The “Unitary” Nature 0f The Government: What Does It Mean?

By Atty Philip N.Wesseh (PNW)

It is common knowledge that every country must have a government to exist as the central administration or governing authority of that country. Government is also referred to as “the organization, machinery, or agency through which a political unit exercises authority and performs functions and which is usually classified according to the distribution of power within it.” 

The government, as an institution is charged with the responsibility of initiating policies and programs to bring about development, as well as those things necessary for the wellbeing and welfare of its people.

In this light, constitution, which is the organic law of the country, is made to serve as a guide, meaning that whatever laws are made, would be in consonance with the constitution of the country. It is the most important body of laws of a country that also contains to dos and don’ts of the governed and the government.

In the democratic setting like this country, as we learned in elementary schools, the government is divided into different branches, (The Legislative, the Judiciary and The Executive) to work together for the purpose for which government exists. To say it simply as to their principal and cardinal functions the Legislative Branch is charged with the responsibility of making laws; the Judiciary, with the responsibility of interpreting the laws and the Executive, with the function of enforcing the laws.

Constitutionally, while all of these under the Doctrine of the Separation of powers, have distinct functions, duties and responsibilities, it is said that they have to work together, or coordinate for the smooth running of the government, as each needs the others to effectively, efficiently and uninterruptedly exercise their functions and duties. Realizing that one cannot do without the other, the constitution speaks of coordinate branches. Coordinate, in this sense means, “to act together in a smooth concerted way”.

The provision in Article Three of the Liberian Constitution 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 Legislature, the Executive and the 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.”

Notwithstanding, the very Constitution while providing for separation of powers also stresses checks and balances. The essence of the checks and balances among these branches is to ensure that one branch is not too powerful than the others, or that no branch would engage in the usurpation of the functions of others.

But what is important to note is that this constitutional provision is to ensure proper functioning of the government through mutual respect for each other, cooperation and coordination, so that the government would be able to achieve its goals and objectives.

Regrettably, in the Liberian situation today, it seems that this constitutional provision is being misconstrued, principally for mere show of power, arrogance and selfishness for personal reasons, and not necessarily in the interest of the country. It is axiomatic by observing some developments around here that some people in the status quo behave as if they are not part of the same system.

Sadly too, there have been instances in which people in the same branch engage in acts unbecoming of their status to their colleagues in the same branch. The latest scenario is that between the Central Bank if Liberia (CBL) and the Ministry of Finance, which President Sirleaf revealed in her address on the economy of the country last Wednesday, which she noted is also contributing to the problem facing the economy.

Presently, there seems to be a problem with members of the Nimba County legislators. By listening to Sen. Prince Johnson yesterday and others in recent times, it is clear to surmise that there exists a serious rigmarole among these county lawmakers. Now with this kind of animosity or enmity, how can they collectively espouse the interest of their people? What a sad situation!

Sometimes ago, there was confusion between two officials of Sinoe County. Superintendent J. Milton Teahjay and Representative Matthew Zarzar that reached the House of Representatives, when Teahjay was found guilty and jailed. The point is why should such officials, if they are serving the interest of the people, be involved in any altercation. Furthermore, at one point, there was a problem between Rep. Acarous Gray and Finance Minister in which stooges and protégés were used to advance the cause of either the minister or the lawmaker. Why didn’t these individuals iron out whatever differences, being fully aware that they are part of the same unit?

Just recently, in the face of the budget shortfall, two lawmakers questioned the competence and qualification of the Finance Minister Amara Konneh, prompting his institution to respond accordingly. The response was termed as insulting and therefore the minister was asked to write a letter of apology to that body for the press statement.

Nauseatingly, to date, nothing has been said about the lawmakers who made insinuations or derogatory comments on the person of the minister. Again, this is the issue of power because if Konneh had not apologized, who knows, it could have resulted to contempt, which could have possibly being penalized by imprisonment, or any other action that could undermine the function or coordination between the two branches, owing to non-cooperation. But one thing I am sure of is that no lawmaker would take trivially anyone in the Executive Branch bringing their qualification and competence into question.

The issue Of Press Freedom And Freedom Of Speech

Today, we as a nation and people can vaingloriously say that relatively speaking there is press freedom and freedom of speech that we enjoy. This allows anyone to speak out on issues. But when one finds himself or herself in the public sector, one must be careful or mindful how he or she comments on issues and those that concern the reputation of others. This is why sometimes it is said that it is unwise for public officials to take everything to the press, or “run the government in the press.”

This was what I observed recently over the issue of budget being presented and not presented. Public officials should know that not everything is for public consumption, because sometimes this gives the public the impression of lack of coordination that the President spoke of between Finance and the CBL. At times, they have to discuss behind closed door and consult, without unnecessary publicity, which may sometimes lead to confrontation and controversy.

As the Constitution speaks of Liberia being a “Unitary Sovereign State,” it is mainly saying that the country is a unit that contains parts that constitutes it. Therefore, those who find themselves in the running of its affairs must realize this and work together, as a unit.

Unitary, as an adjective, as used in this context, means, “Having the character of oneness;” with synonyms such as, “undivided” or “whole.” Therefore,  those in the public sector must see themselves as being part of a unit, which can be likened to being in a canoe, that when it capsizes, all will be affected and should also see themselves as part of the whole that when one of the whole is out, it would definitely affect the whole.

The issue of Liberia being a “unitary state” also calls for mutual respect among the branches of government. That is, officials who find themselves in other branches should respect those of other branches, as each would need the other.

Just yesterday I was shocked to learn from truth FM that controversial Public Works Minister Antoinette Weeks, recently refused to meet a delegation from the Legislature that went to her office, requesting that the delegation should put into “writing” reasons why it wants to discuss with her. This, for me, is the height of insolence or disrespect and showy of arrogance.

Analogously, this situation of a unit is akin to that of the human body that contains various parts, for different reasons. As we learn in biology, the cell is defined as the basic unit of the human body. A group of them form the tissues; a group of tissues make up the organs and a group of organs, make up the systems and the groups of systems make up the human organism (the body).

And so you see, all of these parts must work for the body to function. The head, hand, eye, nose, ear, just to name a few have different functions which each must perform for the body to function properly.

As for the subject matter, it means that each branch of government depends on the other. This is why the concept of interdependence comes in. The Executive Branch needs the judiciary to carry out some acts; likewise, the Judiciary needs the Executive Branch to carry on some activities like the security of the state and the generation of resources; in the same vein, the Legislative Branch needs the Executive Branch and that the Executive needs the Legislative Branch to move on.

For example, if the President nominates, she expects the Senate to carry on the confirmation. Also, if the Judiciary found someone guilty of a crime, or if the Legislative Branch found someone guilty of contempt and that person is sentenced, the Executive Branch is expected to enforce those decisions. Similarly, the Executive Branch again expects the Legislative Branch to give approval before enforcing certain actions or decisions, such as concession agreements.

So you see, these branches are separate and distinct, but they have to “coordinate” for the governance process. There should be mutual respect and courtesies. Let those in the public sector know that if the canoe capsizes, all will fall in the water, but if it sails well, all would safely and happily get ashore.

Until some of those in public sector eschew any act of selfishness, arrogance, show of power, to deliver the good, nothing concrete would be accomplished; it would just be talk, talk, big show and shameless display of being the people’s servants, as the phrase, “THE PEOPLE” is always used to ingratiate or conciliate the ordinary people that these public servants are working in their interest, when, instead, they are not.

As I end this piece, I have been careful by qualifying my comment by saying, “SOME” because I am convinced that there are some serious, committed, selfless public officials who are au courant with the dictates of the doctrine of the Separation of Power. Again, without coordination it would be like a ship without compass, which would certainly be heading for destruction of lives and properties.

Until our public officials realize that they have to coordinate, work together and mutually respect one another to move the country from backwater to prosperity, I Rest My Case.