President George Manneh Weah’s recent proposals to the 54th Liberian Legislature on the need to legislate dual citizenship and landownership right for non-Negroes have been brought before the House Plenary amid serious noise and tension when Grand Kru County Electoral District #2 Representative Cllr. Jonathan Fonati Koffa submitted four bills, seeking key amendments in the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
The Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives, Madam Mildred Siryon, took the stage to read the bills, but was interrupted by Bomi County Representative Edwin Melvin Snowe, who argues that the drafter of the bills was not present and as such, they could not be read in plenary.
But he was aborted by Speaker Bhofal Chambers, who explains that the bills are intended for committee rooms, so plenary, which is the highest decision-making body, could scam hear the reading.
Later did the Speaker know that Thursday, 8 February Session in the chambers of the House of Representatives would have come to a standstill. Not being satisfied, Representative Snowe walked to the Chief Clerk to take a glace of the document, when it was realized that the bills were not signed by Representative Koffa and rest of the 22 co-sponsors.
Snowe complains that it is unprecedented for a bill that is not signed by sponsor and co-sponsors to be read, further arguing that Speaker Chambers as Presiding Officer, should not be co-sponsor to a bill, on grounds that it would create corridor for conflict of interest.
With these comments from the former Montserrado County lawmaker, the entire chambers went into serious disruption.The bills include, a resolution amending certain provision of the Constitution of Liberia, seeking dual citizenship, resolution seeking property rights for non-Negroes, a resolution seeking qualification for other nationals’ rights and resolution seeking qualification for dual citizenship.
According to the drafter of the bills, the purpose for the amendment to the Liberian Constitution is to restrict appointment to the Supreme Court of Liberia to natural born Liberians, and restrict naturalized citizens to certain elected offices as the term may be defined in the Constitution.
“The purpose of this amendment to the Liberian Constitution is provided to allow non-citizens of Liberia to own property with certain restrictions,” Cllr. Koffa explains in the draft bill.
For the property right, non-Liberians no more five acres for homestead which is freely alienable and maybe inherited; real estate property of no more 50 acres for industrial use or no more 1000 acres for agricultural use, purchased with development plan and intent to commence development no more than two years from date of purchase, that failure to develop within two years of the date leads to forfeiture at which time the property escheats to the state. That private property rights, however, shall not extend to any mineral resources.
On dual citizenship, the document states that a national residing here under a lawfully issued resident permit may, after five years of continuous residency, be eligible to become a citizen of Liberia by naturalization.
The 1986 Liberian Constitution’s Article 27 states: (a) All persons who, on the coming into force of this Constitution were lawfully citizens of Liberia shall continue to be Liberian citizens.
(b) In order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia.
(c) The Legislature shall, adhering to the above standard, prescribe such other qualification criteria for the procedures by which naturalization may be obtained.
Article 28 stipulates: Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the Person’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country. No citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality.
President Weah’s proposals, which was contained in his first Annual Message delivered to members of the 54th Legislature has generated serious debate here, characterized by mixed responses.
By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor-Editing by Jonathan Browne