Should We Amend The Current Constitution Before Elections?

By Dr. Leon Q. Ledlum

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 10, 2003

Fellow Liberians, as is characteristic of us when it comes to focusing on relevant issues, I see us once again over focus on the main issue, but losing touch with what makes the main issue work well.

Almost every Liberian that has shown some interest in our national plight, and many of them are now very, or may I dare to say, over focus on events that are taking place in Ghana, relative to the in-coming transitional government (T-GOL). Their focus is not so much on the detail, but on the personalities that would occupy the various government positions.

One very important ingredient to good governance, the Constitution, has been raised as an issue, and Liberians are being asked to make their voices heard, yet we have chosen to be silent and unconcerned about it, forgetting to know that our lack of knowledge of it and the provisions therein, have helped to bleed our country.

At the ongoing meeting in Accra, Ghana my sources have informed me that the issue of the Constitution was raised, and if the incoming T-GOL should have that as part of its mandate, to have it amended should the Liberian people so desire.

We have a once in a chance to have this opportunity again, yet we sit about and do/say nothing, but anxiously await for a new government to use those provisions to stifle our progress as a nation.

Dear compatriots, let no one fool you. If I may borrow the usual American expression, “if they say it's not sex, it is sex”. I will have to translate that to reflect my issue here: they would say, “the constitution is not the problem, it is the problem”.

Should we allow the ensuing elections to take place without working on the Constitution? We are in effect putting people in power based on those provisions and, therefore, would use it to stifle any process to call for its amendment. There are many flaws in this Constitution, and those who are clamoring for power today know that, but because they smell political power, they find it in good standing, and are pushing for elections without amending it.

They would want us to believe the only way to amend the Constitution, is by the elected representatives in a formal government. As true as this may appear to be, I want the people to ask these questions: a) How was our current Constitution written? b) What type of government was in place when this Constitution was written?

If these questions are truthfully answered, then I can comfortably say we can certainly amend the Constitution before the next elections. Mark my words fellow Liberians, should we sit supinely and do nothing to at least demand for amendment of this 1986 Constitution, we would come to regret it.

What is my beef with the 1986 Constitution? A lot! Take a look at the appointing powers of the president. He/She is empowered to appoint virtually every body in government; and we expect a three but equal branches of government? “How can you bite the hand that feeds you?”

Let's take a look at some of the appointing powers of the Liberian President:

Reference: Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, January 6, 1986.

Chapter VI: The Executive. Article 54:

The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Senate, appoint and commission:

  1. a) Cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers

  2. b) Ambassadors, ministers, consuls

  3. c) The Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts

  4. d) Superintendents, other county officials and officials of other political sub-divisions

  5. e) Members of the military from the rank of lieutenant or its equivalent and above, and

  6. f) Marshals deputy marshals, and sheriffs.

There are Articles 55, 56 (a and b) that deal with the appointing power of the president, and I strongly recommend that you read them and see the level of power this constitution grants the Liberian President. He or she can even also remove an elected Chief (Paramount, Clan and Town).

Let's look at the legislature length of tenure for an elected period: Article 45:

The Senate shall be composed of Senators elected for the term of NINE YEARS by the registered voters in each of the counties------and so on.

With such power, in a country like ours, what do we expect to happen? We will have a president that everybody must look up to for jobs in the Government, hence, a precursor to dictatorship.

Liberians are yearning for a fundamental change in the way we do our politics. It is about time power is shifted from Monrovia to the counties. It is only fair to have the governed elect the governors, hence, the counties should have the right to elect their officials, rather than having the president appoint them. This system of governance has created “RULERS” not leaders. County officials hold their loyalty to the president, and care less about what the inhabitants of their respective counties say.

The issue of the ten-year clause is yet to be clarified; the electoral season in Liberia is put right in the midst of our raining season, knowing very well that our roads become impassable then. These are some of the issues that need attending to before going to elections.

Do not entrust your future with these politicians, they would stonewall any attempt to change the provisions as there are now, because they want to benefit from them.

The most appropriate time to amend the 1986 Constitution is during the transitional period. Liberians, do not go to the next elections without correcting these short comings in this Constitution. The issues raised here are not the only ones, there are more, so please find a copy of the 1986 Liberian Constitution, and familiarize yourselves with the provisions therein.

The process of amending the Constitution is the same, be it TRANSITIONAL GOL, or ELECTED GOL: it is a three step process, with the people having the final say on it by way of a REFERENDUM.

Liberians, Let's Amend The 1986 Constitution Before The Next General Elections!