The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP) and its has concluded two community media forums on the pending 2020 National Referendum in Montserrado County.
Sponsored by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Liberia Media Development Program which is implemented by InterNews Liberia, the community Media Forums seek to enhance awareness raising through community based dialogue.
The first of two forums was held Tuesday 3rd, of November 2020 in Borough of News Kru Town which represents the Lower Montserrado area with the second held in the City of Careysburg on Wednesday November 4, 2020.
Officially declaring the forum opened in New Kru Town, Tuesday, Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding Executive Director Malcolm Joseph said the idea for holding community media forums on the scheduled referendum is an outcome of a key citizens electoral reform agenda generated during CLEAR implementation and the ECC projects which are included in the pending referendum slated for December 8, 2020.
According to the CEMESP Executive Director, most often, locals rarely get the opportunity to be heard on national policy issues that directly or indirectly affect their daily lives, and decision making largely left with those in policy making positions without considering the aspirations of the ordinary people.
He said, civic education on the referendum issues remains very low nationwide and that the community media forums on the scheduled referendum is needed to “ramp-up civic engagement activities that will help sensitize ordinary voters”.
“Internews in Liberia with support from USAID under the Liberia Media Development program in 2019 implemented Citizens in Liberia Engaged to Advance Electoral Reform (CLEAR) project as part of effort to amplify the voices of ordinary citizens pertaining to the national conversation on electoral reform”, said Malcolm Joseph.
As it stands, the holding of the referendum is on hold due to a challenge from the from the Collaborating Political Parties whose lawyers have argued before the Supreme Court that the manner and form in which the government has proceeded with the conduct of the referendum is totally ‘wrong and violates the constitution” Cllr. Bobby Livingstone—one of the panelist of the forum in both New Kru town and Careysburg told the participants that the conduct of a referendum on 8, December as scheduled would put citizens in a an ill-informed decision to vote.
Livingstone who is Secretary General of the Liberia National Bar Association argued that the first resolution issued by the Legislature in June 2019 cannot be used to conduct the referendum. He concluded that the government suffers no harm if they postpone the vote to next year to enable sufficient awareness and do things right.
The position of the secretary general of the Liberia National Bar Association was buttressed by Atty. Oscar Bloh who is also chairman of the largest elections monitoring group in the country – the Elections Coordination Committee.
Atty. Bloh contends that the ECC takes serious exception to the manner and form in which the government and the National Elections Commission are handling the referendum. Said Bloh: “you cannot hold a referendum in the face of lack of awareness among citizens because the constitution requires that the referendum items must be publish with sufficient awareness rising for a period of one year”.
The ECC Chairman also contends that the “bulking of two or more items” in the gazette published by the NEC is wrong and defeats the “spirit and intent” of what the constitution requires about how referendum items should be presented for election.
“For example, you cannot put the item in the referendum that says reduction in the tenure of the of president, Senators and representatives as a single proposition.”“They must be separate”, he added.
“That’s what the constitution provides, that all items in the referendum must be separate so that citizens can vote on them separately not in bulk as has been done by the NEC and the Legislature”
The Caresburg community forum also featured as panelists Atty. Sayenneh Dickson and the Head of Secretariat of the ECC Madam Barwudu Johnson Williams.
The Two community media Forums in New Kru Town and Careysburg were moderated by Journalist Frank Seinworla, the Managing Editor of Public Trust Media Group. Participants at the forum have routinely expressed shock at their own lack of information on the scheduled referendum which is just a weeks away.
They quizzed the panelists on what they stand to benefit if the constitution is changed and why does it appear that the government is in “rush” conduct the referendum when they the citizens have very little or no understanding of the issued that should be voting on.-Press release