“Pres. Weah Has Zero Interest in 3rd Term” -Minister McGill Explains Referendum Real Intent -Quashes Rumors
As the clock ticks closer to conduct of the December 8, 2020 Midterm Senatorial Elections and National Referendum, the Government of Liberia is leaving no unturned to convince the electorate to vote ‘YES’ to all eight propositions of the referendum. Appearing Monday, November 30, 2020 in studio at the State Broadcaster, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel Fallo McGill disclosed that the Ministry of Internal Affairs has already been mandated to coordinate with local government authorities around the country, including Superintendents, commissioners, chiefs, among others, to lead the charge in educating the citizenry about the referendum, assuring that there is nothing sinister about the referendum and that the rumor of President Weah trying to reduce his tenure just to allow him run for third term is misleading and disingenuous.
“Nobody will ever go for third term in this country; not even president Weah. The president himself said he doesn’t want to hear any third term issue. President Weah has zero interest in a third term. Our democracy is developing so well that nobody will ever think about a third term in this country. The president said he wants to set a record for being the first Liberian president to go for five years. He said after his second five-year term, he won’t run again,” Minister Nathaniel McGill said Monday when he appeared on ELBS morning show.
President Weah’s Chief of Office staff particularly stressed the importance of voting for all propositions of the referendum, emphasizing the need to enfranchise Liberians who took up citizenship in other countries to support their families back home.
Dual citizenship, Minister McGill said, is very important. “When I was Secretary General for the CDC, I was very opposed to dual citizenship. I think I was being very selfish and greedy. I was just thinking about myself. I wasn’t thinking about the future of other people. But then I had the opportunity to travel to America. When I went to America, I saw Liberians. My understanding is that there are close to 400,000 Liberians in America. These are the same people who send money to us in Liberia by working hard in America. Poor people children. I was talking with some of our mothers from Maryland. I asked them this question: which one of you don’t want your children to go to America? And they all said they want their children to go to America. But if you are not a citizen of America you don’t have benefits. Most of these politicians have their children in America. These people are Liberians but the law prohibits them from owning property in their own country. For heaven’s sake, how can a child born in America by two Liberians be denied Liberian citizenship?” Minister McGill wondered, adding that Liberians holding American citizenship sacrifice to support their families back home.
“Maybe that man’s grandmother is in Liberia here, suffering maybe in Bukon Gedeh. But we are still saying the man is not a Liberian when you know the man is a true Liberian. You are denying poor people children opportunities. The law is not good. Some of those Liberians in America who want dual citizenship don’t have interest in becoming president. But we still deny them.
“When people vote yes to dual citizenship, they want Liberians in America to own property. The fundamental requirement of citizenship is to own property. The law says if you are not a citizen of Liberia you cannot own property. That’s a fundamental requirement. Owning two passports when you pass the age of maturity is prohibited under Article 22 of our constitution. Voting for the two passports allows Liberians in America to own properties in Liberia, but they won’t be allowed to contest the presidency. The law is very fair. If you want to be president of Liberia and hold dual citizenship, the law says you should relinquish your foreign citizenship and retain your Liberian citizenship. This protects Liberians here and abroad.
Educating the electorate who tuned into the broadcast that was relayed to five radio stations in Monrovia and community-based radio stations around the country, Minister McGill encouraged the people to check the pink ballot with the two passport (book) symbols if they agree on dual citizenship.
“Dual citizenship is the pink ballot with the two passport symbols. Checking the symbol with the two passports means you support dual citizenship. Checking one passport means you don’t support dual citizenship,” McGill said.
In explaining the real intent of the referendum, Minister McGill said the amendment is necessary to move the country ahead following years of contention over power.
He said, after the 2017 elections many issues were raised, and people felt that were constitutional issues that needed to be reviewed.
“Most of our election laws are written in the constitution. One of the major issues of contention that contravene the issue of power is tenure. Everybody wants power. But when people get power, they stay too long in power. A senator for example has 9 years. Even if the people are angry with you, the people can’t remove you. Even if the people petition the legislature, it’s difficult to remove somebody even if the person is not performing. One of the things that came up was that we needed to review the law on tenure. Former President Sirleaf then set up a Constitution Review Committee headed by Gloria Scott and that Committee took one year having debates. They organized all sorts of forums. People went there and debated, some included Dr. Sawyer and even Senator Conmany Wesseh. I am calling Senator Wesseh’s name because he was one of those persons who supported a constitutional reform, but the country wasn’t ready at the time to rewrite or change our constitution. So people decided they will do an amendment as provided under Chapter 12 Article 91 of our Constitution. The Commission went around and talked to people. The Liberian people decided and made 25 propositions. But we are only discussing the eight propositions that should be on the ballot.
“The law is very clear. The law says before you pass an amendment, two-third of the legislature should ratify the amendment. The people supported four years tenure. The current president supported the four years proposal,” Minister McGill disclosed, adding that the tenure for presidency and the legislature got adjusted because of economic implications.
“These recommendations came from the citizens themselves. Yes, they said four years, but at least their true intention is they want the tenure reduced. You know it is difficult to change tenure from nine years because most of the senators didn’t want their tenures reduced. The reason why it has been difficult to reduce over the years is because the leaders who are in power don’t want to reduce their tenure. There were people in the cabinet who even went to the president and said, Mr. President, why do you want to reduce your tenure from 6 years to 5 years? And the president said, ‘why should we be selfish? That was the same reason some of the past leaders did not support Mrs. Sirleaf’s efforts because they thought they had enjoyed 12 years of tenure and now she wanted to reduce it. So people opposed it during the last legislature, because they too wanted to enjoy 12 years. So the president said, ‘If I want other people to vote for five years, I should also benefit from the five years. I can even wait for my second term to say, let’s reduce it. Let me reduce it my first term so my last term of office will be for five years,” McGill disclosed.
The Minister of State furthered that reduction in tenure for elected officials benefits the country because it makes leaders more accountable to the people they serve.
“Liberia’s population is 65% young people. Right now you may be 40. If you add 24 to your age, you will be almost 70. When will you have time to enjoy? Some people have been there for 18 years. If they run again and win, they will have another nine years, and they could go for 27 years. There is no limitation of tenure for senators. They will just run, run and run. They sit there for nine years with nobody changing them. So the citizens themselves are saying it’s too long,” McGill opined.
He said the tenure of leaders are reduced, the Liberian people will have the opportunity to decide whether their leader is performing or not. When the tenure is too long, officials won’t care to deliver because they know they won’t be changed for the next nine years.
“Reduction in tenure of leaders will make them more accountable to work for the people. Reduced tenure will give the people an option for them to review the work of their leaders. For example in America, a representative tenure is for two years. While ours is for 6 years, which we want to reduce to 5,” Minister McGill said.
Regarding what he termed as politicization of the referendum issues, Minister McGill frowned on politicians who are misinforming the people that the referendum has been stopped.
“The gazette was published September 2019. Nobody talked about it. Nobody raised an issue until the Election Commission decided to publish the gazette, that’s when people started to raise issues, about two to four weeks to the process. That is disingenuous. The Supreme Court did not stop the process. Politicians misinformed the people by saying the Supreme Court stopped the process. If they are sure the Supreme Court stopped the process, they should go back to the Supreme Court but they won’t go back because they know the Supreme Court did not stop the process,” McGill stated.
Before ending his presentation, Minister McGill also called on the voters to select the symbol of the sun, which means they agreed for the election date to be changed to the second Tuesday of November when the dry season starts, instead of the second Tuesday of October when the rains are still falling heavily in Liberia.
Following Minister McGill’s presentation, several callers made their contributions to the show, including Mr. Morris Kiazolu who lauded the government for the referendum but cautioned that community leaders should be included in the awareness campaign.
“This will affect the referendum positively,” Mr. Kiazolu said.