Do People In Government Understand The “Unitary” Nature Of It?
By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
It is common sense that every government is guided by certain laws and rules by which it is expected to function in executing expected of them. In Liberia, we are guided by the Constitution, which is considered the “Organic Law,” meaning all other laws must be in conformity with that constitution. That is, whatever laws that are made, whether by the Legislature or not, must not contravene provisions of the constitution. The very constitution, gives details about the various functions of the various branches of the government. In Liberia, the Constitution provides for three, but coordinate branches of government. It names them as the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive. Each has specific functions. Notwithstanding, in other to ensure better coordination and functioning of these branches, they have to work together.
Article Three of the Liberian Constitution unambiguously states, “Liberia is a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes. The form of government is Republican with three separate coordinate branches: the Legislative, the Executive and Judiciary. Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches shall hold office in or exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the other two branches except as otherwise provided in this Constitution; and no person holding office in one of the said branches shall serve on any autonomous public agency.
It is elementary knowledge that the Legislative branch of government is responsible to make laws, while the Executive Branch is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the laws. Also, the Judiciary is there to interpret the laws. And so you see, although these are all separate branches, the very Constitution, being fully aware that one cannot succeed without the order, speaks of three “separate coordinate” branches. From the issue of “separate coordinate” branches, it is logical to deduce that one branch cannot exist without the other, or that one cannot succeed in the execution of its constitutional role without the other.
The World Book refers to coordinate as, “equal in importance; of equal rank based on or involving coordination.” This means that while it is true that these branches are separate, with distinct functions, they are equal in that one branch cannot see itself as being supreme over the other two. The issue of the three separate coordinate branches of government can be likened to that of the human body, which comprises many parts, but must work together to ensure the smooth function of the body. This is why some of these branches are given contempt powers. Although it is sometimes misused or misunderstood, it is necessary to avoid obstructing the functions of some of these branches by others.
Furthermore, the issue that “Liberia is a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes” and that “the form of government is Republican with three separate coordinate branches,” this simply means that despite the various political sub-divisions and separate branches, they are to function as a unit in the administration of the affairs of the country.
The government, as a unit, cannot be seen as working at variance or as a parallel administration. During the transitional period, this was prevalence. Understandably, this was so because the Constitution was not effective, as people appointed to the status quo were more obligated to the appointing powers (various warring faction groups.). But now that it is effective and in force, such should not exit.
Disappointingly, while it is true that the constitution is clear on the issue of three separate coordinate branches of government, it is sad to note that some individuals who find themselves in these branches have failed to realize that they should function as a unit. Noticeably, at times, this happens with people in the same branch of government. Some of them behave as though they are enemies, thus undermining the objective and function of the government. Besides, such behavior and attitude always bring the government to public disrepute and disgrace. At times, you find ministers at loggerheads; just recently, a Superintendent attacked a law maker; sometimes, it is one official in one branch obstructing the execution or enforcement of the order or decision of another branch of government.
The issue being raised should not be seen as suggesting that people in government should not speak out against some of the shortcomings in the government. NO! This is not the case. But the way it is done. People in government should speak out when things are not going the right way. One cannot be “BOBO” (a Liberian parlance for not being vocal when necessary). Many times we hear about the issue of retreat, meeting, seminar, workshop and assemblage by these branches. All of these should be geared towards self-assessment, self-evaluation.
To conclude, people in government, no matter the branch one finds himself or herself in, should graduate from this mentality of enmity. They should see themselves as people working for the same purpose and goal, and making sure that the right things are done. There must be mutual respect and better coordination.
Equally so, there should be no usurpation of functions, as such has the propensity of undermining the effectiveness of the governance structure, thereby, impeding its desired goals and objectives, as they relate to the overall national development.