President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says Liberians, through a series of national consultations, have shown and made clear their strong desire to see adjustments made to the country’s 1986 Constitution.
Highlighting some of the national consultations where these views resonated, she named Vision 2030, Land Reform and the Decentralization Initiative as a few of the many national consultations where Liberians have expressed the resilient desire to see modifications to the Constitution in consonance with the reforms emanating from the various national initiatives.
According to an Executive Mansion release, the Liberian leader, made the assertion when she delivered the Keynote Statement at the opening of a five-day National Constitution Conference at the Administration Building in Gbarnga, Bong County, Monday, March 30, 2015.
“We gather here today to learn what our people have been saying about our Constitution and how it might be improved to further their aspirations. We also come to carry forward the review process in strict adherence to the Constitution now in force,” President Sirleaf stressed, making it clear that Constitution review does not stand alone; but is rather situated in the broader framework of Government’s reformation and transformation agenda.
Touching on the expressions of the nationwide consultations, the Liberian leader indicated that there is an overwhelming desire for changes in governance arrangements in all three branches of government, as well as additional norms and values not historically reflected in the Constitution, including the message of hope and renewal implanted in the August 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement that marked the end of Liberia’s civil war.
The Executive Mansion released quoted President Sirleaf as stressing that as Liberians have vented their feelings about how they are being governed and making clear the explicit changes they would like to see, she urged the Conference to focus its attention on issues for constitutional amendments as all of the other issues raised during the consultations are either already being addressed by government or will be addressed in due course.
She thanked all Liberians for availing themselves of the opportunity to freely and frankly express themselves as they have done in the interest and future of their country. She assured them that government hears them clearly and will act appropriately.
On the way forward, the Liberian leader indicated that process is categorized into three phases. Phase One is the ongoing National Constitutional Conference; Phase Two will be the Executive submitting to the Legislature a document that reflects the concerns and aspirations of the people in a timely manner, while Phase Three will have the Legislature dispossess and submit a set of proposals to a national referendum.
President Sirleaf urged all state actors to play their role in the supreme interest of the people so at the end, there will be a revised or amended Constitution that all Liberians can truly call their own because it will be responsive to their yearnings of “liberty and justice for all” as well as ensure a revised and amended Constitution that incorporates international norms that Liberia subscribes to as an engaging member of the international community.
Providing an overview of the Constitutional Review Process, the chairperson of the Constitutional Review Committee, Cllr. Gloria Scott said the Constitution needs to be reviewed because the country have entered an era of peace and democracy after years of intermittent and extra constitutional governance arrangements, instability and civil wars.
“It is widely agreed that the Constitution must mirror the fundamental changes on Liberia’s social, political and economic landscape, and reflect present-day realities,” Cllr. Scott emphasized, adding that this way, the Constitution will not have to be set aside and ignored to accommodate emerging eventualities and/or resolve daunting national challenges and controversies.
She indicated that during the Committee’s deliberations across the country, they determined that many Liberians had not even seen a copy of the Constitution, nor did they know the provisions contained therein. As such, to participate in the process to review the provision of the Constitution, the citizens had to be made aware of the document. “To remedy the situation, the population was engaged through radio and outreach programs in the communities to ensure informed feedback,” she said.
The CRC Chair noted that of the 56,729 views from 73 electoral districts across the country and the Diaspora, the recurring views that emerged were: issues of reduction in tenure that a president and vice president, senator or representative, justice and judge could serve; election of local government officials such as mayors, superintendents, district commissioners and chiefs; paramount and clan chiefs should be elected according to the traditional protocol or procedure by the people of that ethnic group and the Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission should be elected.
Other views that also emerged were: a special court should be established to hear only election matters; traditional people should own the land of their ancestry; the land should not be government land; that dual currency should be abolished; and the Liberian dollar should be the only legal tender; there shall be no dual citizenship; and that women should have equal access to economic, social and political opportunities.
Others are include people of non-Negro race should not become citizens; male and female who find themselves in prolonged co-habitation should enjoy marital rights, with the common law marriage being recognized as one of three types of marriage, in addition to statutory and customary marriage; that Liberia should be a Christian nation; that customary laws should be codified and integrated into the legal system; and that there should be no same sex marriage.
In special remarks, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Kabineh Muhammad Ja’neh, on behalf of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, His Honor Francis Korkpor, Sr., said a conference of this kind is a forum provides an exceptional opportunity to consolidate the gains of peace on the foundation of the rule of law.
“It is a national moment for the people of Liberia to design the creation of a Liberia shrouded in a governance system responsive to our irreversible forward movement into the 21st century,” Associate Justice Ja’neh said, hoping that from the conference, Liberia will rise up to negotiating a national consensus capable of tackling the many social, economic, political and legal problems that have challenged the advancement of Liberia for so long.
Associate Justice Ja’neh said despite being members of the Supreme Court bench, they expect to participate meaningfully in the deliberations. “Within reasonable limits, we desire to speak frankly, especially on those issues that pose challenges to our judicial system and on matters impacting our relations with the global community,” he said, adding that they desire to be an active part of the continuous exchange as there is no doubt that the courts, by their decisions, impact law making as interpretation of the law by the courts.
For his part, the President Pro-Tempore, Gbarpolu County Senator Armah Jallah, said the National Legislature lends its support through the allocation of funds to the Constitution Review Committee to expedite the process and the Senate is interested in the process and will remain fully engaged until its logical conclusion but this has to be in conformity to the constitution as it relates to making changes therein.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honorable J. Alex Tyler said though the Constitution, as the organic and supreme law of the land, ought not to be trifled with, in exceptional and extreme circumstances, the people, in whose hands all power and the destiny of the nation reside, have a responsibility and an obligation and right to revisit, review and recast the intent of the framers in light of prevailing exigencies.
Speaker Tyler said after thoroughly being briefed, consulted with by the people, he was at the conference to validate and frame the people’s proposals, into a form and manner which can be presented in a timely scheduled of amendments for the people themselves to either accept or reject.
Touching on portions of the “preliminary summary” of the recurring views from the field as opinions from citizens across the country, Speaker Tyler, without getting into the core substance of discussion, sounded a caveat. “We cannot and will not get all we are asking for in every instance. We must learn to give and take,” he urged.
Citing a proposal from his home county- Bomi, which suggests that “[A] presidential candidate should hold a Master’s Degree…?” Speaker Tyler said, “This proposal poses a serious problem to a citizen’s fundamental right to vote or be voted for. By all conventions and protocols – advanced by the UN and enshrined in international law – the right for a mature citizen to canvass and be elected to an office within his own state is sacrosanct and inviolate. Any attempt to rescind or restrict that right would be ultra-virus.”
On the election of a Chief Justice, he asked if Liberians honestly want an elected Chief Justice (for four years), who would be subjected to the political currents, social pressures and economic machinations of the day.
He noted that their task is extremely challenging, but the necessity to make relevant changes is also an imperative which will not be delayed.