By: Augustus Daikai Jones
Most people may be thinking that a lot has been done to determine that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf can make that significant a difference. However, if the argument is that the infrastructural changes are enough to show a change of direction, then at least, a trend toward some standards should emerge, especially if the trend is toward democratic governance.
Of cause, there is no dispute about the need for a change. In fact, the Constitution allows that a change is due when a government ceases to respond to the wishes of the governed. In that case, the government can be altered and reformed; because, the “safety” and “happiness” of the people would require it. Nevertheless, the change in question is one that should be done through the Constitution, and not through armed conflicts. However, if a problem arising from the President’s inattention to the needs of the people has to do with how the Constitution is written, then there is a need for concern.
The current (1986) Liberian Constitution has given overwhelming power to the Presidency. The imbalance created by the shift has produced an effect that approaches absolute power, especially in the hand of a Chief Executive already hungry for power. This defect is in the 1986 Constitution. No wonder that the past two full term presidents under the 1986 Constitution never hesitated to use power where negotiations might have solved a problem.
This brings to mind the dictum of Lord Acton that “Power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In the case of the Liberian Constitution, the sheer size of the power allotted to the Executive is enough to invite abuse by an otherwise tamed Chief Executive. Unless the President lobbies with the 53rd Legislature to rise to the occasion and repeal all those “extra statutory laws“ that have given the presidency extra constitutional power, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will not distinguish herself as any different from her predecessors in terms formulating policies and implementing them in this Second Republic of Liberia.
The extra constitutional power of the presidency became a culture in our political system especially in 1963 when a territorial delineating commission completed a survey that produced the four inland counties of Lofa, Bong, Nimba and Grand Gedeh. For the new counties whose citizens had not fully understood their rights under the Constitution, some rules and regulations called “Interior Laws”, made to govern the residents of the hinterland. Since 1847 there had not been any exercise of governmental power by any of those subdivisions of the state, except as delegated by the central government. Thus, the Interior Laws give the presidency extra-power, one of the essential elements of bad governance.
Article 50: “It shall be the policy of the government to administer tribal affairs by indirect rule through tribal chiefs….”
Article 51: “Each tribe shall be governed by a paramount chief who shall be elected to that position by the council of chiefs hereinafter described, subject to such conditions as the President may prescribe.”
Article: 53:1 “Clan chiefs shall be elected by popular vote of the members of the clan in the manner as prescribed by the president.”
Article 54:1 “Even though the paramount chief is elected by the council of chiefs, but his duty or function has to be by instruction from time to time from the District Commissioner, who is appointed by the President”
Article 70:1 “All cases arising between civilized people shall be tired in the court of the District Commissioner.”
Article 70:2: “All appeals arising from the judgment of the paramount chief shall lie in the court of the District Commissioner.
The 1986 Constitution solidified those extra statutory laws that have given the presidency extra constitutional power (Article 56: b)
“There shall be elections of paramount, clan and town chiefs by the registered votes in their respective localities, to serve… and may be removed only be the president….”
Through President Johnson Sirleaf inherited this bad clause, she will be held fully accountable, not only because she is being informed about it in this medium, but because she is most knowledgeable of the “Problems and needs” of the Liberian People.
The President has to do away with the “Vertical Approach” in applying the available resources. For Example: the “down-sizing policy”, were non- loyalists give way for loyalist in the allotment of government jobs. The “down-sizing policy” the President adopted (Robert Kilby just applied it) does not guaranteed the “safety and happiness” of the people of Liberia. The effect is that any resulting burden is spread unevenly. Should we believe that the President is not aware that this approach creates hatred and division among the people?
Let not the Liberian people be taken for granted, again. Let the policies of President Sirleaf be “Horizontal” when economic measures are taken to ensure the “safety and happiness” of the people. However, if the President chooses the policies of her predecessors, and the actions of the Government lead to the same disgruntled reactions, no place on earth will be a “safe place” for any Liberian.
In our judgment, if the President takes one of two measures, she will make, the mark of distinction (a legacy unbeaten, herein and after):
- Hold a Convention on the 1986 Constitution and be able to agree on balanced governing power among the governing institutions in a new Constitution, or
- Adopt the “ Draft Constitution” by Dr. Amos C. Sawyer
Constitution Commission, and hold a referendum.
We are saying “No” to the sweeping powers of the presidency because the environment, which has been created by this political system, is unconducive for the formulation and implemental of the collective good of our society. Politics cannot freely take place, because this system does not see transactional processes to involve conflict, bargaining, coalition and compromises.
Let us meet to restructure our government to function as a flexible unitary system that each county keeps not less than 65% of the revenue collected in said county for development purposes. By then, “Claims Courts” will be constituted throughout Liberia and anyone, for that matter, can and will be persecuted for any act of corruption, whether he/she is a governor or is been governed.
Except there can be legal limited on the President’s power constitutionally, there will never be the guaranteeing of certain fundamental rights and freedom which will assure the people to an equitable share in their resources and wealth.
To justify equality and disprove discrimination, let President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf give an opportunity to every Liberian so that, we the people of Liberia, can improve our economic, social and political welfare. Let the Liberianization polices be revealed and enforced. Let a “Close Door” policy replace the “Open Door” Policy that continues to cause the depressions we have in our society.
If the distribution of resources and wealth among the Liberian people cannot be the greatest issues for President Sirleaf, (to institutionally arrange a functioning political system-as a legacy) we will be dragged back into the mess we are struggling to get out of.
Except we can break away from the “ Colonial Legacy” that has become a culture by meeting in a “ Constitutional Convention” to negotiate general agreements about how we behave and act to each other, the crisis in Liberia will be very difficult , if not if not impossible, to settle.