to tribal people being taken over by government. He said this kind of governance breeds confusion. He argued that there should be a provision that protects the rights of traditional people and ancestral lands.
Among other concerns which the chiefs believe are constitutional violations are government failure to establish claims courts in the country and the suppression of those who have legitimate claims. They also debunked child’s rights as a social evil that prevents parents from disciplining their own children. The chiefs are of the conviction that society cannot thrive positively when children are allowed to do whatever they wish to do under the protection of their so-called rights which takes away the rights of parents. They want these rights to be revisited. Liberia’s children have become so disrespectful to elders and very abusive. He feels children rights have incapacitated parents to fully discipline their kids. The backlash is an infested society of wayward children and youths. This is threatening to society. They urged the Constitution Review Committee to therefore extend consultations in every part of Liberia to make their findings comprehensive on every constitutional and societal issue.
The easy going and people oriented President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate cautioned the Committee to get Liberians involved into the process. Senator Findley stressed the need for the participation of the grass roots of society. Constitutional review processes had always reflected the views of the elites of society best known as intellectuals and academicians. The decisions of these few have not had the needed impacts on the majority of Liberians; reasons being that decisions have not reflected grassroots opinions. The senate leader expressed the desire that a change in that direction would be pursued by the Constitution Review Committee.
Senator Findley has also urged the committee to take a non-partisan approach to the process. He wants them to conduct opinion survey; involve districts, counties and Liberians in the Diasporas. He advises that the involvement of each citizen and hearing their opinion is cardinal to the success of the committee, no matter what their statuses are. He wants all local languages to be utilized and all local media tapped.
The President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate reminded participants that local people do not know what the constitution is and unless the review committee properly interprets its mandate and contentious constitutional provisions to obtain their views, the exercise would be incomplete and un-rigorous. He recommends further that the Liberian bar association and the Judiciary be involved since they deal with the constitution.
Professor David C. Williams of the Center for Constitutional Democracy from Indiana University Maurer School of Law, USA buttressed the methodological processes as advanced by the Senator saying, the review process as kicked off by the Scott’s committee is one of participation and if such a spirit continues, the constitution, when altered, will be stabled because the people themselves would have altered it and therefore be loyal to it.
From day one of the process, keen interest has been manifested which shows that the Liberian people for the first time realistically want to be involved in charting a new constitutional course for their country and not one adopted by a few elites who believe in the supremacy of their status above others.
Participants and the concerned public have begun to express interest in the time line. But, can the national legislature pass the amendment in time for referendum before 2014? The President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Honorable Findley has expressed doubts about such possibility. First, consultations must be exhaustive; collation of views done; decisions on constitutional provisions made; and then submission to the national legislature.
Senator Findley provided information that each provision must be debated in both Houses and ratified by two-thirds majority which takes time. When two-thirds majority is obtained by the membership of both Houses according to Article 91b, the National Elections Commission must conduct a referendum and obtain two-thirds majority of registered voters no sooner than one calendar year after the action of the legislature. In his opinion, the 2014 target date cannot be achieved.
But Ambassador Conmany Wesseh who seemed agitated over the long processes being employed, prefers lightening speed and less consultation and was spirited to emphatically say that said amendments could be done in time before 2014 as few persons in both Houses had the command of influence over the rest of the legislators. His statement did not only reduce the rest of the legislators to a rubber stamp status in their representation, oversight and law-making constitutional responsibilities, but attracted participants attention when he single out Senator Findley to give attestation. Unfortunately, the Grand Bassa Senior Senator distanced himself to the Ambassador’s extrapolations and perception of the Legislature. Findley clarified to participants that members of the 53rd Legislature were independent minded personalities who cannot be tossed about by anyone whatsoever. He was emphatic of the dignity and intellectual prowess possessed by each member.
One major constitutional issue that has to be tackled is the provision dealing with eligibility of votes as contained in Article 77b. Cllr. Barbu noted that children who, at the time of voters’ registration did not acquired age 18, have now obtained voting age and would desire to vote in the referendum. Would their constitutional rights be violated? This thought provoking debate presents the presumption that Article 77b should be analytically and critically reviewed.
There is a certainty that the angles of debates which have greeted the review process are so profound and complex to the extent that a participant suggested that the entire constitution be re-written. Others also suggest that the Sawyer’s Draft Constitution be brought forward in the review process as a resource document.
As Counselor Scott puts it, “we at the committee will do justice to all views. Our duty is to listen, take record of those views expressed and submit recommendations to the President. She said that this is the time and opportunity to look at all sectors, structures, and to speak out.”
The Great Debate However Continues.