By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Sometimes when assertions are made, they are intrinsically interpreted based on what the receivers (interpreters) feel what they really mean. Whenever lead producer MamadeeDiakite then of Truth FM morning program repeated the phrase that “Liberia Is Getting Better,“ it was interpreted by many in different ways. But his main intent, as he frequently said this is that Liberia was making progress. On the contrary, at times, people disagreed with him on grounds that all was not well in the country, as there are still problems that remain unsolved.
Comparatively speaking, if one were to recount some of the things that happened or transpired in the past and what is obtaining today, one is left with the conclusion, that indeed, “Liberia is getting better.”Truthfully and realistically, this does not mean that all is well as unquestionably there are still problems in the country. They include the issues of unemployment, farm-to-market roads, health, education and corruption.
Despite these problems one area in which we can proudly beat our chests as a people and nations relative to the issue of freedom of speech, even if one knowingly, intentionally and maliciously engages in fabrication and lies. I say this to bring to light that today we can openly disagree with our President and go to bed soundly or remain in the country.This is one of the things that Mamadee has been referring to.
It is an open secret that since President Sirleaf issued Executive Order 65 ordering all concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia during the ensuing special elections, including in particular rallies, demonstrations and parades prohibited and for 30 days after the announcement of election results, there have been plethora of reactions by individuals and groups. Consequently, this has even led to the Order being challenged before the Supreme Court, which has placed a “Stay Order” on its enforcement.
PRESS RELEASE ON THE EXECUTIVE ORDER
An Executive Mansion release on the Executive Order said,” President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has issued Executive Order No. 65 ordering all concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia during the ensuing special elections, including in particular rallies, demonstrations and parades prohibited and for 30 days after the announcement of election results.
According to an Executive Mansion release, Executive Order No. 65, signed by the Liberian leader on December 3, 2014, is intended to strengthen the efforts of the Government of Liberia to contain the spread of Ebola, protect the security of the State, maintain law and order, and promote peace and stability in the country.
Executive Order No. 65 noted that the existing law requiring persons desiring to march or demonstrate to obtain prior permits from the Ministry of Justice have proven ineffective to address rallies, parades and concerted mass movements on the streets of Monrovia and its environs.
It further stated that the Government has noted with concern the increasing number of incidents of concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia and its environs, including in particular rallies, demonstrations, and parades, which have led to persistent and frequent violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Laws of Liberia, obstruction of the free flow of traffic and the movement of peaceful citizens, the disruption of economic activities, and concomitant panic in the city with total disregard of the consequences thereof.
Executive Order No. 65 states that to allow the said conduct to continue with impunity and without control, will frustrate efforts to contain the Ebola virus disease in Liberia, undermine the security of the State and the maintenance of law and order, and negatively impact the economy.”
Unprecedentedly, since the issuance of the order, people continue to freely and critically denounce it. They include 14 lawmakers in Montserrado County who have fervently opposed the Order, and called on the President “to immediately retract or rescind it.”Accordingly, they filed a complaint with the Supreme Court, which resulted to the Stay Order.
Also, candidate Robert Sirelaf, the son of President who is one of the contenders for the Montserrado County race, objected to the order, claiming that it is “discriminatory, punitive and wrong” and therefore threatened legal action against the government for issuing the Order, which lawyers have done, also resulting to the stay order by the Supreme Court.
Likewise, independent candidate, Chris Neyor, has also denounced the Executive Order. Mr. Neyor, as was reported yesterday said attempt by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to arrogate onto herself the power to abrogate the Constitution is “reminiscent of the dark days” of the one-party dictatorship and Decree 88 (A), where the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people were openly abused.
For his part, the former political leader of the Liberty Party, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine has termed the order as “unconstitutional” and said that the President was usurping the lawmaking function of the National Legislature. He disagreed with the President that such an order was necessary because of the Ebola virus.
Yes, as I stated earlier, if there is anything that we can vaingloriously brag about today is this level of freedom that we can disagree with the President. As someone who has covered the three branches of government in the past and continues to observe political developments in the country, Liberia is indeed getting better in this aspect, judging from what happened in the past when it concerned the President or President’s interest.
I recall that during the late Samuel Doe’s administration, as President of this country, some members of the Liberian Senate were taken to task by him for “questioning” some nominations he made for confirmation. The late President, among the nominees named a lady as one of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. But because she did not meet the criteria for such a post, the Senate did not confirm her. That infuriated the late President who lambasted those Senators, some of whom were elected on the ticket of his party, the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL).
Similarly, during the administration of President Charles Taylor, some members of the Liberian Senate which then comprised of the majority of people elected on Taylor’s National Patriotic Party (NPP) fell in trouble with the President for trying to openly discuss issues from the Executive Branch, instead of just approving them. At one point, the former President said those Senators were there because of his party and not because they were really elected by the people they represented at the time, as the election was conducted based on what was known as “Proportional Representation.”
Because of the posture of the Senate for not being rubber-stamped, the pro-temp of that body at the time, now opposition leader, Charles Brumskine, was who suffered the uncompromising posture of the senate’s desire to hold open debate on national issues. As a result of that, Cllr. Brumskine, who was then Senator for Grand Bassa County, fell in trouble for trying to openly debate on issues from the Executive Branch, instead of just approving them surreptitiously.
Obviously, as the Brumskine’s administration refused to “comply,” a cat-and-mouse” relationship developed between the Pro-tempore and the Executive Branch. With that, Cllr. Brumskine resigned his post in March 1999 and subsequently resigned as Senator for the people of Grand Bassa County.
Accordingly, he was replaced in the post by Senator Keikura B. Kpoto of Lofa County, while Mr. Tom Woewiyu, in a by-election emerged victorious, thereby replacing Cllr. Brumskine. Smelling the rat, the then former Senator left the country for security reason, as it is said that self-perseverance is the first law of nature. Don’t ask me what happened after Brumskine’s departure.
During that time too, it was even an abomination to say anything critical of the government. I know of an incident in which Mr. James Torh, now one of the commissioners of the Independent Human Rights Commission said something critical of the regime, for which he was taken to court. He also fled the country.
Also, human rights lawyer, TiawonSayeGongloe in April 24 2002, felt similar wrath when he was arrested for comment he made. He was humiliated and beaten. Later he was transferred to a hospital and based on pressures from the international community, he too fled the country for fear that he could be rearrested and tortured.Report said Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International helped Gongloe and his family to leave Liberia. I may not end this article should I continue to name the many incidents of lack of freedom of speech during those days.
Howbeit, I try to recount these few ugly or undemocratic incidents in the past to indicate that we, as a nation and people, are making some strive in our democracy. Today, we can openly disagree with the President, without fear or apprehension. People can do so and remain in the country, without running away to seek political asylum in other countries.
Indeed, with this, we have to pat ourselves on the back because this is one of the things during the many years of struggle. This is not just as credit to the government, but the people who over the years prayed for this in our democracy. Some of our compatriots lost their lives in such struggles.
Again, I should not be misconstrued that all is well. No. I am aware of the many challenges facing the nation, and to suggest that all is well would be misstatement of the facts.
Hence, let us keep this democratic tenet, even if we disagree. Freedom of speech does not mean that we must agree with all that people say, but we must respect their rights to say so. It also requires that leaders, including the President, exercise tolerance to flourish this freedom.
Equally, we must do it with respect and high degree of civility. It must not be fraught with falsehood, profanities and reckless disregard for the truth. As was done recently, if it is something cognizable before the court like in the case of the Executive Order 65, let us proceed with that, rather than getting involved in violent and lawless acts.
In the same vein, let the government take a position on the Chronicle Newspaper to have it reopened, as its continual closure does not augur well for press freedom in the country.I Rest My Case.