Piecemeal Change to an illegitimate Constitution is wrong!
By: Tibelrosa Summoh Tarponweh
In her January 26, 2015, State of the nation address, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called on the legislature to pass a “Dual Citizen” bill into law which she intends to send to that body shortly. The bill if approved would effectively replace Article 28 of the constitution. Its resolution however may not be a sole legislative prerogative since voters should have a say via referendum. The aim of the bill, according to the president, is to reintegrate Liberians who were compelled to seek refuge in other countries as a consequence of the mayhem the country endured, thus acquiring citizenships in other countries. I believe it is a far-sighted intention, and would be just as daring for a change to also apply to one of the most discriminatory provisions, specifically, Article 27 (b) which denied persons of non Negro descent of Liberian citizenship. Our brothers and sisters, who fall in the category of being non blacks, could very well have much more to contribute toward the growth and development of the nation if they are encouraged through laws to be permanent stakeholders. For a country which has been the recipient of near worldwide largess in numerous instances of its suicidal mission and history to condone such racist laws in 2015, does not only reveal timidity and insincerity, it does restrain development.
For disclosure purpose, this writer supports dual citizenship privilege yet is mindful of the concerns of some that are resisting the reintegration of their brothers and sisters. That said, it is past time that Liberians overcome their fears and resist the urge to discriminate against their fellow natives. Another puzzle is the apparent lip service to equally changing key anti-development and anti-accountability provisions like the unprecedented tenures of public officials- which were the handiwork of the military that had no intention of giving up power to legitimate civilian authorities.
The well-known elephant in the room that the powers that be are either unwilling to face or wish no one talks about is the self-serving long tenure of elected officials. At the conclusion of the constitutional process in the mid nineteen eighties, many of our former progressives and those in the opposition and intellectual communities complained of the insanity of imposing such monopolized tenures on the Liberian people. But at last check, the once admired shadow reformers are now rulers, and are more satisfied to keeping prolong tenures in place which the military and its loyalists invented against the interests of Liberians. Strange, isn’t it? I call it profile in self perpetuation which ought to have no space in public service.
The President’s enthusiasm to fight corruption must not be separated from empowering voters to hold senior policy makers accountable in order to weed out miserable performers in the shortest possible time. While I’m not qualified to speak for Liberians, it is safe to say they would overwhelmingly vote to reduce the nine and six year tenures, if allowed to, of individuals whose public service records are nothing more than a joke, experts in corrupt bargains and looters of State coffers, thereby relegating those they have sworn to serve to a life span of poverty.
So, why are those undemocratic provisions still embed in the constitution? Why did the unbelievable and pretence referendum of 2011 not include answerability provisions in Articles 50 (tenure of president and vice president), 46 (tenure of Senators) and 48 (tenure of Representatives)? The 2011 referendum, among other insignificant issues except one, laughably put forth an increase in the retirement ages of Supreme Court justices and judges of subordinate courts, which stands at seventy years. Voters were practical to send the aforementioned in the rubbish bin where it truly belonged.
If Liberian leaders cannot muster the courage to spearhead a comprehensive change to a military imposed constitution, it is equally wrong to advance an incremental reform without stressing provisions that are unfavourable to the rulers’ interests. As our nation bleeds from all kinds of ills, its people are crying out for leaders that would at least put their personal interests in jeopardy to do what is right in support of the nation’s progress. And there are valid reasons to move quickly and produce these overdue constitutional amendments:
First, even if elected officials were commendable, nine or six year single tenure of office is unnecessarily long and counterproductive to the democratic tenets of accountability. It is somewhat upsetting if not offensive for public officials to hang on to power, using a flaw constitution as justification for such continuance.
Second, producing an ideal leadership does not have to be a license for officials to continually exercise dominance over what is right. Instead, their experiences in public office could be an asset in other sectors as they exit government. The private sector can then be strengthened to impact the millions that were not helped while in offices.
And third, voters don’t have to tolerate protracted tenures to vote officials out of offices if they are detrimental to the public interest. Any public service tenure above four or five years must be term limited to a single term to prevent enormous harm to the peoples’ interests. Democracy can live up to its true meaning when elected representatives are held to answer through the ballot box within a reasonable time periods so that it is clear with whom the real power lies, which is the people. That is the essence of good governance.
The argument that elections are costly and drain the limited financial resources of poor nations is self-serving. If we calculate the projected and real costs associated with untrustworthy, thoughtless and nepotistic governments, we might find frequent elections to be a good cause to advance growth, development, justice, peace and security. If experience is any guide from our democratic experiment, all-inclusive changes to our body politic have got to be treated as a national security issue. Regardless of the inspirational rhetoric, Liberia will continue to lag in every category of human development unless the structure of the State, premised on people first and not official first policies, is revisited. Until such time, which I believe is now, when self-interest politicians are not legally empowered to protect and enrich themselves for a single do nothing six and nine year tenures, I submit accountability, human rights, national development, peace, justice and security would be elusive. Then the people, not the “vampires of development”, to use the president’s words, would continue to suffer. Liberians must act, if the officials, who these bad laws support, cannot and would not act!