Weah’s Slippery Slope Bill

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LAST WEEK, THE Weah Administration submitted a 4-point bill to the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to strengthen Executive control over pivotal institutions of government hitherto set aside by law to operate independent of partisan influence and political gamesmanship. Put succinctly, the bill seeks to prohibit the tenure security of public officials within the Executive branch of government. The bill uses the appointment powers of the President of Liberia contained in Article 56 of the Constitution of Liberia to argue for the repeal of “all statutory provisions of laws providing for tenure of office, terms of office, tenure, or anything that provide security of tenure, and of all public officials appointed by the President under the Executive Branch of Government”.

IN LIEU OF the statutory tenure security provided by these laws, the bill wants the President of Liberia to “have and exercise all the powers necessary and convenient for the effective administration [of] the Executive Branch and all the institutions under its control.” The proposed bill wants the exercise of the presidential powers to include the right to appoint and dismiss anyone not serving in elective position within the republic of Liberia.  The act of the National Legislature growing out of this bill is supposed to supersede all other statutory provisions regarding tenure office under the Executive branch of government. When it does, according to intent of the bill, there will be no limitation to the power of the Executive to interfere in the activities of the agencies or corporations of government currently shielded from executive overbearing, thus shattering the good governance safety net. As the tenure statutes stand, the bill argue, the status of the tenure personnel “would possibly or likely impede, obstruct materially adversely affect the development agenda of the President”.

STRANGELY THOUGH, THE bill neglected to point out the statutory laws it is seeking to scrap, in keeping with standard legislative practices. It fails also to say definitively and with certainty how the tenure security obstructs executive functions or how it is likely to obstruct the agenda of the President of Liberia. It simply bundled the purposes and intents of the unnamed tenure statutes into one bad impeding batch, good only for the trash bin of the country’s organic law.

WE HAIL THE Executive Branch of government for submitting the tenure security prohibition bill to the lower house of the Liberia parliament. We think by the submission of this bill, the Executive has taken the right path, the political high grounds, to the rule of sound laws. That, though, does not mean that the bill and its intent did not baffle us as much as it did other progressive and good governance-obsessed Liberians. It means that we prefer the legislative path chosen by the Executive – where wit matches wit in the greater interest of the people – to the path of law-flouting and strong-arm tactics, which kept our country in the vault of poverty and ignorance for more than a century.

WE HAVE NO doubt the Weah Administration feels strongly about the need to rein in all executive powers, supposedly to remove all obstacles to the free exercise of powers alluded to in Article 56 of the Constitution of Liberia. And given Liberia’s history of tendency towards imperial presidency, we see where the temptation for exclusive executive power comes from, and we empathize with the administration’s intent. But we think the Executive – and in that case the Weah Administration – is herding the country towards a dangerous slippery slope. In other words, undoing the tenure statutes may give the president the unfettered rein to appoint and dismiss appointees as he or she sees fit in order to expedite public functions and goals.

BUT UNDOING THE tenure statutes also opens the door to political abuse, to the fallouts of administrative incompetence, to inefficiency often wrought upon decent civil servants, technocrats, and bureaucrats by status insecurity, and to transitional logjams. The truth of these assertions comes into sharp focus when it is considered that the bill is seeking divest the autonomy powers of  public agencies and corporations that include NASSCORP, the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), and LEITI. Others are the Governance Commission, the Independent Human Rights Commission, the General Auditing Commission (GAC), the National Elections Commission (NEC), and the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC).

THE TRUTH OF these assertions comes into sharp focus also when we consider that the shielding of these agencies and corporations from the pleasure-driven appointment powers of the politics-driven president does more than provide status security for appointees. It enables efficiency and strengthens performance capacity; it engenders investor confidence; it enables continuity and connectivity during and after political transitions; and it removes partisan politics from the performances of institutions designed to uphold good governance, fight corruption and graft, and protect the economy. Imagine for a moment a lackey, presidential lapdog NEC, LACC, NBL, LRA, GAC, and PPCC and envision what the bill is demanding of the National Legislature – of the Liberian people. Imagine, in the wake of this bill, the future of the Liberian democracy and the institutionalization of governance as envisioned by the Liberian people in the Comprehensive Accra Peace Accord that sealed the fate of political violence in Liberia. Imagine what autocracy it inspires in a country, which – having arose from the doldrums of war – now espouses the rule of law, not of men, above all else. And then imagine a despondent Liberia.

WE ARE NOT constitutional scholars, but to seek to grant sweeping dismissal powers to the president in addition to his or her sweeping appointment powers is to twist the intentions and purposes of Article 56(a). The article states specifically which public officials should be appointed and dismissed at the pleasure of the president. But it says “pursuant to this Constitution”, which is why the President appoints the chief justice and the associate justices of the Supreme Court but cannot dismiss them – Article 56 (a) notwithstanding. It is not hard to see that “pursuant to this Constitution” appertains to Article 89, which authorizes the Legislature to establish autonomy public commissions and “create other agencies as may be necessary for the effective operation of Government”. In the wisdom of the Legislature, it interprets “effective operation of government” to mean setting off the president’s political expediency appointment powers from fundamental public business, which is the guarantors of statehood.

WE THEREFORE CALL on the Weah Administration to appreciate this administrative wisdom and forthwith withdraw its bill. We respect the intent of the bill. Its undoing, however, is that it seeks to undo the legal strides the country made over the years through the establishment of these pivotal institutions. It seeks to remove laws that effectively shield effective institutional management from the partisan playground of the Executive. We call on the House of Representatives to consider the danger the proposed Executive bill poses to the good governance agenda of Liberia and avoid putting it on the table for hearing and enactment. To pass the bill in question is to agree to have a president of Liberia appoint the elections commissioners and dismiss them when elections do not go the way the incumbent party wants them to go. It is to allow the president to dismiss the auditor general for uncovering a corruption cell. It is to allow the president dismiss the LACC authority for convicting the president’s henchmen. It is to allow for the dismissal of the PPCC chairman for denying the execution of a bad concessional or procurement deal. It is to set Liberia on a slippery slope.

LIBERIAN PRESIDENTS, FROM Roberts to Doe, had the powers that this bill is seeking to endow the Liberian president. No one needs to be told that all that the nation achieved from the reaches of such overbearing presidents is poverty, illiteracy, disease, and backwardness. Liberia cannot go down that slope again.

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