The New Dawn (Monrovia)

28 February 2013

Liberia: Constitution Review Committee Marches On

The Constitution Review Committee has ended a three days working retreat in the historic City of Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County which began Wednesday February 13, 2013 and ended February 15, 2013.

In her opening statement, the Chairperson of the CRC, Justice Gloria Scott welcomed members of the committee, staff of the CRC, and dignitaries to the opening of the Retreat and informed them that the intent of the retreat was to have shared knowledge of the constitution and other documents associated with the process. Justice Scott referred to the Vision 2030 document, Road Map to Peace and Reconciliation, Agenda for Transformation, Decentralization Policy and, the 1986 Constitution.

She further said the Retreat was necessary to enable committee members to gain a greater understanding on these critical governance and constitutional matters that may be raised during nationwide consultations so as to speak with one voice since indeed at certain points they would have to be separated. Justice Scott noted that the committee's mandate is based on a mass participatory platform that would assure that appropriate decision making mechanisms are put in place that would lead to recommendations to the President for legislative action.

Dignitaries who graced the Three Days Working Retreat were, His Excellency, Aeneas Choma, Deputy Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in charge of Consolidation of Democratic Governance and his entourage, His Excellency, Dominic Sam, UNDP Country Representative to Liberia, Honorable S. Gayah Karmo, Chairman on Judiciary, House of Representatives, Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs, Honorable Teah Nagbe, Cllr. Jallah Barbu, Chairman of the Law Reform Commission, Cllr. Willie Barclay of the Law Reform Commission, Cllr. Yarsuo Weh Dorliae and others. Members of the CRC present at the Retreat were, Hon. Soko Sarko, Dr. Elwood Dunn, Rev. Kennedy Sandy, Rev. Jasper Ndaborlor and Justice Gloria Scott.

It can be recalled that on August 22, 2012, the President of the Republic of Liberia appointed a five member committee, now six, to review the Liberian Constitution. This is in compliance with the Government reform processes in all areas of our national lives with the support of the international community.

The terms of reference of the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) are to lead to the review of the 1986 constitution through public discourses and debates on constitutional provisions to ensure that they conform with post conflict democratic realities; consider governance issues as they reflect national policies such as decentralization and local governance as well as the establishment of administrative offices and sector reforms that need constitutional interventions.

The CRC, under its ToR, is also expected, as a significant part of its mandate, to review the entire constitution and identify other provisions such as terms of office of the President, Vice President, Legislators, Justices and Judges to determine whether they require amendments among others.

The CRC which is empowered to lead and guide the constitutional review process is mandated to carryout extensive consultations with the people of Liberia. Its submission is expected to prioritize the thoughts and views of citizens on how they wish to be governed and what they want their constitution to contain.

In an effort to efficiently execute their mandate, the Committee members have been deeply involved in consultations and deliberations with members of the legislature, executive, judiciary, political parties, civil society institutions, women and youth groups and other stakeholders. They intend to make these consultations exhaustive and more participatory to obtain people based recommendations.

The three days working retreat has been described by participants as very rigorous and successful. The Law Reform Commission Representative Counselor Willie Barclay facilitated the first working session which conducted an intensive and holistic review of each chapter and article of the entire constitution. At this session, inputs were competitive and discoveries were made and noted for study, research, and presentation to the people of Liberia. Inputs and discoveries made have made the review process not only imperative, but most crucial for the sound democratic governance of the State.

The Governance Commission represented by Honorable Yarsuo Weh Dorliae and entourage made a presentation on processes that would lead to decentralization and recommendations for the election of superintendents, district commissioners, and county councils that would serve as local legislative bodies among others. Proposed constitutional amendments such as article 54d and article 56b were discussed and debated. Their presentations which included the Vision 2030 document presented by Commissioner Elizabeth Sele Mulbah were geared towards identifying areas that require constitutional interventions.

The Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs and the Governance Committee jointly addressed participants on the need to have some aspects of the decentralization policy actualized as soon as possible since this will concentrate power in the hands of the masses. The Committee noted the suggestion and drew attention to processes of impeachment, candidacy and functions of the superintendent which are also necessary to harmonize in other to avoid constitutional conflicts.

The Chairman of House Statutory Committee on Judiciary, Cllr. S. Gayah Karmo was invited by the CRC as a lawyer and member of the House to speak on the procedures, processes, and strategies to obtain approval for constitutional amendments. The Counselor cited articles 91 & 92 of the Constitution as the guide to constitutional amendments. He however advised that the committee take into consideration legislative calendar, agenda, super two third majority, obligation of the legislators to consult their people and their constitutional responsibility of conducting public hearings. The lawmaker cautioned that amendments must be based on popular initiatives of the people and not political actions/initiatives which bypass normal legislative processes.

At the end of the retreat, the Chairperson of the CRC, Justice Scott thanked all presenters and participants and expressed the committee's appreciation for the frank and exhaustive exchange of views, opinions, and ideas. She emphasized the need for cordial engagements with all stakeholders and the national legislature for the success of the process.

In his closing remarks, the DRSG, His Excellency Aeneas Choma said constitution is meant to last the test of time and education is required in the process. He noted that the people must see themselves in the constitution through inclusivity which brings about stability and adherence. He pointed out further that the process is to build a new state and a kind of cohesiveness. He pledged UNMIL continue support to the CRC and assistance to assess international good practices. He commended the success of the Retreat.

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