By Jerome J. Verdier, Sr.
July 3, 2011
If the front page lead story in the Tuesday, June 21, 2011 of the New Democrat Newspaper is anything to go bye, Liberians will be witnessing yet another arrogant display of political power which ignores the opinions of the public, violates the Constitution and laws of Liberia with the usual impunity.
In that New Democrat story the Government announced that it is submitting a bill from the Governance Commission with the endorsement of the President to the National Legislature that “…will see major changes in government, including the election of County Superintendents…and other county administrators to serve for four years after which they can be eligible for another term.”
This move is typical of politicians who thrive on the supposed ignorance of the people believing strongly that the electorates are fools and will swallow any stuff thrown down their throats because they are hungry and gullible. The Government is selfishly exploiting the loyalty, aspirations and good will of the Liberian people because it knows very well that the appointment of superintendants is a compelling constitutional provision which conforms to the structure of the Liberian state and which cannot be changed or amended by legislative enactments as fashioned, designed and anticipated by the Governance Commission and the Her Excellency the President of Liberia, except by constitutional amendment.
The Constitution of Liberia provides in Article 3 that “Liberia is a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes…” Whereas Article 54(d) provides further that “The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the
Senate, appoint and Commission: d) Superintendents, other county officials and officials of other political sub-divisions;”
The proposed Legislation is clearly in violation of the letter, spirit and intent of the Liberian Constitution and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Dr. Amos C Sawyer, more than any other persons bear the burden of history to lead the Country along the path of genuine reform within the rule of law context and utmost respect for the Constitution of Liberia, having opposed and undermined previous administrations of Tolbert, Doe and Charles Taylor for violating the constitution and disregarding the rule of law.
The Government cannot claim, by this proposed Act, to be pursuing constitutional reform and decentralization whilst planning an ill-fated and illegal referendum that violates the very constitution it intends to amend in just two months down the road. This is only possible if the government by its so-called “implementation strategy” for decentralization and the election of superintendents and local officials is anticipating yet another constitutional amendment by another referendum which will confirm and validate our arguments in a February 2011 letter to the President, Vice President and the entire National Legislature that the 2011 referendum is not only premature, but it is ill-conceived, self-serving, illegal, unconstitutional and amounts to unnecessary waste of scarce public resources towards achieving a selfish political end that benefits only current members of the legislature, the judiciary and President Sirleaf, without any compelling public interest objective.
If this government in any way prizes or values public opinions, it would have heeded the opinions of civil society, some opposition politicians and the recommendations in the February 2011 letter of Cllr Jerome J Verdier, and uphold the Constitution of Liberia supreme and postpone or cancel the ill-fated 2011 Referendum and alternatively pursue a national program of genuine
constitutional reform which will involve popular discussions of constitutional reform priorities at all levels of the Liberian society.
In the 26 page communication to the Government on issues of amending the Constitution and the so-called 2011 Referendum, Cllr Verdier presented eleven (11) alternative proposals which he said could be considered in any rational constitutional reform process. Those proposals included, amongst others, reducing the tenure of office for elected officials and decentralization which is now the subject of government’s proposed new legislation which, from all indications above, is unconstitutional and therefore illegal.
For the benefit of memory and ease of reference, quoted below verbatim are sections 4.1 and 4.2 of Cllr Verdier’s February 2011 communication to the Government presenting alternatives which should be considered in any constitutional reform or amendment process:
“4.1. Devolution of Power. Many Liberians believe the powers of the presidency in Liberia is enormous and therefore the source of abuse. That not only should the powers of the president be reduced but greater autonomy should be accorded provincial administrations and the other two branches of government so that they are truly independent of the executive branch. This we believe will curtail the “cult of the presidency”, institute much needed checks and balances in government and eliminate the “imperial presidency” the current administration swore to do. Any credible discussion on constitutional reform, not amendment, must consider this issue as a national imperative considering our history of powerful presidents that have led to misuse and abuse of office, power and authority that invariably led to war, deaths, destruction and the national malaise that haunts us today.
4.2. Decentralization of socio-political and economic power. Considering our national experience of war and the corresponding link between greed, corruption, human rights violations and political domination and the violent thrust for power, Liberians have long held that decentralization of political and economic power, wealth and opportunity is at the core of the reform agenda in Liberia. Majority of Liberians fervently believe that the unitary system of government in Liberia must be modified to provide for greater democracy in which superintendants, mayors, county attorneys, district commissioners, etc will be elected during mandatory frequent elections. Also that resource allocation and wealth creation and distribution should be broadened and expanded to guarantee each political subdivision a percentage of the national economic pie based on predetermined variables that account for local priorities, goals and development in relations to national priorities. This proposition is even more imperative and worthy of a constitutional forum prior to the exploitation of the oil resources of Liberia. Otherwise, our resources will continue to be a curse, rather than the blessings ALMIGHTY GOD endowed us with. I don’t see how this aspiration could have ever eluded Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. The concept here is what has broadly been termed “balanced and equitable
development”. This will be an improvement of the executive plan imbedded in the county development fund that wasted nearly US$20million in national resources over the years.”
Instead of yielding to popular opinions and suggestions, the Government is embarking on a “back-door” scheme to popularize itself with the electorate and pretend as if it has monopoly over ideals which holds the archaic notion that only those who work for government and/or sing its praises are good and those who do not work for government or critical of government’s actions or policies are no good, especially when one speaks truth to power. On this matter of constitutional reform, the Government of Madam Sirleaf is grievously proceeding wrongly and must stop, otherwise a new mess is being created for us to correct in the future.
This statement therefore calls on the Government to abandon its perceived course of legislative amendments of the Constitution of Liberia to have superintendants and local officials elected because of its obvious and inherent constitutional violations and cancel the forthcoming 2011 Constitutional Referendum and pursue a genuine process of democratic constitutional reform that will embrace popular participation of the Liberian people as its hall mark in a comprehensive process of reform that embodies the genuine aspirations of the Liberian people for greater democracy, transparency, accountability, equity, justice and the rule of law within the framework of existing laws and the Constitution of Liberia until otherwise legitimately determined by the people of Liberia.
What obtains is a Government selfishly exploiting the legitimate aspirations of the Liberia people for greater democracy and constitutional reform; pursuing its normal trend of legal and constitutional violations inherent in the 2011 Referendum, the Threshold Joint Resolution, the Constitution of the Elections Commission, Demarcation of constituencies, New Election Commission Fees for candidates and many more which have the tendency to erode the credibility of the electoral process and undermine the legitimacy of its outcome.
ISSUED IN MONROVIA ON JUNE 29, 2011
Jerome J. Verdier, Sr.
COUNSELLOR AT LAW