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Another Historic Journey to Constitutional Rebirth

For those who participated in the Sawyer’s Constitution Drafting Commission’s deliberations followed by what a Daily Observer Column termed the GREAT DEBATE, they would, with no doubt, describe the exercise very interesting, challenging, and intellectual. Unlike the Simeon Greenleaf’s Constitutional Convention of July 5, 1847, the Sawyer’s Commission amalgamated and assimilated all sectors, interest groups, and people comprising the Republic of Liberia.

Constitution Review Committee: Another Historic Journey to Constitutional Rebirth

Surviving members of Dr. Sawyer’s Commission, if given the opportunity to write a dissertation on why the Draft Constitution as framed by them was significantly altered by the Kesseley’s Review Commission, arguments such as political engineering strategies to suit the personal will of the PRC leadership and the democratic considerations of all aspects of society contained in the draft organic law without prejudices would be voluminous or take hours to deliver.

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In essence, politicians, civil society radicals, students, and legal experts are consciously holding the Kesseley’s Commission responsible for errors and perceived interpretational problems of the 1986 Constitution. What this means is that the constitution needs reform to suit existing developments that are quite removed from the era of its adoption.

During the 2011 electoral process, the issues became more debatable and did set the platform for the Constitution to undergo review. Most profoundly, the Governance Commission has been mandated to keenly assess Liberia’s governance problems and make recommendations. Its studies and prescriptions for good governance are tied to constitutional provisions and full implementation of its recommendations would not be possible without constitutional amendments.

The argument of the Kesseley’s Commission was based on county representations-meaning; they had the mandate of the people of Liberia configuratively. The Review Commission thus became expressive of the thoughts and aspiration of the people as opposed to the Sawyer’s Commission mandated by the PRC. In other words, the minority would always have their say; but the majority would always have their way. That’s the way democracy works.

Experiences have proven, in many cases and in many decisions, that the way of the majority could be the way to wrong judgments and failures. Thus in cases such as constitutional review and drafting, certain steps must be taken to protect the soul of the nation which is hidden in the constitution.

Once again, the nation is placed on the road to national rebirth. It is not a journey to walk in a trudging way. This time, the former Chief Justice of the Republic of Liberia and former Senator of Maryland County, Honorable Gloria Musu Scott, has been saddled with the onerous task of reviewing the Liberian Constitution. The choice of Honorable Scott by President Sirleaf is based, according to legal experts, on her vast knowledge and experience of constitutional democracy, how it works, and interpretation of the constitution. To whom much is given, much is also expected. All eyes are on the learned legal luminary.

Like Dr. Sawyer, Gloria’s team is well sorted out; though the team’s challenge is different from that of Dr. Sawyer, yet it is a fact that the team’s constituents are more sophisticated, knowledgeable, and controversial as well than the days of Liberia’s coup. In an effort to achieve maximum result, the Review Committee would have to carry out wide consultations, gather sufficient information, and wisely make decisions.

Sources say Gloria will have to deal with Articles 54d and 56b in the process. Consistent with the Governance Commission’s recommendation that the position of county superintendent be elective, it is demanding that consultations would be held-not on the surface- but holistically to ensure that the necessary powers are also extended. An elected superintendent without powers to establish a financial management and budgetary system and to attract foreign investments as well as representing his people at concession negotiations that affect mineral resources in his county would undermine the focus of any constitutional change.

Article 56b is also one of the contentious issues that might attract serious debate. There are two visible powers to deal with. In democracies, the people have the powers to elect their leaders and have the powers to impeach them. The above article provides that they elect their chiefs, but the power of removal is vested in the president. Constitutionalists believe this is ironical and the Scott’s committee is expected to deal with it.

In an informal debate between students of politics on the campus of the University of Liberia, a very serious constitutional issue was raised. There were those who believe Article one of the Liberian Constitution is violated by article three; while others think Article one is just a social contract. Article one says “All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to reform same when their safety and happiness so require.”

The National Union for Democratic Progress has adopted this provision as a platform for federalism. In their view, the appointment of superintendent by the President is a violation of the rights of the people to establish both national and local governments. They believe the people of this nation are short circuited after electing the president, vice president, and legislators. In their interpretation, the appointment power extended to the president to institute local governments robs the people of their rights.

There are also constitutional arguments that Article three which established a unitary system for Liberia is a contradiction of Article one. According to Senator Prince Johnson who is a federalist, the interpretation of Article one makes Liberia a federal state. It is expected that the Scott committee will study these arguments with open mindedness. There seems to be more within the constitution to review and given better interpretation other than just the terms of the president, vice president and legislators.

Some extremists are suggesting that the constitution should be amended to empower the counties to receive maximum share of revenues derived from the counties through a revenue allocation law and not at the mercy of policy makers. As the process is about to gain momentum, it is important that zonal workshops be held as a means of reaching the grass roots who, at the end of the day, become the reason for such reviews. With personalities such as former Planning Minister Amelia Ward, Soko Sackor, Rev. Kennedy Sandy and others that formed the Gloria Scott’s team, Liberia’s journey to constitutional rebirth should be trusting and successful.

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