A Case for Strengthening our Democratic Institutions

By John F. Josiah

The Perspective

October 29, 2001

This era in Liberia is characterized by the heightened desire of the presidency and an immense preoccupation with the politics of state power. Every noticeable politician in our nation deepest concern and dream is the presidency. While it is everyone constitutional right to freely contest the highest seat of our nation, it is equally important to pay particular attention to those fading institutions that are very critical to our Democracy, institutions such as the Legislative and Judicial branches of the government. These branches of government are relevant and central to the concept of Democracy.

In fact, the failure of our Democracy over the past century did not only rest with the failure of the Executive branch, but can be equally blamed on the miserable failure of the other two branches of the Government. Due to the failure of the Judiciary and Legislative branches, the president has wielded enormous power. Such an extraordinary power has clothed the president with unquestionable conducts, which has shamelessly led to an uncontrollable influence over the Executive branch on the other two branches, an influence, which has crossed constitutional demarcations. The "cult of the Liberian presidency", its powering nature, which have been written and spoken about, has undermined the very foundation of our fledgling democracy.

Consequently, it has rendered the application of our constitution and the laws of the Republic of Liberia ineffective. Our system of checks and balances in all sectors of the government no longer exist. The president dictates the functions of the two remaining branches of the government. The outcome of this unconstitutional power of the president, led to the abuse of power and completely violated the civil and constitutional rights of the Liberian people, and has simply reduced the laws on the books to mere documents and regulations that do not protect the citizenry.

Laws are intended to serve as primary tools a state has to achieve its goal, define and protect the rights of citizens irrespective of class, creed, race, ethnicity, or economic status; and to balance competing interests among its constituents. However, where the president dictates to the judicial process, especially when the rules of law are disgracefully circumvented by the influence of the president, the rights of the citizens are dangerously compromised, hence poor governance. When a state is poorly governed, the legitimacy and authority of the state is equally compromised. On the other hand, when the citizens know what the law is and that the law is based on sound principle of justice, indiscriminately and consistently enforced, the people will have faith in its authority and those that govern.

As a matter of fact, the Legislative and Judicial branches are crucial in the practice of democracy. If these two institutions are rotten and staffed with scurvy, licentious human beings and felons, as it is the case in Liberia today, it will be unrealistic to believe and expect any president to effectively govern. No matter who becomes president! It is therefore inherently dangerous to ignore the importance of these vital institutions of democracy while we direct all of our efforts to the presidency.

In the absence of a strong independent thinking members of both the Judiciary and Legislative branch of the government, the nation retrogress economically, politically, and socially. Institutional safeguards must be given specific and equal attention in our effort to fostering democracy in our society. They must be staffed with men of principles and outstanding characters. We all are living witnesses to the shameless manipulation of the Judicial and Legislative branches of our government in recent time. A classic case is the firing of the Chief Justice James Nagbe of Liberia by President Doe. The Chief Justice’s crime was his refusal to accept bribe. Another case was the unlawful removal of the President Pro Tempore, Charles Walker Brumskine. We also witnessed the recent trial of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nyudueh Morkonmana and his subsequent resignation. A week after his resignation, he was re-elected Speaker, all at the remote control of a strong president who has no regard for the members of the legislature. Worst of all, we have on several occasions observed with great disappointment the non-trial of criminals who committed crimes on the instruction of the president.

It is with this sad chapter in our nation, that the intellectuals and politicians, should re-examine our ambitions with the hope to strengthening the Judicial and Legislative branch of our government by running for seats in these areas and not to concentrate solely on the presidency. Our focus must be directed to these institutions of democracy. The power of the president must be checked, if democracy is to survive in our nation. When an effective Judicial and Legislative branches exist, the presidency will be checked - therefore, render it equal to the other two branches. In view of the above, I am appealing to the countless presidential aspirants to reconsider other areas of vital importance in which they could in our country. The unnecessary crowding of the field to contest the presidency is unrealistic and diminishes the position.

For the sake of democracy and the interest of all Liberians, we will appreciate if the contestants for the presidency are reduced to a maximum of two. It is absolutely non-sense to see a country of little over three million people with fifteen (15) presidential contestants. We cannot afford to demean the presidency with unrealistic ambitious elements of our society. We must work towards the process of building a strong Judicial system that have men of will who could try the president if need be, and a stronger lawmaking body with men who are willing and ready to indict the president when the president violates an impeachable offense. This is possible when men of impeccable characters and outstanding national credentials staff the two branches.

Liberia has been effectively reduced to a dumping ground of all evils that constitute an unquestionable affront to the concept of democracy by the display of constitutional ineptitude. The country is bleeding profusely and need healing; by strengthening all of our democratic institutions we give it new life. We must begin the process by fostering a genuine democracy not only at the presidential level but also in all areas. We can do this by replacing the currently crop of people in charge of these institutions; this can be done by taking high interest in these two branches, which are the pillar of a democracy.

Our people are tired of been held hostage in refugee camps and in exile due to individual greed and unrealistic political calculation. What troubles me the most is that most of these countless contestants for the presidency have not lived with the people they wish to lead for any acceptable period. They have not identified themselves with the problems of the Liberian people. Most of them have not travel to more than one political subdivision of our country in their entire life. Moreover, these born-again democrats in the past, sided with an oppressive system when many of us were struggling to bring about a democratic society.

Lastly, I call for the reduction of the number of contestants for the presidency and plead to strengthening the Judicial and Legislative branches. We cannot afford to leave those vital institutions of democracy unattended, because others will capitalize on these openings and fill them with people who are not interested in building a sustainable democracy in Liberia.

Editor's Note: John Josiah is a Liberian Lawyer based in the Washington, D. C. area.

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