By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
One of the adages that I subscribe to is the one that says, “Education Has No End,” as knowledge and experience can be acquired on a daily basis, perhaps by interacting with people, witnessing some events or being a part of certain occasions. This was what I experienced last weekend when, I, as a late comer, attended a forum intended to reflect on some of the activities of former Interim President, Dr. Amos Sawyer, then, an instructor of Social Science at the University of Liberia many years ago.
The forum was part of activities marking his 70th birth anniversary, which was organized by friends and well-wishers of Dr. Sawyer in collaboration with the University of Liberia held last Friday. It was a commemorative lecture of a mock session of social science 201 in celebration of the scholarship of the celebrant, former dean of Liberia College and former professor of political science, University of Liberia. It was held under the theme: “The State Of Democratic Governance In Africa And Its Challenges” in the auditorium of the University of Liberia, on Capitol Hill.
Perhaps by providence, I arrived during the questions and answers period after the formal presentation of the lecture by Dr. Sawyer, who is now Chairman of the Governance Commission. As it is often said in journalism, sometimes the formal presentation does not make the news, but at times from responses the questions and answers period. This can also be likened to a soccer match where the result may come during the injury or stoppage time.
It was this I experienced last Friday at the Lux in Tenebris (“Light In Darkness”), as this learned professor responded to questions from the audience, including instructors, students, as well as the former chairman of the national election commission (NEC) James Fromayan,; former Internal Affairs Minister Blamo Nelson, Deputy Information Minister Atty Isaac Jackson, the Deputy Director General of the Liberia Institute of Public Administration (LIPA), Richard Panten and Moses Roberts, also an instructor. Intuitively, from the little portion I attended, journalists who covered the event had stories for the rest of the week.
As for me, my job here today is to comment on three important comments that Dr. Sawyer made that I feel need to be communicated to others for the purpose of education. The three relate to the issue of “self-interest,” the use of the “endorsement” whenever the Cabinet takes a decision and also the usual wrangling between the Executive and Legislative branches of government.
On the issue of the cabinet endorsing a decision, Dr. Sawyer said that under our system of governance, it is incorrect to also say that the “Cabinet endorses or Cabinet Endorsed” a particular position or policy to be implemented by the government. He said the use of the word; ‘endorsement’ is more suitable under the parliamentary system where the ministers are also members of parliament.
Seeking an alternative to the issue of endorsement, Deputy Minister Isaac Jackson, then asked Dr. Sawyer what kind of characterization is more appropriate when the Cabinet takes a decision. To that, Dr. Sawyer said “recommendation” or “advice” would be more appropriate. It can be re-worded to say, “The Cabinet Recommends or “The Cabinet “Advises”.
The Governance Commission Chairman reiterated that there is a need for the rewording in case a decision is taken by the Cabinet, as the use of endorsement is not the best because the President, unlike the parliamentary system, ‘is not obliged,” as in the case of the parliamentary system to act on such decision(s). He said if President does this, it is only out of courtesy. He then provoked laughter when he said, “nobody voted for them (Cabinet),” as the only person vested with such power is the President.
Closing on the issue, Dr. Sawyer pointed out that in such a situation it is prudent to say, the Cabinet recommends or the Cabinet advises the President, as it is only the President that can endorse. And so from now on, this is a good education for mainly media journalists and public affairs personnel in the government, as it is appropriate to always say, the Cabinet recommends, or the Cabinet advises, and the President endorses, rather than saying the Cabinet endorses or endorsed. Indeed, education has no end as people live.
The second issue relates to whether or not the Legislative Branch of government can “instruct” the Executive Branch; another concerns Deputy Minister Jackson. To that, the political scientist said it does not work that way. He then stressed better coordination and collaboration. Dr. Sawyer said sometimes engagement out of the media, as well as consultation would help to alleviate some of the tensions that erupt sometimes between those two branches of government. He said it is not prudent to also take to the microphone (meaning going public).
On the last point of interest to me is the issue of “self-interest.” Many times we are told that “man is a selfish being.” But at his occasion last Friday, Dr. Sawyer, former professor of political science at the University of Liberia, described what he referred to as self-interest when it is understood and “self-interest when it is not understood.”
He said there is nothing wrong with self-interest. He said people or countries have to seek their interest. But he pointed out that what matters is the consideration of the interest of others. Dr. Sawyer said this is what citizenship is about, as nobody wins it all or nobody loses it all.
Indisputably, this assertion by Dr. Sawyer is subject to all kinds of interpretations. It may be interpreted in a negative or positive manner. But from my understanding of this from a positive view, is that it simply means that naturally people and nations would always seek their interests. Politically, this is even tied to nationalism and patriotism. But by doing so, certain things must be taken into consideration.
For me, this can be compared to undertaking a project in a community. In this light, those undertaking the project must consider the interest, welfare and well-being of others in another community. A community cannot be involved in a project for itself that would cause noxious consequences to those of other communities.
As I conclude this piece, let me thank the organizers of this great forum that has now provided some education and thoughts. What remains now is to see whether or not this erroneous characterization of “endorsement” will now be something of the past and that the Executive and Legislative Branches of government would ensure proper engagement, collaboration and coordination to curtail some of the unnecessary wrangling between the two, especially so with this latest debate on the proposals by Education Minister George Werner.
As the Constitution states, there are three branches of government- Legislative, Judiciary and Executive that are separate but coordinate. This means that each needs the other. And so to achieve this, there must be mutual respect, positive engagement, collaboration and coordination.
Until these issues pointed out by Dr. Sawyer are seriously observed by those concerned, I Rest My Case.