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Friday, June 14, 2024

THE DILEMMA OF PRESIDENTIAL SUPREMACY IN LIBERIA: EXAMINING THE BALANCE OF POWER

Date:

By Dr. Clarence R. Pearson, Sr.

Superior presidency is the perceived model within the body politics of Liberia. While this may still trigger debate amongst political pundits, constitutional experts strongly believe that the 1986 Constitution does give the Liberian president a wide range of powers that unintentionally provide the impetus for such autocracy. Despite the Constitution establishing a three-pronged governing system with three equal branches – Legislative, Executive, and Judicial – the President remains the critical head of government, with the power to appoint Supreme Court Justices (Art 54), lobby for the filling of the seats of Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate Pro Tempore of the House of Senate, while maintaining his or her Vice Presidential staff as President of the Senate (Art 51). Additionally, the President is the Commander-in-Chief (CIC) of the Armed Forces (Art 50) and also appoints the Chief Justice and Minister of Justice of the Republic (Art 54). Furthermore, Article 59 of the 1986 Constitution gives the president the exclusive right to appoint or dismiss members of his cabinet and other officials of government at his or her will and pleasure (Art 54, 55 & 56). Where Senate endorsements of appointees are required, the president is 99% more likely to have his appointees endorsed.

Modeled after the United States, the governing framework described above projects a democratic system that presupposes that power is inherent in the people, and that the three branches of government shall provide checks and balances for the ultimate good of the nation. Notwithstanding, Liberia lacks the critical political, economic, and social infrastructure necessary to ensure this expectation. The judiciary is often dominated by the office of the President, and the National Legislature easily circumvents the will of the people they represent for what is referred to by the American Government, Liberia’s most dominant ally – “pay to play”. For ordinary citizens, it is depicted as the “brown envelope”. Despite the United States Government and other international partners spent millions of dollars to strengthen all aspects of democracy in Liberia, and though some gains have been made since the post-conflict peace building and reconstruction began (2003-present), the country continues to be crippled by bad governance and rampant corruption across all branches of government. For similar reasons, senior public officials of the George Weah administration and members of their families were sanctioned by the U.S. government under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, E.O. 13818.

Boakai’s tenure bloop is the latest troubling erosion of democracy and the rule of law. Barely two months into office as President, to the shock of the country, Boakai undertook a sweeping attack on tenured officials of government, the majority of whom gained tenure under the administration of former President Weah. Initially, the reliance of the action was premised on political grounds that some tenured officials had violated the country’s Code of Conduct, which prohibited tenured officials from campaigning during elections. Hence, according to President Boakai’s advisers, these officials couldn’t be trusted to work with or implement the agenda of the president. This led to mass public outcry and condemnation, as a counterargument was that these very positions would then be filled with individuals who also campaigned for the president, defeating the president’s reason for citing the Code of Conduct. The Legal Advisor to the President Cllr. Bushubeh presented a second reliance, citing the President’s power to appoint as provided for under Article 54 of the 1986 Constitution. He argued that tenure undermines the President’s appointing power. In a ruling by the Supreme Court on the matter, President Boakai received a slap in the face: “There being no showing of the existence of any of the conditions for the petitioner’s removal from office as stipulated in the Acts Creating the respective entities to which the petitioners are appointed, their said removal from office prior to the expiry of their tenure without due process is ultra vires…This decision also affirmed the alternative writ of prohibition issued by Justice in Chambers and granted the peremptory writ prayed for by the petitioners,” the Supreme Court opinion noted and also called on the President to withdraw his nominees.

Exerting supremacy, President Boakai immediately issued a press statement gracefully accepting the court’s ruling and its authority as the final arbiter of justice. However, in less than twenty-four hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling on February 26, 2024, President Boakai suspended the tenured officials indefinitely for alleged misconduct and unleashed his appointees against the Supreme Court’s ruling, allowing the appointees to take office without Senate confirmation according to law, claiming that they are acting as the suspended tenured officials are being investigated. The irony of Boakai’s tenure bloop is that these tenured positions were created by an act of legislation when he served as Vice President and President of the Liberian Senate for twelve years. Also, his opposition block vehemently criticized and blocked the past administration’s submission of a bill to the National Legislature to have existing tenured laws repealed, calling it “a sign of dictatorship”. This leaves political analysts and constitutional experts wondering, does President Boakai have respect for the Supreme Court or the rule of law?

Cascading negative impacts are currently being observed within institutions that are expected to exert a degree of autonomy so as to reduce the pressure of arm twisting and intimidation in government. Under the twelve years of President Boakai’s Unity Party’s immediate post-war regime heavily aided by the United Nations, IMF, the World Bank, the United States, EU, and other international partners, much attention was placed on establishing integrity institutions, as well as, giving tenure status by acts of legislation with the intent to reduce pressure on those institutions to allow for independence of management, overall transparency and accountability in government. These moves were hailed as the pillars that spur the country’s recovery agenda, boosting confidence and strengthening good governance. These measures made debt waiver easier and placed the country into a favorable position with international monetary institutions and international development partners. Now with the Boakai’s tenure bloop, there seems to be a cascading negative impact on major public institutions like the Central Bank of Liberia and the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC). There are signs of heightened job insecurity amongst the bank governors and commission commissioners. Presidential advisors, ministers, directors, and the Unity Party Chairman Rev. Luther Tarpeh are emboldened, and can therefore demand dismissals within government entities or breach procurement laws at will. For example, a reliable source has hinted that the Central Bank Governor is under duress to dismiss some senior staff members of the bank in order to hire partisans of the Unity Party. Similarly, the PPCC has allowed major procurement activities to slip with “no contestation” despite several public procurement laws being violated.

Dealing with uncertainty caused by this new trend in the governing of the country. It is gradually becoming worrisome as to how these activities may practically affect the national agenda of the country. As we continue to observe the trend of politics in Liberia, we can only hope that there will be a turn for the better in the country. President Barack Obama once said: “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. (Applause.) Now, America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation. The essential truth of democracy is that each nation determines its own destiny.” (Ghana, July 2009)

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Smart News Liberia is an online news outlet and a product of Smart Media Group Inc. Our website, smartnewsliberia.com, covers a broad spectrum of news content. For inquiries or information, you can reach us at 0777425285 or 0886946925, or email us at smartnewsliberia@gmail.com or info@smartnewsliberia.com.

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