P. A. Rib House Consultative & Interactive Forum

Speech delivered by the Vice President on behalf of the President of the Republic of Liberia
Speech delivered by the Vice President on behalf of the President of the Republic of Liberia
Photo Credit: CRC


On October 5, 2012, about a month after the establishment of the Constitution Review Committee by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, members of the Committee galloped into action by extending invitations to stakeholders comprising political parties, civil society organizations, business community, youth representative groups, women groups, members of the National Legislature, members of the Liberia Bar Association and dignitaries such as Mrs. Paula Vaquez, Representative of the European Union, Mr. Louis M. Aucoin, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General to attend a consultative and interactive forum on the review of the 1986 Constitution. Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai deputized for the President of the Republic of Liberia.


Professor, Dr. D. Elwood Dunn, Member of the CRC, welcomed the Vice President, dignitaries and stakeholders and expressed appreciation to them for honoring the invitation of the Committee.


In his welcome remarks, Dr. Dunn pointed out that constitution making and review take two forms which are the Top to Bottom method or the BOTTOM–TO-TOP method. He pointed out that the Bottom to Top method is the best and this was what the South Africans did during the making of their constitution. Dr. Dunn said the CRC has resolved to use the South Africa Approach. In view thereof, consultations would be conducted in that line with the Liberian people to inquire from them what they think went wrong with the 1986 Constitution.


Speaking on behalf of the Committee, Cllr. Gloria Musu   Scott told participants that in September 2012, the Committee had introductory meeting with stakeholders and partners which included political parties and civil society organizations. At that meeting, it was agreed that the work of the committee should be thorough, substantive and non-superficial.


It was further suggested that the committee should not allow itself to be influenced, manipulated or controlled to ensure that the result of their (CRC) work have the trust and confidence of the public and that the committee should ensure there is sufficient consultation and participation of the citizens in every part of the country and the Diaspora so that Liberians can own the process and outcome of the committee’s work.


The CRC Chair said the committee is fully aware that its work could promote and contribute to national reconciliation and reaffirm the national consensus that Liberia shall know no more war. She emphasized that the committee would perform its task in such a way and manner that the public would have confidence in the process and its outcome because each of them has a reputation, image and credibility to protect.


Cllr. Scott reminded participants that Liberia is an old nation that has been governed by several organic documents such as the May 25, 1825 Constitution for the Governance of the African Colony by the American Colonization Society (ACS); the Plan for the Civil Government and the Digest of the laws which were in force in the Colony of Liberia and the 1820 Constitution which was adopted by the Board of Governors of the ACS on January 5, 1839 to govern the Commonwealth of Liberia. She further said that on July 26, 1847, delegates from the first three counties, namely, Montserrado, Bassa, and Sinoe assembled and signed the declaration of independence and subsequently on September 27, 1847, a Constitution for the Republic of Liberia was approved.


Relating Liberia’s constitutional history, the CRC Chairperson said the 1847 Constitution was suspended on April 12, 1980 and later abrogated in Article 95 of the 1986 Constitution. Doing comparative analysis of the 1847 and 1986 Constitutions, she said the Committee has noted some similarities.


For example, the 1847 constitution recognizes “natural and inalienable rights to life and liberty; the right to acquire and own property and the right to self government,” while the 1986 constitution also recognizes the “right to exercise inalienable rights including the right to self government for the purpose of equality and access to economic opportunities and social and cultural advancement. “ 


According to the CRC Chair, the restatement of these fundamental rights in the two constitutions conveys several messages:


  • These rights remain eternally fundamental and so extremely important and must be maintained in each constitution; and
  • These rights though enshrined in the 1847 Constitution were repeated in the 1986 Constitution because these rights were still out of reach of people even after more than 135 years of independence.


The CRC believes the repeat of these rights were more of the latter message. The question which confronts the nation today is what prevented the free exercise of these rights up to the 1980 coup? Analysts believe the tracing of Liberia’s constitutional history by the Chair is a guide to the process and the activation of participants to determine the way forward.


The Vice President of the Republic of Liberia, His Excellency Dr. Joseph Nyumah Boakai who represented the President of Liberia recalled that “we all witnessed the rancor that accompanied this nation’s most recent attempt at revising our organic law. Besieged by a huge overcast of apprehension, the lack of trust, and weighed down by deep suspicion, many of our compatriots failed to grasp the very genuine intensions that brought forth the concrete efforts at our first process to amend our constitution.”


Dr. Boakai went further to say that “be it as it was, we managed to emerge out of that not- so -pleasant exercise, with our body polity intact and our hopes still high. Also, nearly a year has elapsed since, and we have all cooled our heads and recollected ourselves. Even now, we can see long after that, there are still reverberations of the popular yearning for a more sober re-look at our Constitution.”


His Excellency told members of the Committee that their task is a herculean responsibility; but with the caliber of citizens they are, manifested in their character and reputation they have built over the years, there is conviction that the Liberian people are looking up to them for quality work that will defy suspicion and second guessing. The Vice President lauded the Liberian Constitution as an outstanding document worthy to serve as road map for any nation; but the truth is times and realities of today make it compelling to take a relook at it.


Speaking on behalf Speaker Alex Tyler of the House of Representatives, Hon. Gabriel Buchanan Smith of Grand Bassa County said that “it is now necessary to review the constitution”. He started by identifying article six of the 1986 constitution which he says needs amendment. Hon. Smith informed participants that the review of the constitution will strengthen and provide education to the people of Liberia.


Making remark at the forum, the German Ambassador accredited near Monrovia and Doyen of the Diplomatic Corps, Dr. Bodo Schaff thanked the CRC for the Forum and pledged support to the process. “The venture is key to Liberia’s post conflict recovery and governance.” Amb. Schaff noted.

Veteran Liberian Journalist Kenneth Y. Best, Publisher of the Daily Observer expressed his thoughts about the process saying, he wants the CRC to be independent, and distant from governmental and political parties influences and interferences and hopes that adequate resources would be made available to the CRC if its independence is to be secured. Mr. Best called for the entire constitution to be redone as “it was compromised in Gbarnga in 1986.”


D. Maxwell S. Kemayah, President of the Liberia Business Association (LIBA), lamented on the isolation of Liberian businesses in the 1986 constitution. “A small and medium skill enterprise is the engine of growth but this domestic private sector has been left out of the 1986 constitution.” He pointed out and beckoned the CRC to look into that. The LIBA President further said that he wants land and natural resources ownership and the transformation of the economy to place Liberians in the core of it among others to be addressed.


For his part, the President of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Mr. Roosevelt Gould said the term of office of the President, Vice President and legislators should be reduced and also suggested dual citizenship and the teaching of the constitution in schools; while Mr. Prince D. Kreplah of the Citizens to Promote Peace in Liberia (CPPL) appealed to the CRC to remember the youths, persons with disabilities and civil society groupings during the process.


Representing the Congress for Democratic Change, CDC’s Richelieu Urey advised the CRC to be careful during the review process and further urged that the process be extended to all Liberians so that they feel a part.