Given one of the most critical, prevailing conditions in the 167-year history of our nation – the rapid-spread, infectious, deadly Ebola Disease Epidemic that threatens the survival, in fact, the very existence of the Liberian nation and people – the “Emergency Measures” identified and the “Emergency, Presidential Powers” requested are necessary for success in The Case Against the Ebola Epidemic in Liberia; indeed, the scheduled, October 2014, Mid-Term, Senatorial Elections must be postponed.
Here are the Facts
1. There are no “ifs” or “buts” about the threat of the Ebola Epidemic to the survival or the very existence of the Liberian nation, but proven, compelling truths. That “Ebola is real and kills” have been shown beyond all reasonable doubt by national/international radio, television and the newspapers; and that the US Center for Disease Control advises family and community members “do not touch the infected, the dead, nor bury your infected dead”, consistent with practices common and historic in our, Liberian ethnic/tribal tradition.
Ebola is a rapidly-transmitted, infectious disease with no (yet) known drug for cure, a sure-killer that afflicts our sub-region with potential to destroy and wipe out the Liberian nation, aided by mass-movement of people, gatherings in churches, mosques, schools, conferences, assemblies, markets, etc., including our traditional rituals and practices. And, that the Ebola Epidemic presents “a clear, present (and future) danger” – by the thousands of the infected and dead in 9 of Liberia’s 15 political sub-divisions and counting, with national agony and human suffering, now prevailing – is so obvious and self-evident that it needs no proof.
2. Immediate or short-term
The on-going, dramatic down-turn of the nation’s economy as released by the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning; also, widely-reported by national/international press with profound, negative impact felt and taking its toll in, almost, every Liberian household, nationwide; restriction of people movement, as a measure of containment, by police & military checkpoints nationwide; all led to the President’s inevitable, recommended postponement of scheduled elections.
The Ebola Epidemic compels fundamental Change/Transformation of Liberia’s socio-cultural traditions, including response to natural, historical change; but with it comes a gradual, possible destruction and total wipe-out of the Liberian nation as we know it.
4. The Liberian Constitution
According to Article 86(b), “A state of emergency (exists, and) may be declared only where there is a threat . . . affecting the existence, security or well-being (socio-economic and political) of the Republic, amounting to clear and present danger (to the survival of the nation)”.
Also, Article 86(a) provides that “The President (of the Republic) may, in consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, proclaim and declare the existence of a state of emergency in the Republic or any part thereof. Acting pursuant thereto, the President may suspend or affect certain rights, freedoms, and guarantees contained in this Constitution and exercise such other emergency powers as may be necessary and appropriate to take care of the emergency, subject, however, to the limitations contained in this Chapter”.
5. The President of Liberia
Now, in response to the outbreak of the Ebola Epidemic with a rapid spread of its deadly virus in our West African Sub-region of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with a profound, deadly impact on Liberia, the President of Liberia declared a condition of national or State of Emergency, consistent with the Constitution of Liberia, as provided by Articles 86(a & b).
The President followed the declaration of the State of Emergency, duly approved by the Legislature on August 8, 2014, with request for the required, Presidential Powers to carry out or implement the defined Measures necessary to combat the spread and, eventually, eradicate the Ebola virus and epidemic, noting that a mere declaration of emergency is meaningless or lacks action without detailed definition of reasonable Measures and grant of Emergency Powers with which the measures shall be implemented.
Thus, by her letter to National Legislature addressed to the Speaker of the House, the Honorable J. Alex Tyler, dated October 1, 2014, the President wrote, “This letter constitutes our formal request to the Legislature approving these measures . . .”, with detailed, relevant, constitutional citations and support as follows:
A. Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution – Alteration of Election Time and Manner (Not cancellation) “The President may by proclamation, after the period and manner provided . . . under the Constitution for elections by which the people cause their public servants to leave office or bill vacancies. However, that no deviation from the constitutionality prescribed period shall cause the extension or reduction of any terms of office therein prescribed”.
“In March this year”, the letter continued, “the there was an outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in our sub-region, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. As a result of the continuous spread of the virus with enormous loss of lives, human tragedies and an impairment of health, safety and “security of the citizens of the Republic and grave risks posed to the existent and sovereignty of this nation which presents a clear and present danger. We declared, with your approbation, state rights of freedom of movement, rights of assembly, and large public gatherings, the closure of schools and public entertainment centers. All of these measures were taken to combat, contain and eradicate the spread of the virus”.
“As a consequence of these measures taken under the State of Emergency to contain the spread and eradicate the virus and self-surviving measures taken by the people and residents of Liberia in restricting their travel and contact, the necessary environment for the conditions and state of affairs to continue. As a result, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has informed of its inability to undertake several of the processes that are pre-requisite to conducting the 2014 Senatorial elections”.
B. Article 12 – Labor. “The President may, by proclamation, procure certain labour or services during this state of emergency. In this fight against Ebola, we will be requiring services and labour from each and every community in Liberia for the combat and eradication of the disease whenever and wherever necessary and possible. Accordingly, the privileges, freedom and requirement of services and labour provided for in this Article will be affected whenever and wherever possible and necessary”.
C. Article 13 – Free Movement. “The President may, by proclamation, limit the movements of certain individuals, groups or communities as the case may be to prevent the further spread or contain the epidemic in certain areas.
As you are fully aware, the movement of our citizens and residents from place to place is a key factor for the spread and transmission of this deadly and dreadful Ebola virus. To stop and contain the spread of this virus, the movement of individuals, groups or communities as the case may be is a manifest necessity. Accordingly, the guarantees and safeguard provided in the Article 13 of the Constitution will be affected”.
D. Article 14 – Religious Restriction. “The President may, by proclamation, restrict certain practices, generally or specifically, if she finds that such practice further endangers the public health and contributes to the spread of the virus.
In many of our counties, where certain religious and tribal practices such as the bathing and worshipping of dead body is religiously observed, the spread, transmission of the disease have been prevalent and the death toll have been enormous. To prevent the death and spread of this disease, these practices will be restricted whenever and wherever it becomes necessary”.
E. Article 15 – Restriction on Speech. “The President may, by proclamation or executive action, prevent any citizen, groups of citizens or any entity protected under Article 15 of the Constitution from making any public statement in person, by print or electronic, which may have the tendency of undermining the State of Emergency, confusing the public on the nature of the health care threat, otherwise causing a state of panic about the health care or security condition of the station, “because falsehood and negative reporting on the state of the affairs is likely to defeat the national effort in the fight of the Ebola virus, it is important that such be discouraged and prevented. Accordingly, the Government of Liberia will restrict speeches that will confuse the citizens and residents including the raising of false alarm thereby creating fear during the state of emergency”.
F. Article 17 – Assembly. “The President may, by proclamation, limit the right to assembly for any reason.
G. Article 24 – Expropriation of (private) property. “The President may, by proclamation, appropriate any private property or prevents the use thereof in order to protect the public health and safety during the state of emergency without payment of any kind or any further judicial process. Provided however, that the property will be released to the rightful owners upon the end of the state of emergency and that the Government pays for any damages thereto”.
And, finally, the President concludes that “The death tolls brought about by this disease have been overwhelming, particularly, in counties like Lofa, Montserrado, Bong, Margibi, Nimba, Bomi among others. We are advised by both national and international health authorities that victims of the Ebola Virus must be buried and laid to rest in isolated places and not in any ordinary public graveyards or cemeteries. Such a number of deaths we have seen and experienced, present a problem as public cemeteries are very few and inadequate. Therefore, the Government of Liberia will use any available land in any town and inadequate. Therefore, the Government of Liberia will use whenever the safety of the people or dwellers of such community demands. Such land to be leased will be released or returned to the rightful owner upon the end of the state of emergency. The provision of Article 24 of the Constitution will therefore be affected or suspended whenever and wherever necessary”.
Thus, it can be seen and established by the President’s Request that the definition, choice or Selection of the Measures to be implemented is, primarily, relevant to and consistent with the Constitutionally-guaranteed bill of rights, the temporal denial/rejection of which, during the state of emergency, will, no doubt, prevent the spread of the Ebola virus and, eventually, eradicate the Ebola Epidemic.
Response by the National Legislature
However, to this request the National Legislature gave an unqualified NO. Unlike the President who provided supporting, constitutional citations, the House of Representatives gave no reason, defined by constitutional, statutory or any other, legal citation, but based its denial/rejection on generalities, emotion, grand-standing and political party-politics; some examples:
On October 13, 2014, the New Democrat reported, under the headline, “Ellen Loses Absolute Powers” (New Democrat, October 13, 2014) that, “Lawmakers . . . overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to grant President . . . Johnson-Sirleaf absolute power . . .” But this headline and the story are absolutely untrue. For, nowhere in the President’s letter of request (October 1, 2014 above) was or is any reference to or about absolute power, but a defined, constitutional, Emergency Powers. Indeed, there is a great, legal difference between absolute and constitutional powers.
Simultaneously, on the same October 13, 2014, the FrontPage newspaper reported, under the headline “EJS Power Quest Derailed” (FrontpageAfricaonline, October 13, 2014), with a sub-headline, “Joint Legislature vote Overturns President’s Cancellation of Election”. Moreover, the paper reported that “A joint resolution of the Senate and House . . . unanimously voted . . . to overturn a presidential decision to cancel indefinitely the scheduled Mid-Term Senatorial elections this year . . . the National Legislature . . . mandates the National Elections Commission (NEC) to set a date . . . for the conduct of the 2014 Mid-Term Senatorial elections not later than December 20, 2014”.
Firstly, as indicated earlier, there is nothing in the President’s request for Emergency Powers which requires or mentioned “cancellation” of election. The nearest, operative terms used by the President are “Alteration of Election Time and Manner”, not cancellation.
Secondly, by mandating the National Elections Commission (NEC), an Executive Branch Agency of Government, “to set a date for the conduct of an election (the scheduled, Mid-Term, Senatorial Elections for October, 2014), the National Legislature is in manifest violation of Article 3 of the Liberian Constitution which provides that “Consistent with the principles of separation of powers (Legislative, Executive & Judicial) and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches . . . shall exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the other two branches . . . and no person holding office in one of the said branches shall serve on any autonomous public agency”.
And thirdly, by taking the illegal action of mandating the NEC to set a date for elections this year during the spread of the Ebola virus, it may be argued and reasonable to conclude that the National Legislature is, in fact, aiding & abetting the rapid spread of the Ebola virus and the Epidemic; in that, the NEC will be, and is, under obligation to undertake several of the processes that are pre-requisites to conducting the 2014, senatorial elections. Basically, because these include the deployment of its electoral staff and policy workers nationwide; authorization of political campaigns, rallies and gatherings, processes that necessitate the right of public assembly, during this period of the rapid spread of the Ebola virus, nationwide, and the risk of infection and instant death, due to the Ebola Epidemic.
Thus, it is widely-argued and reasonably concluded that the Denial/Rejection of the President’s reasonable, lawful request for Emergency Powers by the National Legislature was due to or based, primarily, on the following, among others: (1), the Legislature’s self-serving, political-party interest; (2), members of the Senate seeking re-election; (3), opposition political-party members seeking election to the Senate and national, political power; (4), irrelevant arguments by special-interest, paid lobbyists, so-called Watch-dog, Civil Society groups, including Human Rights activists/Attorneys.
It is important and reasonable to note that all of these “arguments” in direct opposition to the grant of reasonable, legitimate emergency powers are based on self-serving, socio-economic and political interests, in total disregard, above and beyond the vital interests and the survival of the Liberian state and people.
The Critical Issues
The current “debate” of the Emergency Powers Request, if one may define/describe such – deeply-divided, Liberian citizens-groupings along socio-economic, ethnic/tribal and religious lines in which graft, greed, public dishonesty (corruption) with impunity and the apparent desires and cornerstone of those in opposition to the Request – as a rational debate or educational discourse beats rational thought. This Liberian traditional approach, throughout our history, has been the modus operandi.
The “debate” is not only rejection of the request for emergency powers against the killer disease, but also, an apparent return to the abolished 133-year, tradition of “mango-mango” and “dee–deeba”, with the-now roaring (no longer rampant) corruption.
It is very important to note that most of the arguments in opposition to the Request were couched in defense of undefined Constitutional Rights. However, rights – constitutional, statutory or natural – are meaningless or useless to the Dead and Departed to the great beyond. These arguments are analogous to the claim of traffic “right-of-way”, but may be dead.
To a Liberian nation and its people, possibly annihilated and wiped out by the Ebola Epidemic, Legal Rights are meaningless and useless. Therefore, the application and use of the “Presidential, Emergency Powers” must be granted and the Mid-Term, Senatorial Elections postponed, to save the State and People!!