By: Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
Hon. Bai Gbala, Sr.
According to the Analyst Liberia newspaper (Analyst Liberia, June 30, 2014), “The Constitution of Liberia, since the birth of (this nation and) government in 1847, is pillared on three-hinged legs – Legislature, Executive and Judiciary – professedly bequeathed with equal, coordinate powers in the governance of the state. Though much of the people’s power is theoretically, technically placed in the hands of the Legislature whose elected members directly represent every facet of the nation, the President, head of the Executive Branch, has stolen the entire show”. Therefore, according to the newspaper, the Speaker and President Pro-Temp of both the Lower and Upper Houses of the Nation’s Legislature, the constituted law-making body that served, diligently, under imperial executive during these 167 years of the nation’s existence as an independent, sovereign nation, now realized that the National Legislature is “drowning in subservience, struggles under imperial executive” (Highlight & italics mine). This effort is our Reaction.
Reflections in Liberian History - Powers of a Sitting President
Indeed, Articles 1 & 3 of the Liberian Constitution provide that “all power is inherent in the people”, and that “Liberia is a unitary state divided in counties (15 at the present) for administrative purposes”, respectively. However, Article 50 commands that “The Executive power of the Republic shall be (and is) vested in the President who shall be head of state and government . . .”, while Article 54 says that “The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Senate, appoint and commission” all executive branch officials who shall serve at his (President’s) will and pleasure and all judicial branch officials of government.
Thus, since 1847, throughout these years, all executive power – clearly, rigidly defined by and enshrined in our Constitution in a unitary-structured government - is duly vested and centralized in a President who, unquestionably controlled and controls the other, two branches of government, included and includes control of all state institutions and structures and, thereby, a sitting president influenced and influences, traditionally, the election of friendly candidates, irrespective of political party affiliation.
That since 1847, throughout the history of Liberia, governance and public administration remained and remains highly centralized in and controlled, mainly, by state institutions (controlled and dominated by a sitting president), condition which allowed no opportunities for the establishment of a system of participatory, local governance; that the highly centralized system of governance has impeded local initiative, contributed and continue to contribute the wide gap or difference in economic growth and development, equal access to social and economic opportunities and human well-being between that of a very few and the rest of the vast majority of the nation’s population; and that these conditions prevented and continue to prevent Liberia’s overall economic growth and development and the process of democratization, leading to under-investment in human resources and human well-being throughout the nation.
In the light of the foregoing conditions, it is reasonable to argue and conclude that it is the doctrine of Unitary Structure of our government, enshrined in our Constitution, that supports, maintains and sustains imperial power/presidency throughout the years; that Liberia’s socio-economic and political problem is structural - ills intrinsic in the Unitary Structure of government, not the so-called overbearing president with inordinate ego for power.
Decentralization of Political Power
Born, raised, lived and experienced life in our Traditional, socio-cultural Society of rural Liberian life, and later, life as well as in urban Liberia, with lifetime involvement at policy levels of our government, including the nightmare of our recent tragedy of the civil war. With and based on this life experience, we were privileged to participate in the National Conference 2024 on the future of Liberia, held on July 19, 1998, at the Unity Conference Center, Virginia, Liberia. We presented a Paper entitled, Decentralization of Political Power: A Framework for Regional Empowerment & Participation in National Decision-Making. The Paper argued, and argues today, for change, transformation and reforms, “that the Unitary System must be replaced by a much more democratic system of autonomous, regional county governments in a Liberian, federal government, as a viable, socio-economic and political, alternative option for the future of our nation”.
The President’s Pledge & Governance Commission
On January 6, 2006, in her first Inaugural Speech delivered to the nation, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, as President of Liberia, demonstrated foresight, vision, profound courage and encouragement for the future of our country, when she declared “. . . I pledge to bring the government closer to the people. The days of the imperial presidency . . . are over in Liberia . . . The Executive Mansion and ‘Monrovia’ will, no longer, be the only center of power . . . The people and their interests, as defined by them, will be at the very heart of our new dispensation of decentralization . . . of power” (Vol. 1 No. 1, Governance Commission Decentralization Bulletin, March 31, 2011). Indeed, these pledges of foresight and encouragement are, in fact, two of the major themes of the Paper on Decentralization.
It is, also, a pleasing encouragement to note that the President followed, with commitment and diligence, that pledge with formation and establishment of the national Governance Commission in 2011, a Government “Think Tank”, so to speak, on “Decentralization for Public Sector Reform”. For, this action affirms decentralization as a compelling, social, economic and political need in our country at this point in time.
According to our Paper on Decentralization, “successful achievement of this objective (decentralization and the rejection of imperial power) requires, among others, a revisit of our Constitution for repeal/amendment of the relevant provisions”. It is our understanding that there is a decentralization bill, now, pending before the Legislature to do just that. Therefore the ball is in the Legislature’s court of the Honorables Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro-Temp of the Senate.