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.
The Civil Society Coalition working to promote Nationwide Consultations on the Constitutional Review process with the intent to encourage an accelerated action on a joint resolution leading to an referendum bill by the National Legislature, applauds the Law Reform Commission and a cross section of Liberian Senate for their participation in the one-day “multi-stakeholders dialogue” held June 2, 2017 in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County.
The Multi-Stakeholders Dialogue was climaxed by critical reviewed 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 stakeholders dialogue brought together 15 Senators, 2 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.
During the dialogue Justice Philip A. Z. Banks made great 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 the Proposals for Amendment, his presentation layout the entire 24 recommendations from the Constitution Review Committee report with statistics on what were voted for 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 presentation made by constitution lawyer Justice Banks, 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”.
Grand Bassa County 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. Moreover, Sen. Thomas S. Grupee, 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.
Additionally, Sen. Geraldine Doe-Sherif, 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 concluded.
Other senators who attended and spoke at the dialogue included: Sen. Marshall A. Dennis, Sen. George T. Tengbeh, Sen. Stephen J.H. Zargo, Sen. Morris Satyumah, Sen. Oscar Cooper, Sen. Jim W. Tornonlah, Sen. Dallas A. V. Gueh, Sen. Francis Paye, Sen. Matthew N. Jaye, Sen. Geraldine DoeSherif, Sen. Nyonbee K. Lawrence, Sen. Jonathan L. Kaipay, Sen. Joseph N. Nagbe, Sen. J. Milton Teahjay, Sen. Dan H. Morais, they all realized the significance of holding a national constitution referendum but were all concerned about the procedures, however, they affirmed their commitment to the process with the support of the Law Reform Commission and civil society.
In furtherance of the above observation, the concerned Civil Society Organizations including (NAYMOTE, PMU, LDMI, IREDD and SAIL), appreciated the Law Reform Commission for taking lead in partnering with CSOs to organized the event and advanced the following recommendations: 3 |"Page 1) That 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. 2) 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 lessons learnt from Justice Philip Z.A. Banks and Cllr. Boakai N. Kanneh, Chairperson, Law Reform Commission during the dialogue.
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, the elections of local leaders and women participation in national affairs, etc.
The five CSO Coalition on Constitutional Reform said it is 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.
The event was part of project supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Liberia. Lobbying and advocacy campaign to get the Liberian Senate to act is still ongoing, town hall meetings, radio programs, social media campaign and phone calls and text messaging to Senators are ongoing and feedbacks are affirmative.