University Degrees: A Prerequisite for Presidential Appointments? What Says The Constitution?

The world transforms at the tick of the clock on various parts of the globe. As the wheels of transformation turns, progressive patterns of humanity and history are revealed. One of the stubborn realities we come face to face with is the wheels of knowledge and the ever progressive speed at which it turns. In the sixties and seventies, the knowledge of type writing machine and its demand of professionals usurped the skills and application of hand written documents. Prior to that, penmanship was given serious attention in our schools. 

Today, these two have evaporated and replaced by computer. Now, we are in the computer age. Everything from drafts to finished documents is done on computers. Most executives and office personnel have lost their writing skills. The powers of knowledge and inventions have indeed altered human history and life and leading us to the peak of either despair or hope of survival; comfort or discomfort; development or destruction.

In developed nations, governments’ budgetary increases on social welfare benefits are alarming. Considering the pressure which modern inventions have come to bear on the labor force, governments are finding ways to compliment drastic reduction in the labor industry which is costly and demanding. Robots are replacing human labor and homes dining areas are being left of their former joy and happiness. Fathers can hardly put bread on the table for their kids. Mothers are left with frustration and early wrinkles as they listen to the hunger cries of their children. 

Machines have taken over and are being fed and those with potentials and experiences are left unemployed. Strikes and tensions have taken over societies and one wonders whether things would ever be normal. No thanks but yet thanks to the power of knowledge which comes with scholastic degrees from academic and professional institutions and have become the demanding basis for societal recognition and preferment in the human resource industry.

As the world goes through progressive changes, this West African Nation called Liberia is also striving to be like Great Britain, United States, and even Canada. Sooner or later, this trend might ignore important focuses of our constitution and might cause defacto alterations. In many sectors, the academic thrills have permeated the employment industry and make void years of experience and competence which come without credentials from universities especially the ones from overseas. 

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is either credited or criticized for this trend. But is she wrong for placing emphasis on education? The answer is a captivating no. Every nation must encourage the highest academic excellence and professional credentials as a bench mark for development. Thus, her emphasis on credentials in the past has today opened a floodgate of universities and the quest for learning. However, this trend should not also disenfranchise certain segment of society whose contributions have and continue to overwhelm those with credentials. 

Liberia industrial enclaves must be steered by Liberian industrialists properly trained and prepared to compete with American and European industrialists. For this, we do encourage emphasis on credentials and where and how they are obtained. While this is what we want as a nation, it is also suicidal to undercut other achievers of our society who have proven professional abilities and experiences to move the nation forward  in much the same direction as those with credentials and in some of the often cases, much better than those preferred with the highest academic credentials.

Thus in nation building, collectivity of all potentials are required whether obtained from universities at home or abroad or experiences and potentials acquired through gifts or years of work and practice. In other to fulfill the general expectation of society, governors/leaders also have to be sensitive to callings, talents, ingenuities, experiences and not only academic credentials. We have learnt that in the business community, business executives expect results to move their businesses forward whether performed by a scholar or one with only the experience. Their interests are time, force and distance. That is work done. This is also applicable to national governance.

It is observantly true that President Sirleaf has complex and difficult choices to make as she seeks to conclude her vision for Liberia and leave a lasting legacy from her years of political struggle. I think Liberians should trust her wisdom. The recent appointments by the President have attracted so much academic research and condemnations from cross section of the Liberian populace on choices they believe lack expected academic requirements. But in the view of the constitution, serious affront is being committed.

The President of Liberia exercises the power of constitutional pleasure in the appointment of her cabinet and other officials as stipulated in article 56 of the Liberian constitution. This provision does not authorize the President’s appointments to be guided by academic credentials or years of experience. Rather, her appointments are guided by her pleasure which means she reserves the right to appoint anyone she believes can best perform.

Any insistence by the Liberian Senate on academic attainment or that of the public shall however abrogate the consistency of the constitution and the social contract entered into by the citizens of the Republic on how the state is to be governed. Article 56a expressly states that “ all cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials, both military and civilian, appointed by the President pursuant to this Constitution shall hold offices at the pleasure of the President.” As crucial as academic consideration is in this age and time, there are important reasons why the framers omitted academic qualifications and their wisdom should be researched and respected in our time.

For example, there are present instances where performances by people waving academic credentials are dismal and there are instances where those with only years of experience outshine the ones with credentials and are highly depended upon. To deprive them on the basis of university credentials does not serve the national good and would further cause the violation of Article 18 of the Liberian Constitution which states that “all Liberians shall have equal opportunity for work and employment irrespective of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and shall be entitled to equal pay and equal work.”

While this is not suggesting that education should be deprioritized, it is important that note is taken on those Liberians who had no opportunity of academic advancement but have over the years developed specialized skills and years of experience and are today largely depended on in most government offices to do the job. When they are preferred by the President, it is because she believes they possessed the potentials to help her accomplish her vision for Liberia. 

This writer recalls that there was public condemnation of Darius Dillion not possessing University credentials when he sought the people’s mandate to serve in the Liberian Senate. Unfortunately, callers and writers failed to recognize his illustrious performance as Special Assistant to the Solicitor General of Liberia, Chief of Office Staff to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Chief of Office Staff to the Senior Senator of Bong County. Mr. Dillion is no doubt one of Liberia’s noted intellectuals who ventures into critical and professional discussions as radio and television studio guest on difficult and complex areas of national politics and governance. His performance in the execution of responsibilities thrust upon him has never been dismal. He is a resourceful young man who passes for a Master’s Degree Holder. Should he not be preferred to get national agenda accomplished? Has the constitution limited him?

Of late, Liberians are again questioning the wisdom of President Sirleaf’s appointment of former Grand Kru Senator Nelson Blamo on arguments that he does not have a university degree and therefore should be denied by the Senate. But there are no doubts that Blamo’s performances over the years in top governmental positions rate far beyond many doctorates. 

The 52nd Liberian Senate relied on his technical and professional abilities in crucial areas such as budget analysis and the modernization plan of the Liberian Legislature now in force. His colleagues from both Houses believe the Legislature has suffered irreparable loss by his absence. He was a great Senator. On the intellectual front, the former lawmaker is counted as one of Liberia’s best. His expertise on organization and finding ways forward cannot be overemphasized and disputed. The appointment of him as Minister of Internal Affairs is believed to be to the advantage of the Liberian Government.

Article 20a of the Liberian Constitution says “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of their person, property, privilege or any right except as a result of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in the Constitution and in accordance with due process of law…”. This provision emphasizes privilege and rights to exist. I think the basis for rejection of presidential nomination should more profoundly dwell on character, moral rectitude, and past performance records. 

The Liberian Senate should therefore refrain from passing judgments on issues which have no constitutional reliance. The constitutional rights of the President should not be abrogated by the Liberian Senate or by the public. Also, the right for a citizen to serve in capacities that commiserate with years of experience and ability should not be unconstitutionally denied.

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