The Informer (Monrovia)

Liberia: Traditional Leaders Make Input in Constitution Review Process

Traditional leaders from the 15 counties of Liberia totaling 150 invited by the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) for consultation on the 1986 Constitution have made suggestions in the review process of the country's constitution.

During their discussion over the weekend, the elders of the land deliberated and established six thematic groups with each group dealing with two thematic issues to carefully study issues raised by them and to submit a set of proposals for discussion and subsequent submission to the CRC as their initial contribution to the national conversation which is taking place nationally to amend the Constitution of Liberia.

The issues which generally received the endorsement of the traditional leaders and considered crucial to the development, peace and stability of Liberia were, currency, separation of powers, qualification, culture, tenure, citizenship and reduction of political parties. Others were disability, land, gender, and access to justice.

The groups' presentation which attracted debates and at least consensus touched on core national debates currently going on in Liberia. The concerns over dual currency in Liberia have extended to the traditional leaders.

In their report, Group one said all government officials from top to bottom should be paid in Liberian currency which they recommend should be one to one at par value with the USD. They also proposed the return on the money market of Liberian coins and that mutilated Liberian currency notes should not be rejected.

Group one also reviewed Article three of the Liberian Constitution and in light of current national experiences recommended, under separation of powers, that each branch of government should work independently; but in coordination with each other with respect and dialogue.

In an effort to promote good governance and accountability to the people, they have proposed that superintendents, development superintendents, city mayors should be elected, and chiefs should be selected by the people in the counties. They want traditional powers to be given to traditional leaders and all traditional cases should be judged by traditional leaders.

Presenting a set of proposals also, the thematic group on qualification and culture proposed that any one vying for the presidency must be a Liberian citizen and have a property value of US$ 100, 000.00 and must have served in areas such as district commissioner, superintendent, senator, representative, ambassador or cabinet position with an educational level of masters degree and resident in Liberia for a minimum of five years.

In respect of senator and representative, the group wants six years term for senator and four years term for representative. They proposed that to qualify for the senatorial race, a candidate must have a college degree, a farm in the county that employs at least 50 persons. For the House of Representatives, candidates must be at least a high school graduate and own a farm that employs at least 50 persons in the district.

According to their recommendations, superintendents should be in office for five years and possess a college degree and a farm in the county that employs at least 25 persons. This goes along with the position of city mayors. They want district commissioners and chiefs of all categories to be elected without a prescribed tenure; but can be removed by the people based on dissatisfaction and proven misconduct. Commissioners are to attain a high school diploma; and to reside with his people; while chiefs must own a farm and reside with his people peacefully, the group concluded.

The Group on citizenship has opposed the voices of some Liberians who insist that Liberia's constitution is racist and that Liberia can be developed speedily if citizenship rights are extended to whites. Contrarily, they insist that Liberians themselves can develop Liberia and in order to maintain peace, unity, and a cultural identity, they want Article 27b to be upheld. In their proposals, they insist that only black people should be given citizenship and that dual citizenship should not be encouraged.

As the national conversation gains accelerated interest, traditional leaders believe that wisdom must be employed in how Liberians govern themselves and to deal decisively with issues capable of rifting the nation. One of the issues they believe is an explosive one is the numerical preponderance or proliferation of political parties.

Group three which was tasked with the responsibility to come up with propositions on political parties proposed that the constitution should be revisited to amend portions of Chapter 8 of the Liberian Constitution which deals with political parties.

They have proposed at least two political parties and stringent measures to curb the proliferation of political parties. From five hundred names and signatures from at least six counties according to Article 79 of the 1986 Constitution, the group have proposed 50,000 persons and signatures; and to qualify for registered political party status, they have proposed US$150,000 to be paid to NEC or Government revenues.

The traditional leaders have joined other concerned Liberians and major stakeholders to express their concerns over the tenure of offices for the president, senators, representatives and themselves. They want reduction of presidential term from six to four; senators from nine to six; representatives from six to four; and chiefs from six to four. These proposals came from Group Four which handled the debate on tenure of office.

The group's compassion for persons with disabilities and their rights to equal opportunities as Liberians is contained in proposals to the body of chiefs and elders. Group Four has proposed free education, employment opportunities and empowerment for persons with disabilities. They also want budgetary allotment and monthly allowance for blind people and those who are completely unable to provide anything for themselves.

Meanwhile, the question of land and rights to mineral resources found beneath the land and in waterways according to Article 22b of the Constitution captured the focus of Group Five. Instead of the Government of Liberia, they have proposed that land should belong to the people of Liberia and that any land government wishes to utilize, that portion of land should be discussed with the owners.

The Group further wants tribal people and owners of lands with mineral resources on them to own shares instead of the current law which deprived them totally. Also, negotiations involving lands government want should involve the owners.

The traditional leaders also deliberated on access to justice. In their report to the full body, Group six proposed that everyone should be equally treated and judged under the laws of Liberia. They want stringent and drastic measures to be taken against those who undermine justice in the country. The measures shall not exclude law enforcers who undermine fair play and justice. The group has proposed life sentence in jail for them.

On cultural matters, the group on access to justice proposed that anyone found exposing sacred or secret cultural matters on radio and other communications outlets should be punished by the Zoes of that land. They recommend also that drug dealers, rapists, and murderers should not be entitled to lawyers.

Last but not the least, Group Six, which dealt with Gender and Reduction of Political Parties, presented their proposals. On gender, they believe both man and woman should have the same rights and equal opportunities in terms of job and education. If that is done, they believe it would help Liberia to live in peace and maintain their resources. They also recommend a two party system to avoid political conflicts.

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