Citizens forum
Citizens forum
Photo Credit: CRC


With D. Wa Hne, Jr.




Albert Einstein, the progenitor of thermal dynamics and the theory of relativity defined democracy in this manner and fashion: “Everyone has the right to his opinion and everyone else has the right to say no. This is my idea of democracy.”


Einstein’s definition is thriving in Liberia far above Abraham Lincoln’s definition of government of the people, by the people and for the people. Callers on talk shows are classic examples of diversities of views and opinions about society and how government should work. Views are daily counteracting views. This is democracy and the right to freedom of expression that is guaranteed in Article 15 (a) of the 1986 Liberian Constitution.


Since the Constitution Review Committee or CRC outreach activities began, there has been a numerical preponderance of voices on various political, social and economic issues. Some of these issues are provided for in the 1986 Liberian Constitution while some are constitutionally connected but absent within the provisions.


From the collation and analysis of current views obtained from radio callers, suggestion boxes and participants at community forums, there are some persistent views from which debates are emanating.


Former Chief Justice Gloria Maya Musu-Scott who is the Chairperson for the Constitution Review Committee has been keen in leaving the debate and decisions to Liberians as regarding what they want in the constitution. Major among some of the debates are the management of the nation’s natural resources, property ownership and tenure of elected officials, protection of the national currency and dual citizenship.


Article 7 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution provides that, “the Republic shall, consistent with the principles of individual freedom and social justice enshrined in this Constitution, manage the national economy and the natural resources of Liberia in such manner as shall ensure the maximum feasible participation of Liberian citizens under conditions of equality as to advance the general welfare of the Liberian people and the economic development of Liberia.”


This Article is “profound” if I am to borrow from Cllr. Scott. A caller from Gbarpolu County has expressed concern over the speed at which natural resources are being conceded to foreigners for exploitation through concession agreements. He is worried about posterity. Would there be anything left for them 100 or more years from now? The debate which springs from his concern is whether the constitution should provide provisions for reserves.


There are concerns raised by citizens during outreach forums about this feasible participation of Liberian citizens in the management of our natural resources as instructed by the constitution. Some of their questions are: Who controls the Liberian economy? Are Liberians in the mainstream of the economy?


Participants are asking whether Liberians are consulted during concession negotiations. They want to know how many Liberians have been granted concession rights and whether the principle of equality does exist in concession negotiation and the granting of mineral exploitation rights. These are some of the questions raised on radio talk shows; placed in suggestion boxes and at outreach programs of the CRC.


The constitution is the organic laws of the state to which they are running for answers or asylum. They are demonstrating immense interest in the review process because they have come to believe that issues of these magnitudes would be addressed through amendments.


As the debate proceeds, Article 22 (b) has been generating a great concern to Liberians. This Article deals with private property rights which does not extend to any mineral resources on or beneath any land or to lands under the seas and waterways of the Republic. The constitution is clear on these. They belong to the state and the state can give it to who it wishes to give it to irrespective of the fact that the land is private property.


It is contended that this article has to be reviewed. Participants at interactive forums believe said minerals found on private property should not exclude the owner of said property from certain rights or allocation. They debate and continue to argue that this Article has been instrumental in depriving Liberians of wealth and giving birth to foreign wealthy men and/or increasing their wealth while Liberians remain poor and cannot advance into a middle class. Interpretationally, this Article empowers the government to either evict a private property owner or compel leasing against his/her own will. 


The review of the constitution gives each citizen the right to make choices as to how they wish state policies or laws should treat such economic and social matters. This is not the decision of the Constitution Review Committee, but that of Liberians, say the CRC Chairperson, Cllr. Gloria Musu-Scott and Rev. Dr. Jasper S. Ndaborlor.


There are some citizens of Liberia who want reduction of the term of office of the President from six to four; Vice President from six to four; Senators from nine to six; and Representatives from six to four. Perhaps, this seems to be a sensitive political issue as no incumbent would appreciate the reduction of his term of office or powers.


However, there have been debates from the two sides of the coin. One side says the current length of time produces complacency which could stifle development or cause low performance index. The other side argues that the economy has to be considered. The reduction of terms would run Liberians into early elections that the economy cannot handle. They contend that there are lots of development priorities order than investing time and money on early elections.


There is also the extreme side of the debate from others. A member of the Constitutional Advisory Assembly who prefers to remain anonymous told this writer that contrary to insinuations that the terms of offices were intended to prolong the stay of President Samuel K. Doe into office, there were greater considerations which he believes still stand today.


According to him, the extension was proposed by an elder statesman on grounds that the political conditions in Liberia have changed from a one party state to that of a multi-party system which calls for competition. In the one party state, the President had no need to be threatened by opposition candidates. His position was secured by caucus decision and such caucus was either headed by him or controlled by him.


In the emerging multi-party state, he argued that such condition and environment would not exist. With a four year term, a new president would take about two years to solidify his political standing, develop his development plans and begin seeking economic partnerships.


 Within the third year, he would be thinking about planning for elections and the following year spend the time with campaign strategies and implementation. In his view, four years are insufficient. This, according to him, led the Constitution Advisory Assembly to adopt the extension of terms of offices.


When the term of the President is extended to six, continuity demands that the Senate term is increased to nine. The rest which includes the President, Vice President, and Representatives go for elections together. This is the current situation.


What is your debate? The diversity of views is necessary to produce a comprehensive revised constitution that would speak to the realities of the time and the general interest of Liberians and their development aspirations. Rev. Dr. Jasper S. Ndaborlor tells Liberians: “do not make laws when you are vexed or angry. It could entrap you tomorrow.” This is the opportunity of all Liberians to make their contribution to the review process.