Can Sitting ULAA Officials Seek National Office In Liberia?

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 7, 2004

Two senior ULAA officials, Mr. Ranney B. Jackson, Sr. Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Mr. Mohammed S. Kromah, National President, resigned their respective positions in ULAA late 2003 to work with the current transitional government in Monrovia. Messrs. Jackson and Kromah officially represented ULAA at the negotiations and signing of the Liberian Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Ghana last August that gave rise to the formation of the transitional government, and neither man resigned while seeking appointments in the transitional government. Mr. Kromah, in fact, ran for the vice chairman position of the transitional government and lost while still in Ghana on official ULAA business. And these developments have generated heated arguments in ULAA as to whether the two men in question had violated any rules in ULAA. Hence, we shall now explore the ULAA constitution to ascertain whether the two men acted properly, and whether it is possible for sitting ULAA officials to seek national office in Liberia.

First, on August 10, 2002, I delivered the Keynote Address at the 28th Annual General Conference of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), Inc., which was held in Columbus, Ohio. Having consulted with a fellow founding member of ULAA, Mr. Leslie Norman Abayomi Cole (former President and Chairman of the Board), I selected the topic, “Conversation with Our Benefactors Regarding the Original Intent of the Founders of ULAA.” The Perspective published that Keynote Address on August 13, 2002.

I selected “Conversation with Our Benefactors…” as my topic, as a way of explaining the original intent of those of us who participated in organizing ULAA, in order to clarify some of the misunderstanding and misinformation that circulated amongst new members. And as the theme of the Columbus conference was "Pathways to Success: Achievement, Accountability and Authority, “ I went to great length to explain that from the inception of the Republic of Liberia in 1822, up to the founding of ULAA in 1974, at least with the 152 years of Liberia’s existence at the time, political, social, and economic powers were held by a few who believed in the politics and philosophy of: “So Say One, So Say All”.

This “So Say One, So Say All” system of governance limited the participation of the majority of the Liberian people in the affairs of their government, which practice failed the country miserably in making any significant progress and development. And that realization factored prominently in founding of ULAA, serving as a point of departure for the founders of ULAA in charting a new direction for their country and people. As a result, the founders and framers of the Constitution of ULAA founded this organization on the principle of “Representative Democracy,” in which every bona fide member could freely participate.

The principal institutions of the organization were divided into three separate bodies - The Annual General Conference, Board of Directors, and the Administration or Executive. Supreme Authority was vested in the Annual General Conference. The Annual General Conference encompassed all Liberians and their local chapters. The Conference reviewed the basic policies and direction of the organization, and served as the highest constituted body. The Annual General Conference then empowered the Board of Directors to exercise legislative and policy-making powers. The Board consisted of presidents of local chapters and two elected representatives from each chapter. The Executive was composed of the administrative officers of ULAA. The Executive fell under the leadership of a National President. The National President served as the spokesperson for the organization. He or she was charged with the day-to-day operation of the organization, which included the implementations of ULAA policies and programs.

Under this structure, the question most frequently asked was: Why was the National (Annual) General Conference made the Supreme Authority of ULAA? And the answer provided was always that General Conference was made the Supreme Authority because ULAA as a “Representative Democracy” had to assure the full participation of the membership in the “general affairs” of the organization. Secondly, it was set-up in that way to discourage the abuse of power and authority by a select few, which was a major hallmark of past and present Liberian government officials.
What Do I See As Our Problems?

First, It is not uncommon in modern African political culture to blame all sorts of social, economic, political, and societal ills on the way the constitution were written. There is always this general expectation for the national constitution to be precise to the point of covering every social, economic or political loophole imaginable, or the constitution is deemed to be ambiguous and must therefore be changed or re-written. This is true in most African and developing countries, and the drafting of a new constitution in Liberia in 1983, rather than amending the country’s 1847 constitution speaks volumes to this fact.

I have personally felt that the Liberian constitution of 1847 should have been amended in so far as to the preamble and other controversial articles that were seen to be inimical to the new realities of the country. But, regrettably, the useless exercise of rewriting an entire constitution from scratch rather than amending its obsolete provisions has somehow found following in many Liberian civil, social, and political organizations, including ULAA. And because of its strategic position as a vanguard organization of all Liberian associations in North America, and the enormous role it could play in uniting and promoting the welfare of Liberians in the Diaspora, it has to be governed by morality, law and more important, its Constitution.

This brings us to the question most Liberians, and for that matter, Africans, usually asked: “Is the Constitution precise on the issues?” And if you were to paraphrase that same question for the purpose of our discussion, you might ask, “Is the ULAA's Constitution comprehensive or precise to the point of accommodating then sitting President Mohammed S. Kromah’s run for the interim vice chairmanship of Liberia without first resigning as President of ULAA? And my answer would be “NO” and “YES,” because there is no constitution that is ever precise and comprehensive, as every constitution is subject to interpretation and amendment. Therefore, there are always individuals in society who are charged with the responsibilities of interpreting the constitution by looking at the “Original Intent” of the framers, relevant precedents and traditions. In the United States, for example, such people are called “Constitutional Scholars.” But ULAA, as a social organization, may never have constitutional scholars per se, though persons like myself who was around when the original ULAA constitution was written in the 1970s, may be able to provide some clarity on the “original intent” of the framers of the ULAA constitution.

First the next case in point makes clarity of the “original intent” of the ULAA constitution more pressing. In his November 18, 2003 article, “Kromah Says Farewell To ULAA: Looks To New Challenges.” Mr. Patrick Nimely-Sie Tuon had this to say regarding Mr. Kromah’s run for the Liberian vice chairmanship:

“… Kromah made no apology for his run for the interim vice presidency, which he said, not only reflected the great respect ULAA gained at that the conference, but also the exercising of his rights as a Liberian citizen to seek any political office of his desire. Dismissing his critics’ sentiments that his run for the interim vice presidency was in violation of some unknown laws of ULAA, Kromah said that the search for lasting peace in Liberia was his supreme interest, and as such, leaving some stones unturned was no option. He said he was prepared, and was always prepared, to put forward himself in any positive way necessary to ensure that the people of Liberia, this time, had the peace they have yearned for, and has alluded them for these many years”.

The statement by Mr. Tuon led some current and former officers and members of ULAA to ask me for my views on the “original intent” of the ULAA’s Constitution on such controversy as the Kromah run. I shall use the US Constitution as my point of reference to answer the question as to whether former President Kromah violated ULAA’s Constitution by seeking the interim vice chairmanship of Liberia.

In this regard, it should interest you to know that the discussion of “original intent” of the U.S. Constitution came about during the confirmation hearing of Judge Robert Bork for the US Supreme Court. Both Judge Robert Bork and Justice Antonin Scalia had not only subscribed to the theory of “original intent", they had written about it. A Pulitzer Prize winning historian Leonard Williams Levy also wrote about “original intent" in the book, “Original Intent and the Framers’ Constitution”.

Like the ULAA constitution, the U.S. Constitution is fundamental law of the United States. It provides the framework for governance and principles under which the U.S. must operate. Judicial reinterpretation has given the U.S. Constitution the flexibility to accommodate changes in specific laws subject to its authority. Early in the 19th century, Chief Justice John Marshall pointed out that the Constitution was "intended to endure for ages to come, and, consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs. To have prescribed the means by which government should, in all future times, execute its powers, would have been to change entirely, the character of the instrument, and give it the properties of a legal code."

The distinction Marshall made between the Constitution and other law was in keeping with the framers' provision for the supremacy of the Constitution in Article VI, which states: "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land”. Generally, constitutions are written to address pressing issues of the period for which they are written. Yet, provisions are made to address future problems through amendments. The framers of the US Constitution knew that the government that they were creating would have to meet the changing needs of a growing nation. They could not possibly foresee all the changes the United States would undergo; therefore, provisions such as Amendment, Interpretation, and Custom became the means by which these issues were to be resolved.

Let’s look at the US Constitution for a moment. The US Constitution is a document that has withstood the test of time. It is a document that serves as “…a pattern for all future constitutions and will receive the admiration of all future ages”, says one admirer. Has the document been changed or re-written? The answer is “No”. So, then, what makes the US Constitution unique and durable? First, it serves as a departure from the English system of government, which has unwritten constitution, and as a result, gave the king or queen supreme power over the people. Second, it introduced the idea of a government by consent of the governed and not by birthright. Third, it established goals (Preamble), i.e., 1. To form a more perfect union; 2. To establish justice; 3. To insure domestic tranquility; 4. To provide for the common defense; 5. To promote the general welfare, and 6. to secure the blessings of liberty.

These goals were then transformed into a representative form of democracy, or republic that is based on the consent of the people. The framers (writers) of the Constitution, too, believed that a government must receive all its powers from the people it governs, and that the government must not use any powers that the people did not grant it. Above all, they believed that the people must give their consent before the government is considered legitimate. Furthermore, in order to prevent abuse like the one they broke away from - the English system, they created three separate, but equal branches of government: Legislative (Congress) - makes the laws; the Executive (Presidency), carries out and enforces the laws, and the Judiciary (Courts), interprets the laws and punishes lawbreakers. This is called “Checks and Balances” in the system.

The constitution has allowed for the co-equal nature of these institutions with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. These three branches have also become the cornerstone and the foundation of Western democracy. Because a constitution is an organic document – a living organism, an embodiment of the wishes and aspirations of a nation and its people, it is subject to change based on evolving new realities. This change can take effect through amendment to the constitution. Most Western constitutions, therefore, have made provision for an amendment process to be built into it.
This Brings Us To The Points Of Interpretation And Custom

The US Congress may interpret a certain clause in the Constitution as giving it the right to pass a particular law. One such example is the minimum wage that workers must be paid. However, minimum wage is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution. But the Constitution gives Congress the right to control trade among the states. The goods made by workers usually travel from one state to another. On the basis of the above, Congress interpreted the Constitution to mean it can pass laws affecting working conditions, which also includes wages. On the other hand, the US Supreme Court (the General Conference, in the case of ULAA) has the power to decide if Congress has interpreted the Constitution correctly. The Court’s ruling is final. The General Conference of ULAA plays similar role.

Equally, a number of changes or practices in the U.S. government have come about as the result of custom, tradition or precedence. For example, the US Constitution did not provide for regular meetings of the leaders in the Executive Branch of the government. However, President George Washington brought these leaders together regularly to serve as his advisors, which is known today as his Cabinet. Since that time, regular meetings between the President and his Cabinet have become an acceptable part of the tradition of the US government. Up to the present, there is no written law to that effect. There are other important traditions that have since developed. These traditions are followed regularly. Yet they have seldom been written down or made into laws. For this reason, they are sometimes called unwritten constitutional laws. The same can be said about July 26 celebration each year by ULAA’s chapters. We celebrate July 26 each year as a tradition, and not a constitutional requirement.

Generally, those of us from Africa believe that if it is not written the way our leaders want it to be read, than it is not right. This behavior has been handed down to us through grade school. What then is the solution? First, those who do not know anything about how a constitution is written should allow those who know it to do the work. Those who do not know how a constitution works, should however, be allowed to participate—as a means of learning, and not as experts. Second, it is impossible for any constitution to address all problems. Some people will always find fault with a constitution no matter how well it is written.

In particular, since the framers of the ULAA Constitution were all students and professors at the time in the United States, they borrowed heavily from the US Constitution to have written about “promoting and encouraging national reconciliation, integration and unification; while preserving and protecting Liberian culture, history and traditions; and upholding and defending fundamental rights, including the human rights and civil liberties of Liberians everywhere; cultivating and harnessing the energies and resources of Liberia to improve the quality of life of all Liberians abroad; and advocating and advancing the cause of constitutional democracy and sustainable national development in the Republic of Liberia.”

This Is Where ULAA Constitution Is Clear On The Issue
The ULAA Constitution states, “The Union shall remain the official spokesperson of Liberians and their various communities and organizations in the Americas (NOT IN LIBERIA). The Union shall also represent the interest of Liberians in the Americas at national and international confabs anywhere…”

Therefore, instead of dismissing the sentiments of Mr. Kromah’s run for the interim vice presidency (vice chairmanship) was not in violation of some unknown laws of ULAA, it would have been better for Mr. Tuon and others to call a spade a spade. For making excuses for another person’s errors, serves as a betrayal to the democratic principles we profess to be practicing. We must therefore be honest with ourselves and heed the warning that “Those who preserve their integrity remain unshaken by the storms of daily life. They do not stir like leaves on a tree or follow the herd where it runs. In their mind, remains the ideal attitude and conduct of living. This is not something giving to them by others. It is their roots… It is their strength that exists deep within them.”

For example, I was one of the principal supporters of Mr. Kromah when he was seeking the presidency of ULAA. After he won, I became one of his advisors. He consulted me on a number of issues. Had he done so on this one, I would have advised him to first resign before running for the interim vice presidency. He resigned as President of the NGO—Resources and Outreach for Liberia (ROL), which he and his wife organized when he was accused of representing LURD at a conference held in Europe. Find below excerpts of President Kromah’s communication to the Board of Directors, National Leadership Council, Members & Friends of ULAA on April 24, 2003:

“…If I were these detractors who are spreading tribal and religious hatred, because that it is the call of the day and also Islam is considered by many ignorant people like the correspondent from ALLaboutLiberia, I would have left out the religion and ethnicity and go (ne) straight ahead to ask question whether or not I took a trip to Europe and what was my mission. Having said this, you are all curious to know whether or not I did travel to Europe. To this question, my answer will be yes. I traveled there in my capacity as the president of Resources and Outreach for Liberia (ROL), honoring an invitation extended to us by a community organization in Italy to attend a workshop on political and humanitarian situations in the Manor River sub-region. (ROL) is an organization that was founded by my wife, Dr. Margaret N. Kromah, and myself. This invitation was extended based on our many years of work in humanitarian services in the interest of our suffering people in Liberia and various refugee camps, the record of ROL can attest to our efforts in Liberia and elsewhere. Our organization was not the only one invited. Both the Liberian government and LURD were invited to attend…”

Of course, one cannot serve two masters, therefore, to avoid conflict of interest, ULAA officials seeking national office In Liberia, should first resign their position here before doing so. This is also true with ULAA official serving for example as President of ULAA and President of County or Alumni Association. And in furthering this discussion, Nat Galarea Gbessagee’s response to Patrick Tuon on December 9, 2003 on the subject of Mr. Ranney B. Jackson’s acceptance of a legislative position in the transitional government in Monrovia, and Mr. Tuon’s opposition to a decision by the ULAA Board to investigate the process of Mr. Jackson selection is worth repeating here:

“Patrick, just read your statement and I didn't see where you provided reasons as to why Mr. Jackson shouldn't be investigated by the ULAA Board. You are only complaining that he shouldn't be ‘investigated.’ But, if you believe that Mr. Jackson broke no laws by representing ULAA at a peace conference in Ghana, and subsequently taking up a position in the transitional assembly without prior discussion and approval of the ULAA Board, then the burden of proof is on you. So, please go ahead and state why you think Jackson's actions were ‘legal’ within the framework of his ULAA Board functions, and don't ask others to state which ‘laws’ had been broken by Jackson's actions,” Mr. Gbessagee wrote.

He then concluded, “So, unless you can prove otherwise, it would seem to me that the process of the selection for Mr. Jackson was flawed. And the process, not Jackson's qualification to serve in the position, needs to be investigated. Otherwise, how can ULAA and others Liberians in the U.S. make noise about the lack of ‘good governance and rule of law’ in Liberia, when a simple procedure for representing ULAA in the Liberian government is not encouraged. And if you never had such a procedure, the investigation will be necessary to set appropriate standards for the future…I am not a floor member, nor board member of ULAA, but I think the investigation is timely in the name of good governance, and not a ‘witch hunt’ as you think. We must set appropriate standards of accountability amongst ourselves now, so we cannot continue to repeat the same mistakes in our respective organizations and in the Liberian public service in the future.”

I think Mr. Gbessagee’s comments need no interpretations. The issue facing the Union is about integrity and public credibility. And any investigation that will set the record straight is worth pursuing. Transparency and rule of law are very crucial to the survival of ULAA, and all present and past leaders and members of ULAA should have a vested interest in ensuring the viability of the organization.

Hence, the issue of the protocol involved in nominating and confirming non-elected officers of ULAA, I think this provision is clearly defined in the Constitution. For, according to: Article 55, “The National Administration of the Union shall be headed by the National President. The Administration shall have the following powers and authority, and functions and responsibilities:

a. Nominate with the advice and consent of the Council, and for the approval or confirmation thereof by the Board, all appointed non-elected officers of the Union, including members and officers of the National Standing Committees, the National Technical Secretariat, the National Elections Commission, the National Auditing Commission, and the National Public Service Commission. This article continues on to unrelated matters under counts b, c, d, and e.

I hope I have provided some clarity on the issues raised. Happy New Year. And may ULAA continue to grow strong!

About the Author: Mr. Siahyonkron Nyanseor is a founding member of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), the Eleventh President (1986-1988), and is considered the historian of the organization.