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As citizens seek changes: Gbarnga debate intensifies

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The New Dawn Liberia The New Dawn LiberiaDays of hectic debate to validate citizens’ recommendations for amendments in the Constitution of Liberia commenced Monday, 30 March 2015 in Gbarnga City, Bong County among Liberians, including Diaspora citizens.

But ahead of the debate yesterday, House Speaker Alex Tyler sent a caveat to the citizenry that they will not get all the suggestions proffered so far, endorsed in an instant. 

Delivering the keynote address Monday at the National Constitutional Conference, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said, Liberians seem to be speaking to citizenship, natural resources rights, women’s rights, property rights and the rights of the physically challenged, among others.

She said they expressed concerns about the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, specifically to end imperial presidency and give power to the people, and see the Judiciary as a system of justice that ensures protection for civil liberty of all Liberians, among others.

She however urged that focus be directed at amending provisions of the Constitution that incorporate international norms Liberia ascribes to, as some of the issues raised were already being addressed by the Government or will be addressed in due-course.

Following years of nationwide consultation to gather views of Liberians as well as citizens in the diaspora, the Constitutional Review Committee yesterday submitted to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the citizenry, proposed amendments to the 1986 Constitution that will be debated in the next four days in Gbarnga.

The CRC has reported that citizens made proposals for decentralization, equal property rights and ownership; customary land rights, reduction in tenure and qualification for the Presidency and legislative offices and rights of women, among others.

In a proposal to amend several Articles within the Constitution as of the endorsement of the amendment by registered voters thru a referendum, Liberians are proposing that the Legislature enacts laws to provide for political, administrative and fiscal powers and authority to local governments.

The next suggestion seeks to amend Articles 22 and 23, respectively  to ensure that every citizen have the right to own property alone as well as in association with others, provided that any property acquired during marriage by a spouse shall be jointly owned by both husband and wife from the time of acquisition.

In Article 3 (b), there is a suggestion that the property, which a person possesses at the time of marriage, shall not be held for or otherwise applied to the liquidation of debts or other obligations of the spouse, whether contracted before or after marriage, save by free and voluntary consent.

When endorsed and legislated, Article 30 would require Liberians seeking to be elected to the Senate to attain the age of 40 years and 35 years for Liberians seeking election to the House of Representatives.

Suggestions have been made to amend Article 52 so that those seeking to be elected as President or Vice President to be not less than 45 years and natural-born Liberian citizens.

A Women Group representative, Madam Ruth Caesar, described the 1986 Constitution of Liberia  as out-dated, with argument that African Countries have reformed their constitutions, giving women 50 percent representation, while the Constitution here did not live up to present day reality.

The debate continues today in what is expected to bring radical transformation on the Liberian political landscape.  

By Winston W. Parley 

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