”Never before in the history of Liberia has there been a constitutional making or review process so inclusive and so participatory with divergent inputs as the process designed by the Constitution Review Committee.” Since its establishment and work, the above has been a significant and heart piecing comment from citizens of Liberia geographically.
The mandate given the Constitution Review Committee by the President of the Republic of Liberia is to review the 1986 Constitution of Liberia in consultation with the People of Liberia. The CRC, in its honest response, designed the first of its kind strategy in Liberia that abandoned the old practice of gathering the elites of society, scholars of renowned and top government officials to decide or make decisions for the majority. This strategy has been officially known as the “bottom to top-”the best in constitution making and review.
What this means is that the CRC review of the 1986 Constitution reached the common man-the man at the lowest ebb of society; the men and women in the villages, in towns in slum communities, on the streets; in tea shops and in less esteemed places. Also, the process embraced the educated and the uneducated as well as students, youth and various age groupings. The CRC’s quest was to solicit views on constitutional issues bordering on governance, justice, rights, development and the economy among others and to give ownership of the process to the people so that they would be proud of the final outcome and own their constitution with uncontestable loyalty.
Its mandate was to simply organize, manage, guide and lead the process. What the CRC could not do was to dictate or influence citizens’ views. And so, the process built its foundation on transparency, integrity, accountability, public participation, inclusivity and good governance. Throughout the process, these principles were neither diluted nor violated.
Political parties, civil Society organizations, students and youth and all others independently made decisions which culminated into the 25 recurring views. The CRC circulated its full report to the National Constitution Conference containing views of all stakeholders, role-players, and citizens of the 73 electoral districts of Liberia and the Diaspora without contestations or declaration that some of the views were that of the CRC. This is the level to which transparency and honesty received ovation.
As part of its mandate to guide the process, the CRC technical team sought to separate what it thought were policy and legislative issues within the 25 recurring views from those that did require constitutional attention. These were to be discussed at thematic sessions and based upon consensus obtain, each session would make their report to the Conference Plenary for final decision. Decisions reached by Plenary would be deemed amendable proposals to be submitted to the President of Liberia for on-ward submission to the Legislature.
Contrary to the above which was CRC’s option 1 strategy, the Conference demanded the full presentation of the 25 views which contained other critical issues that may have been handled as policy or legislative matters. At national conferences, the convening host does not make decisions unilaterally; but ensures that the conference is guided to reflect the will, wisdom and satisfaction of the majority through thorough consultations.
It became clear and uncompromising that the Conference demands had to be met in other to proceed any further. Gbarnga was a clear test of democracy and democracy took the day. The 25 recurring views as demanded were presented. The delegates opted for and enforced CRC option 2 strategy of full plenary determination of the 25 recurring views without its official introduction.
ELECTIONS AND POLITICAL PARTIES WALK OUT
A moment of interest seized the Conference Hall when discussion on how to proceed with the 25 recurring views was introduced. Again, the delegates unanimously threw out of the window the idea of breaking the views up into thematic sessions in preference to Penury’s decision on each view through the electoral process.
Political parties proposed secret ballot. The CRC responded by obtaining a ballot box and this writer was requested to circulate plain sheets to pass for ballot. Within a swift turn, another proposal came from the floor suggesting head count. A vote on how to vote became necessary. Secret ballot system was defeated. At this point, political parties walked out and began engaging the CRC to unilaterally over-turn the decision of the majority. This was difficult and impossible. This would have been dictatorial with grave consequences. Delegates were in groups ready to sack the entire conference if the will of the majority was over-turned. The Conference proceeded in the way of the majority.
Political parties claimed that the head count electoral process was illegal and would therefore take steps to ensure a writ of prohibition to prevent the will of the majority. But in the City of Buchanan on November 11-13, 2013, the CRC engaged political parties in a consultative forum where the head count electoral process was used to determine thematic issues and election of thematic groups’ leaders without objection to its illegality. This was a political party consultative forum where the CRC served as note takers. It therefore would seem strange that political parties would now consider the very same head count method as illegal.
Some delegates at the National Conference were heard commenting in pocket discussions that if head count is illegal, then bills, conventions, agreements, and other instruments enacted into law by the National Legislature are illegal because of the employment of the head count system. According to most of them, political parties failed to canvass or lobby delegates but preferred to take a lonely path. The Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) constructively engaged the process by aligning with the majority. The CDC received standing ovation from the 73 electoral districts.
CHRISTIAN NATION CONTROVERSY
The National Conference produced life changing results for the people of Liberia. The Conference voted critical issues that would cause a transformation in the governing and developmental process of Liberia. Unfortunately, these are over-shadowed by item 24 which is a voted view for a Christian Nation. This view was a result of its recurring nature than the view for a secular state or a multi-religious nation. This view was not influenced by the CRC nor did the CRC on its own inject or influenced any view that did not originate from the field. Liberians have demonstrated their will to make decisions and did practicalized democracy. The CRC should therefore be commended for its will to ensure that the people own the review process and were on top of same.
During the consultations, the CRC assured participants that views expressed by majority of the citizens across the nation would be taken as a recurring view. This was the method employed by the CRC by which the 25 recurring views were obtained. Nevertheless, at the Conference, two views were placed forward. The proposal from Sheik Akibo of the National Muslim Council of Liberia for a multi-religious nation/secular nation was put on the floor with reasons advanced by him and the proposal for a Christian nation.
Multi-religious nation was defeated by 415 votes against 18 votes. Again, democracy took the day. What the CRC could not do was to subvert the will of the majority without incurring grave consequences.Besides, to do so would have been counter-productive to the ideals of democracy which Liberians are striving to build and to CRC transparent principle.
However, all views voted for are subject to further consultations and are not yet laws. What aggrieved parties need to do is not to shift blames on the CRC for conducting a transparent democratic exercise; but by lobbying the National Legislature or campaigning when referendum comes. The just ended conference was a National Conference and not a Sovereign National Conference where decisions automatically become law.
NOTE: All views expressed here are not the official views of the CRC but those of the author from where he sat. He should therefore be held accountable as a citizen of Liberia for his opinions and not CRC.