SOURCE: TEWROH-WEHTOE SUNGBEH
Like many unpopular things in Liberia’s 166-year history, the Liberian Constitution is a flawed body of work that needs drastic facelift to reflect the realities of genuine democratic principles such as life, liberty, rule of law, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness.
With a constitution as problematic as the current one, Liberia, as a sovereign nation cannot compete in an era of vast progress and rapid change springing around the world.
As a bad piece of work, the century-old Liberian constitution has been revised over and over to be citizen-friendly, yet the controversial constitution is far from being citizen or people-friendly.
Even though there are known problems with the current constitution, the Liberian people, with no fault of their own continued to be led by a constitution that can mean life or death.
Such arrangements and many more are made possible by the nation’s constitution and its Republican form of government, whose ancient centralization format has been disastrous from the day the Liberian nation was founded over a century ago.
While it is true that the archaic constitutional arrangement gives imperial powers to the president, it disempowers the Liberian people by leaving massive room for abuse and exploitation, and also wipes away their aspirations in a cruel way.
The question now is as one of the oldest countries in the African region, is it in the nation’s best interest for its political leaders to be bugged down to revising the constitution over and over when other equally important work has to be done to move the country forward?
The answer is yes. The first place to start is the presidency – an imperial office that controls, influences, manipulates, and can end the life of a person with the stroke of a pen. Drastically reduce the power of the president.
Former President William R. Tolbert Jr., was known for ending the lives of “convicted” killers by ordering their execution – usually by hanging without an independent and credible court trial by a jury.
The same President Tolbert, also a clergy at the time, advocated the (“Age of Consent”) – a law that would have made it legal for 13-year old girls to have sexual intercourse with grown men and young/adults boys. Of course, no one wants to see his or her little girl coerced to engage in sexual intercourse or raped because a president said so.
The law did not pass muster because of overwhelming public outcry. Some perverted Liberians however, accepted and practiced the act quietly because of the climate of tolerance expressed publicly by their president.
Also, from the appointment of the national police (chief) director, sheriffs and elections officials, to the appointment of local officials (Superintendents) in the political subdivisions (counties), Liberian presidents wield enormous power, courtesy of the Liberian constitution.
Liberian presidents also are empowered to appoint and fired school officials, which often influences education in a negative way, because the appointed officials has to consult a sitting president to make decisions about failing schools, bad teachers, failing students and tuition increases.
An example is the recent news report that 25,000 students failed the entrance examination at the University of Liberia. After news of such mass student failure hit newsstands worldwide, an embarrassed President Sirleaf ordered the University of Liberia to accept 1,800 students.
Why 1,800 students? What measuring stick did Madam Sirleaf use to guide her decision of selecting 1,800 students for admission?
According to reports reaching The Liberian Dialogue, all of those students actually did not fail the entrance examination as reported. The decision to deny those students entrance is due to the lack of adequate classrooms and other facilities, since the University of Liberia is already overcrowded. So, the easy way out is to cite mass failure and deny the entire bunch university entrance.
However, because of the existing centralized form of government the Liberian leader doesn’t have to consult a school board, because there are no school board members to consult. The President of Liberia appoints and fires school principles and teachers.
As a powerful political institution, the powerful presidency creates an atmosphere of arrogance, invincibility, a “know it all, and can do it all” attitude, which always breeds fear, insecurity and national paralysis.
Even in 2013, the nation’s powerful president is untamed.
The presidency as a powerful institution often outmaneuvers the national legislature. This equally important branch of government often seemed paralyzed by the aggressive and manipulative tactics of the president.
Some of the reasons expressed by students of Liberian politics are poverty, incompetence, and the miseducation of some the legislators, who are professional benchwarmers elected only to receive a paycheck, which kills the nation’s progress, growth and development.
The current Liberian Constitution stipulates that Senators and Representatives are granted nine and seven-year tenures. This crazy idea that Senators and Representatives are to serve 9 and 7 years is not only unacceptable, but also undemocratic, because it deprives others a chance to serve their country in a timely manner.
Say, if a Liberian is 60 years old and wants to serve, he or she has to wait until they are close to age 70 to run for office. This idea is ludicrous.
Liberian leaders, it seems are not thinking seriously about development, power-sharing and moving the nation forward in a positive-prosperous direction.
That’s because a constitution that focuses on giving more power to elected political leaders (and not the people) to make their own decisions, obviously perpetuates the imperial presidency that has enjoyed undiluted power since the 1800s.
For such a trend to continue in perpetuity in a post-war Liberia with a robust educated class, coupled with a politically conscious and vibrant Diaspora community and their Liberia-based brethren, poses a dilemma for any president.
To avoid future conflicts, amend a sensible citizen-friendly constitution that puts Liberia and the Liberian people first!