Challenging The Editor's Interpretation Of Article 52, Section C Of The Liberian Constitution

By Jesse B. Ghoah

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 25, 2003

In the Editorial, titled: "Challenging Taylor's Misinterpretation: The Ten year Residency Clause", dated January 17, 2002, the editor makes some of the biggest editorial assumptions and contradictions I have seen in a long time. For those of you who have not read that editorial, I encourage you to read it, so that you can see what I am about to discuss.

Before I begin to enumerate the editorial assumptions and contradictions, I would like to refer you to an article I wrote in July of 2002, titled: "THE LIBERIAN CONSTITUTION, THE BIGGEST JOKE OF THEM ALL." Let me repeat the first paragraph of that article here to prove the point I was trying to make then and now. It is very sad that Liberians, particularly the so called Liberian intellectuals, don't get it. In any case, here is the paragraph:

"It is mind bungling that in the late 20th century, a group of so called Liberian intellectuals could have written a document, called the Constitution of Liberia, which is binding on all Liberians today as well as future generation, to be so devoid of thoughtfulness, reasonableness, legal implications, and foresightedness. Why did this group decide to give the power of an emperor and a king, combined, to an elected president of Liberia? Just who are the people who drafted this garbage and forced it on the Liberian people to approve and adopt? As far as I am concerned, the Liberian Constitution, as written, is not worth the paper it is written on." In addition, I made some comments on the very same article 52, which I thought would come back to haunt the Liberian people one day. Article 52 reads as follows: 'No person shall be eligible to hold the office of President or Vice-President, unless that person is:

a. A natural born Liberian citizen of not less than 35 Years of age;

b. The owner of unencumbered real property valued at Not less than twenty-five thousand dollars; and

c. Resident in the Republic ten (10) years prior to his election, provided that the President and the Vice President shall not come from the same county.'

Now, lets examine 52a, 52b, and 52c. 52a - if that article means anything, how is it that Samuel K. Doe was elected President of Liberia in 1985 at age 33? When Doe came to power in April 12, 1980, it was printed in all the papers of the world that he was 28 years old. Definitely, he could not have become 35 years of age 5 years later; unless that was some new mathematics somebody in Liberia invented. Next, we come to 52b - The owner of unencumbered real property valued at not less than twenty-five thousand dollars. Is the 25,000 dollars American dollars or Liberian dollars? 52c – Resident in the Republic ten (10) years prior to his election, provided that the President and the Vice President shall not come from the same county. Why was the 10-year residency requirement necessary, if a Liberian who was running for the presidency already met the requirements of 52a and 52b? You think about it! I think that the 10-year residency requirement was written in the constitution to exclude Liberians in exile or Liberians living abroad from the political process. However, since 52c is part of the constitution, has anybody investigated the time that Charles Taylor returned to Liberia? Mr. Taylor was elected President of Liberia in 1997. In order to comply with article 52c, he would have had to reside in Liberia all of 1988 through 1997. It is my understanding that in 1988, Mr. Taylor was either in jail in Massachusetts, USA, for embezzlement or in training in Libya, to learn how to kill fellow Liberians. He returned to Liberia near the end of 1989. If this is correct, that makes Charles Taylor's election to the presidency of Liberia illegitimate, according to the constitution. He was almost two (2) years short of the 10-year time requirement."

Since The Perspective published my article, I have talked to many Liberian lawyers who should know about clause C of article 52 of the Liberian Constitution. The almost unanimous explanation I have received is that Charles Taylor was elected in a special election, which did not consider the provisions of the Liberian Constitution in 1997. However, since the 1997 elections, I am told the Liberian Legislature has adopted the 1985(6) Liberian Constitution.

Now, let me come back to the editorial assumptions and contradictions. Mr. Editor, please address or clarify the following statements/questions:

1. You take Charles Taylor to task about his Misinterpretation of the Ten-Year Residency Clause
(C) in the Liberian Constitution. what did Mr. Taylor misinterpret exactly?

2. Do you think that you have a better understanding of the Liberian Constitution than Liberian President Charles Taylor, whose duty it is to enforce the constitution?

3. You state in paragraph two of your editorial that Section C of Article 52 of the Liberian Constitution is an obscure clause. Just what do you mean by that? Can any part of an approved and adopted constitution be considered obscure?

4. You state in paragraph 3 of your editorial that you were using common sense as your guide to interpret clause C of the Liberian Constitution. Is that all (common sense) that is needed to interpret the constitution (the highest law of the land)? How can we, as a people, be expected to become democratic if we don't know the basic interpretation of the Liberian constitution?

5. You state the following in paragraph 4 of your editorial: "For us, Clause C is a pretty clear statement. We do not see the need for any legal contention for something this simple". If Clause C is as simple as you think, please explain the phrase ten years prior to his election. Does that mean that only men can and should be elected to the presidency of Liberia? Are women excluded from running for president of Liberia? Are you a judge/lawyer in Liberia? Am I to understand that the Liberian Constitution should be left to each and every individual layperson to interpret, as he/she understands it?

6. Your understanding of Clause C, you say the following: "The way we understand the clause is any natural born Liberian citizen who is at least 35 years of age, and has been a resident in the Republic ten years before any scheduled election, is eligible to run for president or vice president. Are you confusing Clause C with Article 52? Article 52 consists of clauses a, b, and c. Please clarify how you arrived at that understanding. It sounds, to me, as if you were one of the framers. By the way, did you have something to do with the writing of that clause? And even if you did, isn't that intent? You have already stated that there is no basis to interpret the intent of the clause.

7. Your 45-year and 60-year old examples, particularly your 60-year-old Liberian citizen who spent the first five years of his life in Liberia, but had since lived in the U.S. for some 50 years before returning home in 1998, is equally eligible to stand for the presidency in the upcoming elections. Mr. Editor, please tell me, how many Liberian judges and lawyers agree with this interpretation. Isn't this a gross and wrong assumption? Did you write this clause in the constitution? Also tell me, how many Liberian intellectuals, like yourself, agree with this interpretation of the constitution.

8. In paragraph 6, you state that if Charles Taylor's interpretation of clause C were correct, he should not have been elected in 1997. This was exactly my sentiment in my article about the constitution. In one of my many articles you have published for me, I forget now which one; I posed the question about the Special Elections. My question was, did the Liberian opposition leaders knowingly sign on to the special election agreement? The other question was did anybody expect Charles Taylor to be elected in a special elections, with no binding rules, and once elected, to govern constitutionally?

9. In paragraph 7, you say Clause C is one of the most liberal provisions in the Liberian Constitution. How so? What are the other liberal clauses?

10. Last, but not least, I think the Editor's understanding of Clause C of the Liberian Constitution was reinforced by Archie Bernard's article of January 21,2003. My only shock is that Archie Bernard does not know what clause C of the constitution means or its objectivity, even though he took part in approving and adopting it. As long as there are Liberians out there who are in denial, Liberia will remain in its present quagmire. It is beyond me how Article 52, with 3 distinct parts, giving the qualifications and eligibility of a candidate for the presidency of Liberia can be so misconstrued.