Civil Society Organizations Push for Referendum

By Mafanta Kromah

 

The Civil Society Coalition held a “multi-stakeholders dialogue” on June 2, 2017 in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County with Law Reform Commission and a cross section of Liberian Senate. The group is working to promote Nationwide Consultations on the Constitutional Review process with the intends to encourage an accelerated action on a joint resolution leading to the referendum bill by the National Legislature.

The dialogue was climaxed by critical review and procedural discussions on the propositions pending before the House of Senate and propounding possible steps for a Constitutional referendum bill within 2017 by the National Legislature.

The dialogue brought together 15 Senators, two Supreme Court Justices (Cllr. Philip A.Z. Banks and Cllr. Kabineh M. Ja’neh) and the leadership of the Law Reform Commission, the Grand Bassa County Superintendent, and the Leadership of Civil Society Organizations on the Constitutional Reform, and local authorities of Grand Bassa County.

Speaking during the discussion, Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, made presentation on the topic: “Towards a Constitutional Amendment.  Justice Banks’ presentation inspired and motivated the Senators who promised to take timely action toward reviewing, discussing and working to get a Referendum Bill considering that they have better clarity to work toward amending the Liberia Constitution.

For his part, Cllr. Boakai N. Kanneh, Chairman of the Law Reform Commission, presented on proposals for Amendment, his presentation layout on the entire 24 recommendations from the Constitution Review Committee report with statistics on what were voted or and against during the national conference to assist the Senators deepen their understanding of what were the issues discussed around the country.

Some Senators who gave reasons for the delay in discussing the constitutional propositions, indicated that the delays were due to procedural error earlier observed from the Executive Branch, but based on the precision from the presentations made by constitution lawyers including Justice Banks and Cllr. Kanneh, provided the technical basis to precede discussions to amend the Liberian Constitution.

Following the presentations, the discussion session prompted series of questions and answers, which provided many Senators the opportunity to engage Justice Banks for clarity noting “we are now fully being prepared and equipped to move ahead in reviewing, discussing and presenting a referendum bill for the Liberian voters to decide,” one Senator said.

In addition, Grand Bassa County first female Senator, Yornblee Karngar-Lawrence, assured that a joint committee meeting with both the Houses of Senate and Representatives could be possible to review and discuss the propositions in which a report will be provided to the plenary for action.

On his part, Nimba County Senator Thomas S. Grupee, who is the Chairman on the Internal Affairs, Good Governance and Reconciliation said the Liberian Senate will review and discuss all 24 recommendations which derived from the Gbarnga national Conference and make a decision through a report to plenary to resolve on a possible referendum bill and indicated that the senate could probably add new issues that will improve governance in Liberia.

Meanwhile, Grand Bassa County Senator Geraldine Doe-Sherif, who is the Chairperson on the Committee on Executive, pledged to work with her colleagues to promote the process that will lead to a national constitution referendum that is overdue since 2015. “This will ensure that the Liberian citizens will have their voices heard through voting for or against final propositions,” she indicated.

The Constitution of Liberia is the supreme law of the Republic of Liberia. The current constitution, which came into force on January 6, 1986, replaced the Liberian Constitution of 1847, under a Military Regime, which had been in force since the independence of Liberia.

Liberian people desire a new and better constitution after 170 years of independence and on August 13, 2015, the President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf submitted the final Constitution Review recommendations to the Legislature through the President Pro-Tempore to be studied for possible legislative action that could constitute propositions for amendment through a national referendum. This process is still pending at the Liberian Senate.

This initiative is being undertaken by the the concerned Civil Society Organizations including (NAYMOTE, PMU, LDMI, IREDD and SAIL) supported by the United Nation Development Program in Liberia.

The five CSOs however recommended  the Law Reform Commission timely expedite to give all legal support to the House of Senate and the necessary documentation that will assist in reviewing, discussing and making decision for a National referendum bill leading to referendum.

That the Committee on Internal Affairs, Good Governance and Reconciliation as well as the Committee on Judiciary at the Liberian Senate, takes leadership actions in reviewing, discussing, reporting to the plenary for onward introduction on the floor for deliberations based on the presentations and lesson learned from Constitutional Lawyers including Justice Philip Z.A. Banks and Cllr. Boakai N. Kanneh, Chairperson, Law Reform Commission during the dialogue.

They also requested that the Law Reform Commission and Civil Society Organizations continue working with the House of Senate and House of Representatives to pass a Bill of Referendum prior to their annual agriculture break in 2017.

Meanwhile, Eddie D. Jarwolo, member of the CSO organizations said, amendment of the Constitution through a referendum will contribute meaningfully in addressing some of the governance challenges facing the country including dual citizenship, reduction of tenure of elected public officials, decentralization, and the elections of local leaders.

The five CSO Coalition on Constitutional Reform commended the Law Enforcement commission, the Liberian Senate and Lawyers for honoring the initiative.

They affirmed that they are optimistic that based on the presentations by Justice Philip Banks and Cllr. Boakai N. Kanneh, Chairperson, Law Reform Commission, the Senators will take needed responsible leadership role in formulating propositions for a national constitution referendum based on the current reality and would manage with the procedures error that was done realizing that since 1847 Liberians have never participate in any constitution reform process, this is therefore an opportunity that should not be missed