Liberians Want 4-Year Presidential Term

By Abraham Massaley

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 12, 2004

Philadelphia, February 9, 2004: Over fifty Liberians from more than eight states in the United States met Saturday in Philadelphia and adopted a 19-count vision document for Liberia which calls for constitutional amendment to reduce the presidential and legislative terms from six to four years each.

The meeting organized by the Movement for Political Reform in Liberia, called for decentralization of political power, saying that political power has been predominantly centralized, often in the hand of one individual, the President of Liberia. The movement noted that this enormous power of the presidency is a major reason for the hot pursuit of the highest office, to the extent that violence has often been employed to clinch onto that office and to defend it as all cost.

"We support the merit system and believe that public service should be on the basis of competence and qualification," the movement said in its seven page "Vision for Liberia" document, but said over the years, with the presidency has come everything in the West African nation including jobs, wealth, security and affluence.

The movement said it wants greater regional autonomy for the counties including the election of county superintendents, and said county superintendents should be directly answerable to the people who elect them. The movement also said it wants counties to conduct their own local governments, levy taxes for the smooth running of their local governments, administer their own school systems and directly compete for investment opportunities.

The movement is also calling for a smaller government and a well-paid civil service, noting, "if public services can be delivered more efficiently and less expensively through the private sector, such services should be privatized." The movement said elected and appointed public officials including those in the judiciary who serve their country and leave honorably must be able to live dignified lives after public service. To this end, the movement is advocating for former officials to receive certain portions of their salaries for the rest of their lives as well as benefits. The movement believes such incentives will create the condition for people to leave office peacefully and to live respected lives thereafter.

The movement also calls judicial reform. It wants judges of subordinate courts to be elected, and wants a rigid national standard for appointment of Supreme Court justices. The movement proposed that for individuals to serve on the Supreme Court bench, they must be shortlisted by a National Screening Committee to be established by an act of the National Legislature for nomination by the president to the senate to serve a five-year term.

The Reform Movement said the tenure of service for Supreme Court justices should not be limited but the names of justices should from time to time be resubmitted by the National Screening Committee to the president based on good performance and good conduct. The movement observed that often the credibility of those who manage the nation's top law enforcement agencies has been significantly eroded while "our nation has been faced with an unprecedented politicization of decisions emanating from judges who supposed to dispense justice without fear, favor and reward."

The movement said it wants a small but best trained and a robust military that will be capable and ready to respond to internal and external threats, and a restructured police and other security apparatus that will earn the trust and confidence of the people. It says tougher penalties must be put in place for people who commit crimes especially violent and economic crimes including tax evasion, noting that that taxation is the major source of income for government. The movement also wants good neighborliness with Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast and said it adheres to democratic values including free, fair and transparent elections in Liberia.
The movement said it supports privatization and a free enterprise economy, and believes that the food and agriculture sector should be subsidized by government to encourage modern ways of farming. The movement is also calling for a sound Social Security program and an overhauled National Pension Scheme, stating "our elders who give their best to the country should not be allowed to live in poverty."

The Reform Movement said it supports the establishment of a National Truth Commission but that a definite time period must be set for individuals to confess and seek pardon from the state and those they hurt. Thereafter, the movement said a War Crime Tribunal must be constituted for those who will refuse to seize the opportunity to appear before the Truth Commission to ask for forgiveness. The Movement said for too long "we have allowed bygone to be bygone without establishing the truth and without individuals accepting responsibilities for what they did to our people and our country."

The Reform Movement said the spirit of voluntarism, community service, patriotism and nationalism is absent among many Liberians, and underscored the need for educational and community programs that will imbue in young Liberians these virtues. The Movement noted that it would take new thinking and new values in order to build a better Liberian society for ourselves and to pass it over to our posterity. The organization also proposed that one Liberian language should be adopted to be taught in primary and secondary schools throughout Liberia.

The organization also wants the University of Liberia to be adequately funded to truly make the school a research and learning institution but said that government must adopt a "hands of" approach to the running of that institution. The Movement wants the university to be administered by an administration that is appointed by an independent board of directors without the interference of the national government.

The Movement declared that it adheres to freedom of religion and worship and subscribes to human rights, and mentioned that no one religion should have national preference over the other but that all should be treated equally. The organization said it opposes laws that are inimical to free speech and wants a deregulated media but said people should be responsible and accountable for what they write or say.