Liberia: Pro-Weah Lawmakers Soliciting 49 Votes to Approve Referendum Propositions Today

Rep. Arous Gray, main sponsor of the eight proposals for constitution amendment

Members of the House of Representatives loyal to or collaborating with the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), led by Montserrado County District #8 and Nimba County District #1 Representatives Acarous M. Gray and Jeremiah Koung of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), are expected to begin persuading 49 of their colleagues today (Friday) to either approve or vote for the eight proposals submitted by President George M. Weah to form part of a referendum to amend the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.

49 votes or signatures constitute two-thirds of the membership of the House of Representatives to approve the propositions for a referendum for amendment in the constitution.

The House Plenary, during its Thursday, September 19, 2019 sitting, has deferred the discussion of the President's communication requesting for consideration of the eight proposals to amend certain propositions of the constitution to today (Friday) following the failure of the copies of the proposals to be distributed to each lawmaker yesterday.

Margibi County District #2 Representative Ivar Jones proffered that before the discussion of the eight proposals, copies should be distributed prior to session. The Margibi County lawmaker's amendment to the motion was owing to a report from the House's Judiciary Committee on the interpretation of Article 91 of the 1986 Constitution.

The House's Judiciary Committee, through its co-chairman Cllr. Kanie Wesso, explained that after consultations with legal luminaries and the Senate's Judiciary chairman, the House of Representatives only needs two-thirds of its membership to approve propositions for referendum for constitutional amendments either proposed or petitioned from any membership of either House or by not fewer than 10,000 citizens, submitted to the Legislature.

Article 91 of the Constitution says: "This Constitution may be amended whenever a proposal by either (1) two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature or (2) a petition submitted to the Legislature, by not fewer than 10,000 citizens, which receives the concurrence of two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature, is ratified by two-thirds of the registered voters, voting in a referendum conducted by the Elections Commission not sooner than one year after the action of the Legislature."

The House's Judiciary co-chairman's explanation of Article 91 was prompted from diverse interpretations by Representatives Larry Younquoi and Francis Dopoh, on the one hand, who said the President's proposals should not have been written by himself, but should be by any number of Representatives or through the signatures of 10,000 citizens. Also, before the proposals can be discussed in the Chambers, there should be a two-third votes, which is equivalent to 49 persons, they said..

Reps. Acarous M. Gray and Jeremiah Koung on the other hand, admitted to the violation of the Constitution when the President communicated the proposals, and therefore resubmitted the proposals, with Rep. Gray becoming the main sponsor, but strongly differed that before the proposals should be discussed in the chambers, it should have the required votes of two-thirds.

Rep. Jeremiah Koung of MDR

With the interpretation of the Article 91, members of the House of Representatives are expected and set to debate the eight proposals for referendum to change certain provisions of the Constitution, whereas the pro-

Weah lawmakers are expected to begin soliciting signatures to fill-up the 49 required.

If at least 49 Representatives, through votes or signatures, pass the eight propositions today, they will be forwarded to the Liberian Senate for concurrence.

Today's session will end the first of the two weeks' extension by the Legislature to approve priority bills from the President including the 2019/2010 Budget, which is currently in its concluding stage before the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee. The team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning are also part of the convincing phase.

Eight Propositions

Proposition 1: To amend Article 28 to provide for dual citizenship of persons who are Negroes or of Negroes decent.

Article 28 reads: Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person's birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country. No citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality.

Suggested amendment:

Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person's birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; no citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality. A citizen of Liberia may hold the citizenship of another country but shall not qualify to be appointed or to hold the following positions:

President

Vice President

Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia

Speaker

President Pro-Tempore

Deputy Speaker

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Ambassadors

Minister of Defense

Minister of Justice

Proposition 2: To amend Article 45 to provide for filling vacancies created by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise of Senators.

Article 45 reads: The Senate shall be composed of Senators elected for a term of nine years by the registered voters in each of the counties, but a Senator elected in a by-election to fill a vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, shall be so elected to serve only the remainder of the unexpired term of office. Each county shall elect two Senators and each Senator shall have one vote in the Senate. Senators shall be eligible for re-election.

Suggested amendment:

The Senate shall be composed of Senators elected for a term of seven (7) years by the registered voters in each of the counties. A vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsions or otherwise, shall be filled by appointment by the duly elected county councils within ninety days from the time the notice of vacancy is made known to the County Council by the presiding officer of the Senate. Such notice shall be given not later than thirty days following the creation of such vacancy. The appointed Senator shall serve only the remainder term of the office. The duly elected County Council shall formulate the guidelines by which the vacancy can be filled. Each county shall elect two Senators and each Senator shall have one vote in the Senate. Senators shall be eligible for re-election.

Proposition 3: To amend Article 46 to provide for the reduction in the tenure of Senators.

Article 46 reads: Immediately after the Senate shall have assembled following the election prior to the coming into force of this Constitution, the Senators shall be divided into two categories as a result of the votes cast in each county. The Senator with the higher votes cast shall be the Senator of the first category and the Senator with lower votes cast shall be the Senator of the second category; provided that no two Senators from a county shall be placed in the same category. The seats of Senators of the first category shall be vacated at the expiration of the ninth year. In the interest of legislative continuity, the Senators of the second category shall serve a term of six years only, after the first elections. Thereafter, all Senators shall be elected to serve a term of nine years.

Suggested amendment:

Immediately after the Senate shall have assembled following the election prior to the coming into force of this Constitution, the Senators shall be divided into two categories as a result of the votes cast in each county. The Senator with the higher votes cast shall be the Senator of the first category and the Senator with lower votes cast shall be the Senator of the second category; provided that no two Senators from a county shall be placed in the same category. The seats of Senators of the first category shall be vacated at the expiration of the ninth year. In the interest of legislative continuity, the Senators of the second category shall serve a term of six years only, after the first elections.

Without prejudice to the interest of legislative continuity, immediately upon the passage of this amendment, all Senators shall be elected for a term of seven (7) years.

Proposition 4: To amend Article 48 to provide for the reduction in the tenure of Representatives.

Article 48 reads: The House of Representatives shall be composed of members elected for a term of six (6) years by the registered voters in each of the legislative constituencies of the counties, but a member of the House of Representative elected in a by-election to fill a vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, shall be elected to serve only the remainder of the unexpired term of the office. Members of the House of Representatives shall be eligible for re-election.

Suggested amendment:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of members elected for a term of five (5) years by the registered voters in each of the legislative constituencies of the counties. A vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, shall be filled by appointment by the duly elected County councils within ninety days from the time the notice of vacancy is made known to the County Council by the presiding officer of the House of Representatives. Such notice shall be given not later than thirty days following the creation of such vacancy. The appointed Representative shall serve only the remainder term of the office. The duly elected County council shall formulate their guidelines by which the vacancy can be filled. Members of the House of Representatives shall be eligible for re-election.

Proposition 5: To amend Article 49 to provide for the election of a Speaker, Deputy Speaker and other officers of the House of Representatives.

Article 49 reads: The House of Representatives shall elect once every six years a Speaker who shall be the presiding officer of that body, a Deputy Speaker and such other officers as shall ensure the proper functioning of the House. The Speaker, Deputy Speaker and other officers so elected may be removed from office for cause by resolution of two-thirds majority of the members of the House.

Suggested amendment:

The House of Representatives shall elect once every five (5) years a Speaker who shall be the presiding officer of that body, a Deputy Speaker and such other officers as shall ensure the proper functioning of the House. The Speaker, Deputy Speaker and other officers so elected may be removed from office for cause by resolution of two-thirds majority of the members of the House.

Proposition 6: To amend Article 50 to provide for the reduction in the tenure of the President.

Article 50 reads: The Executive power of the Republic shall be vested in the President who shall be Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The President shall be elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and shall hold office for a term of six years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the election. No person shall serve as President for more than two terms.

Suggested amendment:

The Executive power of the Republic shall be vested in the President who shall be Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The President shall be elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and shall hold office for a term of five (5) years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the election. No person shall serve as President for more than two terms.

Proposition 7: To amend Article 66 to provide for the establishment of Regional Intermediary Appellate Courts.

Article 66 reads: The Supreme Court shall be the final arbiter of constitutional issues and shall exercise final appellate jurisdiction in all cases whether emanating from courts of records, courts not of records, administrative agencies, autonomous agencies or any other authority, both as to law and fact except cases involving ambassadors, ministers, or cases in which a county is a party. In all such cases, the Supreme Court shall exercise original jurisdiction. The Legislature shall make no law nor create any exceptions as would deprive the Supreme Court of any of the powers granted herein.

Suggested amendment:

The Supreme Court shall be the final arbiter of constitutional issues and shall exercise final appellate jurisdiction in cases of first degree felonies and in civil matters were the thing or amount involve exceeds one million United States dollars or its equivalent in Liberian dollars, whether emanating from courts of records, courts not of records, both as to the law and fact except cases involving ambassadors, ministers or cases in which a county is a party. In all such cases, the Supreme Court shall exercise original jurisdiction. The Legislature pursuant to its powers in article 65, shall establish Regional Intermediary Appellate Courts in the Country with appellate jurisdiction above the Circuit Courts and decisions by these courts shall be final except in cases were the Supreme Court has jurisdiction. The Legislature shall make no law nor create any exceptions as would deprive the Supreme Court of any of the powers granted herein.

Proposition 8: To amend Article 80 to provide for additional representatives seats for female candidates.

Suggested amendment {Article 80 (f)}:

Notwithstanding Article 11 of this Constitution, in order to address historical imbalances and gender inequality experienced by the female population, one female constituency seat shall be established and reserved exclusively for women representatives in each county. Only female members of political parties shall qualify to contest as candidates for the Female Constituency seats. The female candidate contesting for such seat and who obtains the highest votes in the county shall be elected for a term of five (5) years.

In the event of a vacancy of a Female Constituency seat in the Legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, the presiding officer of the House of Representatives shall within thirty days notify the political party on whose ticket the female representative contested to fill the vacancy; provided that where such vacancy occurs within ninety days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections.

Any Female Constituency Representative who resigns, or is expelled from the political party on whose ticket she won the election, that representative shall forfeit the Female Constituency seat of that county thereby creating a vacancy. The said political party shall have the right to fill the vacancy created by such resignation or expulsion within thirty days following the notification to the Presiding officer of the House of Representatives provided that where such vacancy occurs within ninety days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections.

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