Liberians have called for constitutional reform because the 1984 constitution, which came into force in January, 1986 has several flawed provisions: Article 27 (b) limits Liberian citizenship to only Negroes or people of Negroid descent; Article 45 provides that the Senate shall be composed of Senators elected for a term of nine years; Article 48 provides for the elections of members of the House of Representatives for a six-year term; and Article 50 calls for the election of the president for a term of six years, with a provision for a second six-year term.
The 1983 Draft Constitution was crafted by the National Constitution Commission headed by Dr. Amos Sawyer. It was submitted to the Constitutional Advisory Assembly headed by Dr. Edward Kesselly for review. Dr. Abraham L. James thoroughly elaborated on the history of the constitution writing process and the weaknesses in the 1984 Constitution in his article Lingering Liberian Constitutional Issues, recently published by The Perspective.
The 1983 Draft constitution dismembered by the Constitutional Advisory Assembly (CAA) has nearly all the safeguards for democratic governance. Article 47 of the Draft Constitution calls for the elections of Senators for eight years; Article 50 calls for the elections of members of the House of Representatives for four years; and Article 52 of the Draft Constitution calls for the election of the president for a four-year term with the possibility of a second four-year term. In addition, Article 92 of the Draft Constitution provides for the establishment of various autonomous commissions including: (a) Public Service Commission, (b) Judicial Service Commission; (c) Electoral Commission, (d) Office of the Auditor General, and (e) Ombudsman Commission.
It is in the national interest for the interim government of Charles Gyude Bryant, the presidential aspirants, and the Liberian people to reform the constitution or institute the process of constitutional reform before the elections. It is likely that the elected government may not show the commitment to constitutional reform once it takes power. It is a customary human tendency not to negotiate oneself out of power. The fundamental law of self-preservation guards this simple fact. One of the major issues of governance Liberians have experienced in the past has been the desire of past Liberian leaders/rulers to hold onto power or attempt to hold onto power for too long. Examples include dictators Samuel K. Doe and Charles G. Taylor. They both exploited the 1984 constitution to the detriment of the Liberian people.
Therefore, in the interest of sustainable democracy, I propose that we implement the common sense and cost effective proposals below for constitutional reform in Liberia:
1. The Transitional National Assembly should initiate a process to put the 1983 Draft Constitution on the ballot in a national referendum two weeks before the October 2005 national elections for adoption as the organic law of Liberia. The 1983 Draft Constitution has all the safeguards to promote and preserve democratic governance in Liberia except the following Articles:
2. Article 27 restricts Liberian citizenship to people of Negroid descent. This article should be amended to open Liberian citizenship to people of all races. It was inserted in both the 1847 and 1984 constitutions primarily because of two reasons:
A. There are some Liberians who argue that because
of Liberia’s historical circumstance, i.e.,
the founding fathers of Liberia experiences with slavery
and racial discrimination in the United States; the
clause is necessary in the 1847 and 1984 constitutions.
However, the purposes for which the clause was inserted
in the 1847 and 1984 constitutions are self-defeating.
First, the settler Liberians discriminated against
their fellow indigenous Liberians and women for many
years. Indigenous Liberians (property owners) and
women did not vote in Liberia until the presidential
election of 1951 (WWW.cartage.org). Second, Liberian
rulers mistreated their fellow Liberians in the past
quarter century worse than white colonial masters
did in other countries, as evidenced by the administrations
of dictators Samuel K. Doe and Charles G. Taylor.
Hence, there is no moral justification to maintain
the clause in the Liberian constitution. It is morally
wrong for Liberians to deny people of other races
Liberian citizenship while obtaining citizenship in
European and American countries, among others.
(B) There are some Liberians who argue that Article 27 is necessary in the constitution because of Liberia’s socio-economic condition. They argue that allowing people of non-Negroid descent to obtain Liberian citizenship is disadvantageous to Liberians because Liberians do not have the economic resources to compete with Europeans and others that may obtain Liberian citizenship. First, denying citizenship to those who may want to invest and live in Liberia because Liberians do not have resources to compete discourages long-term commitment to Liberia by non-Africans. Second, it promotes capital flight. If one knows that he/she cannot become a citizen of a country, one is likely to send the profits from investments overseas.
3. Article 47 of the Draft Constitution provides for the election of Senators for eight years. I propose that this provision be amended to allow for the election of Senators for six years. Six years is a reasonable time period for anyone to put into place new ideas for national development. A reasonable frequency of elections in an infant democracy contributes toward political maturity. Ghana and Nigeria are prime examples.
Articles 27 and 47 of the 1983 Draft Constitution
should be amended before the national
referendum on the draft constitution. The 1983 Draft Constitution was thoroughly researched and debated by the Liberian people in 1983. Nearly all the provisions in the document are as relevant today as they were in 1983. A constitution is designed to withstand the test of time. The provisions of the 1983 Draft Constitution have largely accomplished that.
It is logical for the Liberian people to adopt the 1983 Draft Constitution. If Liberians fail to put into place the necessary constitutional reform or initiate the process before the elected government takes office, Liberians will only have themselves to blame again. The Liberian presidential aspirants, the interim government and the Liberian people must act now.