Dr. Sawyer Declines Appointment on the Commission on Good Governance

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 21, 2004

Dr. Amos Sawyer
In a letter addressed to Chairman Gyude Bryant and dated April 28, 2004 and copy of which was obtained by this publication, Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, former President of the Interim Government of National Unity (1990 – 1994), said that he could not take part in the Governance Reform Commission (GRC).

The Governance Reform Commission was part of the CPA and is chaired by Unity Party’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. A few weeks ago, another nominated member of the Commission Dr. George Kieh of the New Deal political decided not to participate in the work of the Commission for what he termed as possible “conflict of interest,” given his political ambitions and his intentions to be candidate at the 2005 presidential elections.

As reasons for abstaining to serve on the Commission, Dr. Sawyer cites among other things what he sees as a contradiction between the “magnitude of the tasks assigned and the lack of corresponding authority to get them done.” For example, he cites Section 2c of the mandate that “calls on the Commission to ‘ensure transparency and accountability in all government institutions and activities and to act as the Public Ombudsman” […] But he writes that such a task can not be accomplished if all the Commission can do, according to Section 4 of the same mandate is to “ submit quarterly reports directly to the NTLA who shall make recommendations thereon to the Chairman for actions.”

Writing further, Dr. Sawyer said that a “Commission clothed only with the authority to submit reports to the NTLA can hardly be expected to ‘ensure transparency and accountability.” The former interim president also notes that the task to “ensure subsidiarity in governance through decentralization and participation” requires deeper studies and certainly constitutional reviews and amendments, none of which could be possible in the transitional framework.

Dr. Sawyer said that he would be prepared to work with the Commission on a broader mandate whose scope would involve deeper consultations and a review of current political structures that seem to always take the country on the same path.

Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, founder and Chairman of the Board of the Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE) left Liberia in 2001 after he was attacked and his offices ransacked by Taylor militiamen and has since lived and worked at Indiana University.

The Following is the letter in its entirety:

April 28, 2004

Mr. C. Gyude Bryant
National Transitional Government of Liberia
The Executive Mansion

Mr. Chairman:

I acknowledge receipt of your letter CGB/NTGL/A-SICPA/216/’04/RL dated January 24, 2004 informing me of “my decision that you become a member of the Governance Reform Commission (GRC),” further informing me that as required by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and “in furtherance of my decision, I have, today, forwarded your name to the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA), nominating you for confirmation consideration as a member of the Commission,” and advising me to “make yourself available to the Assembly for the confirmation proceedings.” Your letter was addressed to me at Monrovia, Liberia. Let me take this opportunity to let you know that I currently live in Bloomington, Indiana in the United States and can be reached at the following address [….]:

I should also let you know, Mr. Chairman, that Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had sounded me out as to my preparedness to serve on this commission. I had tentatively accepted, feeling it my duty to my country. But having read more closely the mandate of the commission as contained in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, I am convinced that the reform tasks that are required loom larger than those that can be achieved within the framework in which the commission is expected to operate. For example, section 2c of the mandate calls on the commission to “ensure transparency and accountability in governance in all government institutions and activities” and to “act as the Public Ombudsman.” These responsibilities can hardly be performed when, according to section 4 of the same mandate, the best the commission can do regarding effective implementation is to “submit quarterly reports directly to the NTLA who shall make recommendations thereon to the Chairman for action.” With all due respect, a commission clothed only with authority to submit reports to the NTLA can hardly be expected to “ensure transparency and accountability” and serve as “the Public Ombudsman.”

Section 2d of the mandate calls upon the commission to “ensure subsidiarity in governance through decentralization and participation.” This is a task that requires a substantial constitutional review and, ultimately, constitutional amendments. Organizing for these, in turn, requires considerable consultations including, in my view, a national conference - that is, if the tasks are to be taken seriously. However, if subsidiarity and decentralization are to be seen solely as bureaucratic exercises that entail simply a manipulation of administrative structures within the confines of Liberia’s current constitutional arrangement, such governance reforms will fall far short of what is needed to depart from failed practices and patterns.

There are several other issues about the mandate that can be raised; most have to do with the magnitude of the tasks assigned and the lack of corresponding authority to get them done. My views, in this regard, can be summed up in two points: First, unless the reach of governance reforms to be undertaken extends to a review of Liberia’s constitutional paradigm and the institutional arrangements it has produced, reforms will not be able to yield outcomes that can sufficiently address our foundational governance dilemmas. Second, reforms listed in the mandate of the commission as found in Article XVI of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, cannot be undertaken by the commission within the scope of authority laid out for the commission in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and within the national transition agenda as currently structured.

Beyond the issues of reform specified in the mandate of the Governance Reform Commission laid out in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Liberia faces deep-rooted challenges that cannot be swept under the rug. Our country has been in the throes of violent conflicts for about a quarter of a century. Before then, the storms had been gathering for decades. Our political system seems entrapped in a cyclical pattern of zero-sum politics - violent breakdowns - acrimonious elections - zero-sum politics. Meanwhile, we now have a generation of people who has not known a country at peace and we are approaching the predicament of a country whose younger generations might well be less educated than their elders. My fear is that we seem to remain on this cyclical path.

What we need are serious diagnostic assessments to find out what is inherently wrong with our political arrangement that keeps us on this path. We should ask ourselves why are we, Liberians, able to forge patterns of cooperation and display enormous generosity to each other in virtually every sphere of life except in the political? Why does political contestation take on such high-stakes character, requiring a fight to the bitter end? There are profound systemic flaws that must be examined and corrected. Far from following a generic blueprint for conflict resolution and post-conflict peace building in which elections are considered central, we are challenged to examine our political order more deeply and let our diagnoses suggest approaches to finding remedies to entrenched governance challenges - challenges that will persist long after the international attention would have turned elsewhere if we do not begin to address them now.

The kind of diagnoses I have in mind involve a blend of studies (many of which have already been done), informed consultative discourses held at all levels of society and involving all segments of our people, and a properly prepared, well-organized national conference. Out of these should come a well thought-out agenda for reform. A reform agenda constructed through such a constitutive process becomes an integral part of the transition process and takes on the character of a national covenant. In its implementation we commit ourselves to a pathway out of the vicious cycle which entraps our body politic. Let me hasten to say that we will not be able to complete implementation of a national reform agenda so constructed during this transitional period; but we can begin. Some may argue that constructing an agenda for reform is a task that should be left to an elected government. I can assure you that those who say so do not have the evidence of history on their side. Only an extraordinary president will opt for reforms that will include measures designed to reduce presidential authority.

Others will say that the international community will not approve. Let me say that the international community will listen and support what Liberians believe is fundamentally essential to ensure lasting peace and democratic governance in their country. It is up to Liberians to set the agenda for Liberia. I am sure the international community will support a serious program of reform designed to address foundational governance dilemmas once that program is taken seriously by the people of Liberia and a sense of commitment can be reflected in the attitude and behavior of those of us who are considered leaders of Liberia. But when the international community is left to determine the agenda for peace and democratic governance in Liberia and the most significant post-disarmament concerns of Liberian leaders are centered around the holding of elections, the international community will give us what we ask for: in this case, quick elections in a failed system of governance. I have devoted a fair amount of my time studying the challenges of political governance in our country and am convinced that governance reforms that preclude democratic decentralization will not sufficiently open up political and economic space for greater inclusion—unlocking the potentials of the Liberian people; therefore will not contribute substantially to ending the vicious cycle of conflict that has taken us down a path to profound human tragedy.

Let me close by saying that I would be all too pleased to make full submissions to a commission whose mandate can be structured in a manner to begin the process of addressing the challenges of reform as briefly discussed in this letter. I would be further pleased to advance some ideas as to how the current commission can be strengthened to provide leadership in this task. Unfortunately, I have to decline your appointment under current circumstances. I will remain engaged in the peacebuilding efforts of our country with an interest in assisting with the tasks of laying solid foundations for long-term peace and democratic governance. You can always count on me in this respect.

With best wishes,


Amos Sawyer