Opinion: Liberia- Are Tenured Positions Illegal?

Last Tuesday, the Government of Liberia submitted a bill for enactment to the Legislature titled, “Act Prohibiting the Tenure of Public Officials in the Executive Branch of Government.” The intent of the Government is to allow the President of Liberia the unhindered authority to hire and fire any official in the Executive Branch of Government at his will and pleasure. Today, there are statutes that grant tenure to certain officials of the Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA), General Auditing Commission (GAC), Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), National Elections Commission (NEC), Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and officials of a select number of public institutions.

President George M. Weah

Tenures were granted to these position by Acts of the Legislature, mostly under the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. 

If the purpose of the proposed Act is to enable the President to freely hire and fire public officials in the Executive Branch of Government, then the decision to craft and submit the Act was ill informed and ill advised; no disrespect intended to the President’s Legal Team.

Why do I say so? Current tenures are based on the authority of statutes. If the President’s proposed Act were to pass into Law, it will not enable him to remove those already serving under tenure. They will have to complete the current length of their tenures; the President may as well wait out the completion of the tenured terms before appointing replacements; hence the Act serves no purpose at this moment.

Justices of The Supreme Court of Liberia

Article 21 of the Constitution of Liberia prohibits the enforcement of any law ex post facto.” According to Article 21, “No person shall be subject to any law or punishment which was not in effect at the time of commission of an offence, nor shall the Legislature enact any bill of attainder or ex post facto law.” An ex post facto law is a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences of actions that were committed, or relationships that existed, before the enactment of the law.

Any Legislation that grants tenure to a public official appointed by the President in the Executive Branch of Government is a Legislative overreach that explicitly abrogates the Executive Powers of the President of Liberia granted in Article 56 (a) of the Constitution of Liberia.  

To the extent of its abrogation of a Constitutional provision, it is illegal. Article 56 (a) states. “ All cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials , both military and civilian, appointed by the President pursuant to this Constitution shall hold their offices at the pleasure of the President.”

Liberian Lawmakers- File Photo

The common argument in favor of granting of tenure by legislation is that the Constitution gives the Legislature the authority to create agencies of government. Article 89 states, “The following Autonomous Public Commission are hereby established. A. Civil Service Commission, B. Elections Commission and C. General Auditing Commission. The Legislature shall enact laws for the governance of these Commissions and create other agencies as may be necessary for the effective operation of Government.” 

The powers granted to the Legislature in Article 89 (and 34-49) does not inhibit any authority of the President already established under the Constitution. Article 2 of the Constitution provides the framework for this assertion. It states, “This Constitution is the supreme and fundamental law of Liberia and its provisions shall have binding force and effect on all authorities and persons throughout the Republic.

Seal of Liberia

Any laws, treaties, statures, decrees, customs and regulations found to be inconsistent with it shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no legal effect. The Supreme Court, pursuant to its power of judicial review, is empowered to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional.”

Therefore, granting of tenure to public officials who are subject to appointment by the President in the Executive Branch of Government as a provision of any stature is inconsistent with Article 56 (a) and is therefore unconstitutional. 

What then should have been the course of action by the President to remedy this error?

The opportunity offered itself in the case arising from President Weah’s appointment of Moses Owen Brown to replace Ambassador Isaac Jackson as Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In a case brought before the Supreme Court by Attorneys representing Ambassador Jackson, they argued that Jackson’s replacement was illegal and an abuse of power because he was entitled to tenure, which had not elapsed, under the 2010 Act creating the new Liberia Maritime Authority. 

Map of Liberia

The government’s counter argument was that the New Maritime Authority Act did not grant tenure to the position of Permanent Representative to the IMO but only to Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners of the Liberia Maritime Authority. Faulty argument because Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the IMO has always had the designation of Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs.

The Supreme Court reserved ruling on the matter but placed a stay on the removal of Ambassador Jackson in the main time. 

Technically, the decision of the Supreme Court was a defeat to the government, induced by the fatuity of the argument of Government’s Lawyers. The Government would later replace a more impactful Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Lewis Brown, without fanfare.

Where is the logic? This case of Ambassador Isaac Jackson removal provided an opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of tenure granted to public officials appointed by the President.

The true argument was that tenure granted to Ambassador Isaac Jackson as Permanent Representative to the IMO on the basis of the 2010 new Liberia Maritime Authority Law was unconstitutional and an abrogation of the Executive Powers of the President granted in Article 56(a). 

The irony is that on March 2018, President Weah appointed former Representative Gabriel Nyenkan as head of the Secretariat of Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI), replacing Konah Karmo who was appointed by the Multi-Stakeholders Steering Group (MSG) in 2014 in a competitive recruitment process.

The Act which created LEITI in 2009 authorized the President to appoint members of the Multi Stakeholders Group (MSG), and granted the MSG the power to recruit the Head of Secretariat, Deputy and other staff members of the LEITI Secretariat. The President’s appointment of Nyekan, was a violation of the LEITI statute and unlike the Jackson Case, falls outside of the powers of the President as authorized in Article 56(a).

Note that the President does not have the authority to appoint the LEITI Secretariat, (condition imperative in Article 56a), hence, he does not have the authority to remove the head of the LEITI Secretariat.

In spite of the mixed reaction and condemnation by Global Witness and Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Government of Liberia has not corrected this error. As a consequence, Liberia has been delisted from the prestigious international integrity institution.

There is sufficient public favor for the continuation of tenure for the select number of public officials appointed by the President; be it those at the LACC, GAC, CBL, NEC, PPCC, etc.

Flag of Liberia

This sentiment is informed by a perception that the President, and for some, this President, by demanding the right to control the tenure of the designated public offices, is exercising dictatorial tendencies.

Let us put the Liberia Presidency in its proper legal perspective. The Constitution of Liberia creates for us an Imperial Presidency. The President is the Head of State, the Head of Government and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. There is an assumption, when one appraises the powers granted the President of Liberia; that the framers of the Constitution expect the President to be wise. By the same logic the framers also assumed that the people clothed with the Constitutional power to elect their President have the ability to elect a President capable of managing the vast power and authority granted the office of the President under our Constitution. 

There are limits to which the Legislature can manage the President in the execution of his authorities granted by the Constitution. The notion of tenure for a public official serving a position mandated to the President seem to suggest that the officials need to be protected from removal over a certain period. Who is the tenured official being protected against? The President? The President is the only elected official that has been granted the mandate by law to perform the duties of the Executive Branch of Government; he is responsible for the performance of the Executive Branch of the Government of Liberia. All appointed officials in the Executive Branch of Government are agents of the President; that is why the Constitution places their services at the pleasure of the President (Article 56a).

The Legislature cannot prevent the President from executing the authorities granted under the Constitution. The Legislature is not the people. It is a proxy of the people. The wishes of the people are enclosed in the Constitution, the supreme and fundamental law of the Republic. That is why the abrogation of constitutional provisions are expressly stated to be illegal (Article 2) and that is why there is a requirement for the assembly of the people in the form of a referendum to change or amend (Article 91 – 93) any of the explicit wishes of the people enshrined in the Constitution. 

Liberians Voting – File Photo

Cross Section of Liberians During Election – File Photo

Is there a reason for concern about governance? Yes! And rightfully so. When the will abandons that which is above and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil – not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked.

Therefore it is not an inferior thing which has made the will evil but it is itself which has become so by wickedly and inordinately desiring an inferior thing (St Augustine). 

In St Augustine’s attempt to define the source of evil, he illuminates a cardinal organizational challenge; the value of the quality of leaders.

We have been taught that the most important element of an organization is the quality of its people.  

Under Liberian Law (1986 Constitution Article 54) the President is granted broad powers to appoint all the senior members of the Executive and Judicial branches of Government, yet the constitution does not ensure that the Office of the President be filled with a person with the requisite qualification that makes him/her capable of making the value judgment in appointments.

There are only three eligibility requirements for the Liberian Presidency (Article 52) and they do not include any proficiency requirement whatsoever; hence, the only safeguard in the Liberian Constitution for vetting a Presidential appointee is the Consent of the Senate (Article 54). 

The framers of the Liberian Constitution made the assumption that the people, the Electorate, have the ability to elect the right quality of people to serve as Senators and President that enables them to make the right decisions on the quality of the team to handle the affairs of the country. 

Therefore, the only guarantor of good governance is the unknown. History has shown time and again that the absence of a visionary leader with a plan is always the demise of a nation. 

For years we in Liberia have grappled with the challenges facing our country and watched with frustration as many leaders appointed to manage public organizations fail and are replaced with new leaders who fail and are replaced again, and again; but this is the nature of the laws that the people have enshrined in the Constitution. At such time when these laws change, the people, all the people are required to uphold and defends them.

There are some who wish to undo the power of the Presidency because they either distrust the ability of the President or resent his Presidency. The Presidency of George Manneh Weah is already a done deal; water under the bridge. Should Liberians examine and question his policies? Yes, we should! Can anyone undo the fact that he is the elected President of Liberia and by virtue of that fact has the authority and right to exercise all the powers that the Constitution places at his disposal? No! No one should. Ours is a democracy. When in the early 1800s the French Republic faced a doubtful leader, the French Jurists and Philosopher, Joseph de Maistre, cautioned the public in these words, “In a democracy, people deserve the government they get.” Paraphrased, the democratically elected government is a microcosm, a miniature of the people. There is only one President of Liberia, let’s allow him to succeed or fail on the merits or demerits of his policies and their implementation.

Elections matter! Let every Liberian resist the temptation of attempting to micromanage a sitting President. 

My advice to the President: Put the unconstitutionality of “Tenured Appointed Positions in the Executive Branch of Government” before the Supreme Court; the only body which according the Article 2 has the power to declare “any inconsistent laws unconstitutional.” We will judge the government at the appropriate time by its performance. 

I hold this value to be true that “Adherence to the Law is the only safeguard of our democracy.” 

 

Author Cyrus L Gray, Jr., is the Author of the Negro Nation (www.amazion.com), the International Shipping Guidelines; and Publisher of the New Liberian Magazine (renamed LIB BUZNEY).

His new book, FOG (A Story of War, Love and Country) will be published in December 2018 with first rollout in Monrovia. 

As a day job, he is a Logistics Business Development Consultant with Core competence in Air and Seaport Development.

His recent work was Co-Consultant for the crafting of the Economic Analysis of the Mesurado Fishing Pier (Oct. 2018) at the Freeport of Monrovia, for Liberia’s National Aquaculture and Fisheries Authority (NaFAA).

VP Jewel Howard Taylor Tried To Get US Help To Release Charles Taylor From Jail

Philadelphia, PA October 29, 2018

“He’s in jail for the long term. We have not made any effort to seek any change or adjustment to the due process and what was adjudicated by the court systems.”

Charles Taylor At Funeral of His Mother Comforted By Ex Wife Jewel Howard Taylor - File
Charles Taylor At Funeral of His Mother Comforted By Ex Wife Jewel Howard Taylor – File

The statement, an apparent reference to former Liberian President Charles Taylor,was made by then Ambassador Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto U.S. State Department official during a Congressional committee hearing in September, 2017 and in response to questioning about the effort by Madam Jewel Howard Taylor, the current Liberian Vice President and ex-wife of former rebel leader turned former President Charles Taylor to get Taylor released.

Apparently and prior to the Presidential and General Elections in Liberia, the then Vice-Presidential candidate of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) Ms. Jewel Howard Taylor and a delegation of the CDC visited the U.S. in early 2017 and pressed State Department officials to assist with the release of her ex-husband Charles Taylor who was convicted and sentenced in May, 2012 to fifty years in prison for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone’s war.

Nathaniel F. McGill

Also on that US trip was a former ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) stalwart turned Former CDC Chairman and now Minister of State for Presidential Affairs in the office of the Liberian Presidency Mr. Nathaniel F. McGill. The CDC delegation also visited their party stronghold in Minnesota and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during their US visit last year.

Taylor is serving his sentence in a jail in the UK.

Ambassador Donald Yamamoto
Ambassador Donald Yamamoto

At a sub-committee meeting before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing held on September 13, 2017 in Washington DC, New York Republican Dan Donovan Jr. who, on September, 8, 2018, introduced a resolution which calls for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal is Liberia, wanted to know if Madam Howard Taylor held discussions with the State Department. Ambassador Yamamoto demurred about the substance of the discussion but confirmed that State Department did meet with Ms. Howard-Taylor and “messages were passed.”

“Yes, we did meet with Jewel Howard Taylor and those conversations, I think, are between us,” the former State Department said at the time.

The U.S. which had expended over $2 billion dollars in assistance to the Liberia since 2003 worked to dissuade the CDC from placing Ms. Taylor on the Weah warned prior to the election that it would not tolerate interference by Charles Taylor in the election which subsequently elected President Mr. George M. Weah.

Murdered American Nuns
Murdered American Nuns

The Weah Administration remains defiant in the face of international calls to establish war and economic crimes to address human rights abuses and killings by warlords and militias. The UN, 76 international non-governmental organizations and the International Justice Group (IJG) have called on the Weah Administration to prosecute economic and war crimes. International support is growing for accountability in Liberia and include the U.S. Congressional resolution which supports the establishment of the war crimes court.

The opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) political party in Liberia has called on President Weah to take the lead in disclosing his position on the establishment of a war crimes court.

Former Warlord Turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson
Former Warlord Turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson

Recently and following the visit to the Federal Republic of Germany, by the Executive Director of the IJG Counselor Jerome J. Verdier to seek international support for their advocacy to pressure the Weah Administration to address war crimes and impunity in the West African nation, the German envoy accredited to Liberia Hubert Jager two weeks ago, at the launch of the Alliance for Transitional Justice in Monrovia remarked that, “Providing justice for the victims of the conflict is a key aspect.”

““Providing justice for the victims of the conflict is a key aspect,” the German Ambassador said.

HHRG-115-FA16-Transcript-20170913

Other that humanitarian assistance, the Weah government is finding it difficult to access international loans to relieve mounting economic pressures and has been told by western countries that further pressure including travel ban and sanctions may be forthcoming if the government refuses to implement measures to address war and economic crimes by alleged perpetrators.

Staff Report

West African Journal Magazine

Ex-official Likens Weah’s Policy Pronouncements To A “Pie In The Sky”

Monrovia, 26 Oct 2018: Former Liberian Finance Minister Mr. David Farhat who once contested the presidency has likened many policy pronouncements of the pro-poor agenda of the three-party coalition government in Liberia to a “pie in the sky”.
Former Liberia Finance Minister David Farhat
Former Liberia Finance Minister David Farhat

” When they said pro-poor,  Liberians thought emphasis would have been focused on the poorest of the poor in society,” he said.

 But the  opposite is instead happening in the West African nation as people who possessed relatively nothing before entering government just nine months ago are now building or buying luxurious houses and riding expensive cars, some costing more than US$70,000 while most citizens can hardly afford food or send their children to school,” Farhat lamented in a press statement issued on Wednesday.
In a related development, professor Thomas Kaidor of University of Liberia’s  graduate school, Thursday ironically welcomed President Weah’s free tuition pronouncement for undergraduate students at all public universities and colleges, and wondered how such “populist” policy pronouncement would be implemented when the President persistently cries that he inherited a broke national treasury.
In a radio talkshow analysis of the free tuition pronouncement, Prof Kaidor, himself a policy analyst, criticised President Weah for often making major policy pronouncements without budgetary appropriations, citing projects like the military hospital, the  coastal highway, new city of Monrovia on Bali Island and linking Kesselly bouvelard with 12th Street suburb via an overhead bridge.
The University professor said these public projects were yet off the ground notwithstanding while private projects conspicuously those of President Weah are fast rising.
By Tepitapia Sannah
Bureau Chief
West African Journal

Opinion: Students At Public Universities and Colleges In Liberia To Get Free Tuition

The decision by the Government of Liberia (GoL) to provide free tuition for students is welcome news, but I think the priority is mixed, farfetched and mind-boggling. I think it is troubling no matter how nice it sounds.

Teacher Training At Tubman University Liberia
Teacher Training At Tubman University Liberia

I expect that the party has started and the balloons are already out for the celebration. Good, but in my mind, this isn’t a strategic priority right now given the alarming and distressing economic situation in the country.  It makes me wonder what’s behind this sudden act of kindness.

If you read the just released World Bank Assessment (WBA) report on Liberia, it paints a complex economic situation (a country on the brink of failure) with more than expected declining and widening fiscal deficit compounded by a significant shortage in revenue intake, grotesque underperformance, blockbusting non-discretionary expenditures, and runaway inflation set off by decreasing foreign exchange supply and other negative externalities. Does it sound like a pretty nice picture to you for any new social program at this size and magnitude?

Grand Gedeh Community College Logo
Grand Gedeh Community College Logo

Let me say that in Public Policy there’s a time when collective actions by government are warranted. As a policy wonk, I understand that. But, providing free education to student when there’s depleting foreign aid and limited economic activities driven by new businesses and decreased revenue, it makes no sense whatsoever for government to make an already bad situation worse.  We understand the act of kindness and hardships, but a more prudent approach was not this decision. I’m sorry. Look, I admit we cannot be critical about every decision this government makes, but there’s a time when you call a spade a spade. This isn’t a spade. It is a Jack. It makes the administration look like a bunch of jokers. At this point, I can sense vulgarity from some ‘Cdcians’ reading this, but that’s fine.

According to “Front Page Africa” (a Liberian daily newspaper), the Vice President for UL Relations said that based on 20,000 students projection taking 15 credits you will have a budget of $1.2Million to cover the costs. Now that the government has agreed to cover this costs for the UL we also need to consider the costs of the other Public Universities and Colleges and explain where the government will get the funds to cover all of these costs.

I think for now, the more farsighted and logical thing was to engage the Administration of the University of Liberia (UL) to maintain the current $4.00 US dollars per credit per course or better yet, reduce the per credit amount by $0.25 cents to say $3.75 US dollars until the entire situation was assessed. The President should have sanctioned a committee of the best minds to propose the best way forward. Part of this committee’s work would have been a financial analysis of the costs and benefits and using data (facts) to drive decision-making. This committee would have included institutional and education policy-makers who would brainstorm ways in which government can pay for these added expenditures and to limit questions about “…how are they going to pay for it?”

Any important tenet of policy making, design decisions, suggestions, and choices shouldn’t be driven by gut feelings alone. Rather, adequate analysis and data-driven decision-making to ensure effectives and robustness of the outcome. Now, to many, it doesn’t pass the smell test. It appears as though government is trying to recover from the pejorative of issues it is faced with.

Students of Harbel Community College Liberia
Students of Harbel Community College Liberia

Done right, I think free education should start from the pre-primary and primary levels, in order to strengthen the foundation first and build for the future. Focus should be on creating the environment for learning; by renovating and modernizing established schools, erecting new ones where appropriate, paying teachers on time, providing nutritional services since hunger impacts learning, etc. Moreover, making teaching an attractive career choice and recruiting the best and brightest minds in the field should take precedence.

Graduation at the University of Liberia
Graduation At University of Liberia – File Photo

Look, I’m not saying the poor UL students don’t deserve it. They do. But it is not the right time. If I had the chance to advise the President, I would tell him to focus on developing the economy and bring everything to bear on it. Make this a strategic national priority for now. When people are able to find fairly decent paying jobs, they will care for themselves and their families. They’ll pay their own school fees. The rationale here is that Liberians need to start working. Creating jobs will create additional tax dollars to spend on social programs like free education for all. In contrast, even in mature economies like the U.S. where resources are in abundance, public colleges and universities aren’t free.

Let’s assume that this government finds free education a strategic priority choice; it then would have been appropriate to learn a thing or two from our nex- door neighbor – Sierra Leone.

Under the leadership of President Julius Maada Bio, the country pursued a similar flagship initiative to increase access to education benefiting 1.5 million Sierra Leone students – from pre-primary to secondary levels. But, it wasn’t a government only funded inventiveness; it started as a Public Private Partnerships (PPP) that included UK Aid, World Bank, Irish Aid, World Food Programme (WFP)and UNICEF.  Additionally, the Maada Bio government increased its education budget from 12 to 21 percent so that the education program would be broad-based to covers tuition, admission fees, teaching and learning materials, text books, examination and assessment fees – the whole yard. This sounds like a more ‘pro poor’ education policy objective to me, than just free tuition. Do you agree?

Lofa Community College
Lofa Community College

Look, I give credit to President Weah for this gesture, since it will help ease the burden on students and parents who are making a lot of sacrifices under extremely difficult economic conditions. However, by just reducing school fees without adequately studying the situation is the wrong approach of stretching an already cash strapped government that has no wiggle room because of large budget deficits. I would have felt better if the President had proposed to reduction in salaries of top government officials to pay for this initiative first. Well, the damage is done.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia

So, I caution this administration to do itself a favor and learn from this lapse in judgment. This isn’t how government works. Moving Liberia forward requires new mindset and new ways of looking at the world by enabling policy makers to do their homework first. The ‘status quo’ is not sustainable. An initiative requires taking a systematic approach by examining both formal and informal impediments such as political, legal, bureaucratic, organizational, economic, financial, and social factors that affect it. Decisions that impact a lot of people cannot be hastily done. These things take time and effort to get it right. Be smart people. The world is watching!

The Author:

Dr. A. Joel King
Dr. A. Joel King

Dr. A Joel King has a doctorate in Management and a diploma in Public Policy Economics from University of Oxford and Executive Coaching from University of Cambridge, UK. He is a Wharton Online Scholar and an academic tutor at Cousera and volunteers at the American Academy of Management (AoM) and Strategic Management Society (SMS)

Students At Public Universities And Colleges In Liberia To Get Free Tuition

Monrovia, 24 Oct 2018 : In an unprecedented move to quell persistent cries by Liberia’s impoverished growing student population, President George Weah on Wednesday declared tuition free for undergraduate studies at all public universities in Liberia’.
President George M. Weah
In a major policy speech on the main campus of state runned
 University of Liberia in the Capitol Monrovia, President Weah acknowledged government’s responsibility to educate its citizens and prepare them for the duty of  nation building.
He repeatedly cited  Nelson Mandela’s belief in the power of education to change the course of  mankind in any society, saying Liberia cannot be an exception.
University of Liberia Logo
As the academic calendar began Monday, the huge undisclosed economic out lay needed to fully implement this policy cannot be overemphasized.
Besides UL and Tubman University in Harper, Maryland County where over 40,000 new entrants who attempt to enroll yearly, dozens of faith-based and private universities run undergraduate programs in Liberia.
Lofa County Community College
Aside from that, most of the 15 counties have functioning community colleges that could begin awarding undergraduate degrees in a few years.
Weah, accompanied by the country’s Finance and Development Minister Samuel Tweah, received deafening applause for the landmark declaration.
Graduates of William VS Tubman University in Maryland County – File Photo
In his short speech, the Liberian President explained no details about how the policy will be implemented.
UL student leader Mau Mau Flomo, in remarks, informed President Weah that “vibrations” would echo from the UL when authorities fail to listen to grievances of students.
But Weah urged students leaders to eschew “vibrations” on their campuses and solely concentrate hard on their studies in order to achieve academic excellence.
In his reaction to the pronouncement of free education for public colleges in Liberia, the National President of the University of Liberia Alumni Association In The Americas Mr. Melvin D. Howard welcomed the news as a “good” for students attending the University of Liberia and other public institutions.
UL Alumni Association In The Americas President Melvin D. Howard
The UL Alumni President Mr. Howard, however, called on the Liberian Government to go beyond the free tuition pronouncement and fully fund operations and salaries at the University of Liberia to sustain quality education and avoid future chaos at the institution.
Tepitapia  Sannah
Bureau chief Monrovia

SPECIAL FEATURE: Attorney Kofi Woods Address To NGO Coalition On Forest Governance In Liberia

STATEMENT AT THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF ADVOCACY STRATEGY OF THE NGO COALITION ON FOREST GOVERNANCE IN LIBERIA

CORINA HOTEL, SINKOR, MONROVIA

OCTOBER 19, 2018

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am deeply honored by your invitation to join you in launching your advocacy strategy.

Attorney Kofi Woods - File Photo
Attorney Kofi Woods – File Photo

This strategy I am told seeks to, among other things, address complaints from forested communities on the lack of knowledge on social contracts signed between various forested communities and contract holders. And when fully implemented, host communities will begin to have access to final copies of contracts and social agreements. This will further enable them demand their just benefits as far as their knowledge on the contract is concern.  Additionally, the strategy aims to minimize tension, mitigate challenges in implementation and help community members take ownership of the social agreement between them and contract holders.  These are noble undertakings for a sector that has historically been a contentious aspect of our conflict history and bane to the development of our society. This approach tends to expand the frontiers of human rights advocacy in Liberia.

I would also encourage you to include and interact with lawyers, legal practitioners and law students to encourage their full participation as it relates to legal questions as well as the provision of legal advice and redress of grievances emanating from this sector. On this note, I offer my personal expertise and support as a long-standing human rights lawyer and advocate.

Let me pay tribute to those who initiated this approach and strategy. This is a major first step in developing a coalition or undertaking collective   action to address various anomalies. The significance of a collectivity is to demonstrate that you seek to affirm that the ideals you espouse is far greater than yourself and transcends the narrow bounds of individualism, thereby elevating your discourse to national and international levels.

This strategy must therefore seek to ensure that people, particularly those who are most vulnerable will be in the position to:

  • Have their voices heard on issues that are important to them,
  • Help to defend and safeguard their rights, and
  • Have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.

Such rights-based approach will require an advocacy that identifies, assesses, and uses evidenced based research findings to inform, educate and influence policy decisions. In this regard, a strategy cannot be effective without a framework to ensure implementation and monitor its impact.  The most important component is to ensure that communities and people can advocate for themselves – and do so based on knowledge.

Aerial Forest View in Liberia
Aerial Forest View in Liberia

The launch of this strategy will fill a long-standing gap in our national advocacy in Liberia.

For years, we have witnessed the sufferings, pains and agony of a large section of the population hidden behind the dark shadows of our forest.  For many years, our communities have remained hapless and sat helpless as they faced deprivations associated with conditions imposed upon them by the exploitative nature of forest mismanagement due to government’s insatiable quest for rent and at times complicity of some community leaders on one hand, and the excessive greed of some concessionaires on the other. -Whether it is through the looting of the 90s, during war and corruption, or  the Private Use Permits, the complicity of government officials and the onslaught of greedy individuals on our forests, the now proverbial “resource curse” stares us in the face. A classic example is the misuse and abuse of opportunities in the forest sector. The ownership of logging companies by government officials, the Carbon Credit imbroglio and other forms of criminal forage in our forests is a bane of resource development and advancement in Liberia.. The bleeding of our forests must come to an end. I know this is a cliché, but our natural resources must cease being a curse; it must be a blessing!

This strategy you are employing should offer our society (the supply chain) and the international community (the demand chain) redemption from years of pillage, plunder and the callous disregard for our communities, our environment, our land use and our forest. Our unique species of wildlife, Flora and Fauna are being destroyed and it is now time to act for the good of posterity.

We as a nation must understand and this strategy must help us appreciate the connectivity between human survival, the use of our forests and our environment in general and the overall impact on climate change and weather patterns not only in Liberia but around the world.

We have failed to realize that the abuse of our forest is an abuse on human civilization and the threat to our forests and environment represents a threat to human civilization.

“Studies have shown that forests provide protection against flooding. Therefore, the unabated loss of forests in Liberia due to the illegal logging which has become common may exacerbate the frequency of flood we are currently experiencing. It may also increase related disasters with severe negative impact on the environment and inflict havoc on the economy. Sadly, illegal logging without reforestation is bad news for glaring and galloping effects of global warming.”

Researchers and other forest advocates have warned that “Liberians should not sit reluctantly and wait for their government to take action first, but instead every Liberian must begin to create an environmental conscious culture through research, education and people centered grassroots initiatives like environmental restoration, ecosystem rehabilitation and planting trees campaign in every community across the country.”

 

The forests are of vital importance for the livelihoods for millions of West Africans and provide key ecosystem services of local and global importanceLiberia’s Upper Guinea forests (about 43-45% of sub-Saharan forest) are exceptionally diverse, with very high rates of endemism. Liberia holds some of the last remaining, intact forests in West Africa and so reducing deforestation quickly and efficiently would be important in global climate change mitigation.

The Land rights bill has affirmed that all land owned and occupied by communities for hundred of years belong to them, and that their ownership is effective upon its passage without regards to whether they have a deed to it or not. It says that these communities do no need deed from the Republic, because the Republic never owned their land, and so the Republic does not have ownership that it will transfer to them.

The law reaffirms the provisions of the Constitution that the mineral belong to the Republic, but says that the ownership of the surface land belong to the communities (as to community land) or private individuals (as to private land) and government (as to government land. The law also says that community land will also be treated equally as private land. These are recent and interesting developments for your advocacy.

Logging in Liberia - File photo courtesy of PBS
Logging in Liberia – File photo courtesy of PBS

Simply banning the timber trade or establishing reserves will not be enough to salvage the worlds remaining tropical rainforests. In order for the forest to be preserved, the underlying social, economic, and political reasons for deforestation must be recognized and addressed. Once the issues are brought into the light, the decision can be made about what should be done. If it is decided that rainforests must be saved, then the creation of multi-use reserves that promote sustainable development and education of local people would be a good place to start. Currently about 6 percent of the world’s remaining forests are protected, meaning that over 90 percent are still open for the taking. However, even this 6 percent is not safe if the proper steps towards sustainable development are not taken. If possible, reforestation and restoration projects should be encouraged if we, humanity, hope to come out of this situation. Contemporary environmentalists have proposed some measures such as:

    • Expanding protected areas
    • Increasing surveillance of and patrols in protected areas
    • Building research facilities for training local scientists and guides
    • Establishing programs that promote sustainable use
  • Compensating displaced people
  • Involve indigenous people, where they still exist, in park management.
  • Promoting ecotourism
  • Ensuring economic success does not result in increased deforestation
  • Encouraging entrepreneurship

I would therefore like to formally launch this strategy with some concluding comments.

  1. We must encourage partnership between our government, communities and interested groups, civil society and investors. We are undertaking an endeavor that affects our lives. Collective investment and participation in advocacy will require shared funding and support.
  2. Government must continue to see itself as providing the needed leadership in regulating the sector. The review of guidelines for negotiations and standard-setting in the areas of infrastructure development, health services, labor relations and dignity, law enforcement to curb illegal logging and mining activities, education and other services are critical to improving the lives of our people and creating wealth.
  3. Our nation, our government and our people must seek to end impunity through the rule of law. Years of pillage whether under the guise of war, looting, historic lack of political will, complicity, lack of integrity, lack of accountability, mismanagement and illegal activities in the sector must not go unpunished.  Justice for this sector is a must. Recommendations on economic crimes in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Report must be implemented to ensure reparations for affected communities and possible repatriation of profits. No one must be spared: Liberians and non-Liberians past, present and future. I therefore speak of justice for the alleged victims and those accused until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.
  4. The inextricable link between all elements of nature and the environment is indisputable. Our land, our forests, our wildlife of different and unique species is all connected. We breathe fresh air and live healthy lives when our land, air and sea are treated, as we want to treat ourselves. This is why I advise that our government and all of us must prevent the erratic interventions in our swamps, our wetlands, sand mining in our rivers beds and our forests or we risk an environmental catastrophe. I therefore urge our government to review its decision on the new development intended for the Bali Island, the Sarpo National Park, forest reserves and other areas. Any interventions must take into account proper assessments, analysis and advice on the environmental impact. We must take into account various international agreements and commitments, invite the UN Environmental Protection Agency and other professional bodies to ensure full compliance or risk punishment.
  5. As a long-standing advocate, I am guided by consistency on values and principles. IF IT WAS WRONG THEN, IT IS WRONG NOW! This country and all that lies within it is on loan to our generation by the future generation, we are under obligation to mange it well. Let me now add my voice to what is refer to as the Resource Swap. We should not begin any discussions in the absence of a public assessment, accounting and disclosure of our natural resource endowment.  No buyer should determine our price but rather negotiate our price. We risk intractable conflicts if we proceed without the necessary safeguards required to ensure distributive justice and wealth creation at all levels of our society. We should have a national resource accounting program that evaluates and determine the bankable nature of our natural resources, not leaving our desperation to be exploited by   unscrupulous people. We might be down now but not out. We might be broke now but not poor.
Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

In conclusion, my dear friends and colleagues, People cannot be developed but develop themselves.” With the new thinking, development cannot be viewed as a product made by the “unilateral transfer from an agent (whether a donor or a state) to a passive recipient. The delivery approach to development through assistance is disempowering to citizens, which relegates them to the role of  “subjects” to change or transformation. For it to be an empowering process, development must be seen as a social contract (or compact) among citizens themselves, citizens and the State, The State and donors and citizens and donor.

In the abundance of wealth, we cannot be poor!  Our strategy must help address this paradox.

When I was a child – and I believe every child experiences such – whenever I had the opportunity to express my thoughts about an ambition, I was asked the questions “WHY?” It was common for a child to be asked “why” if they expressed the desire for a professional undertaking such a doctor, lawyer or even president. I believe the “Why” question stems from viewing a child’s ambition from the prism of perceived challenges and impossibilities. From now on we must cultivate the notion to ask “why not” when a  child from anywhere tells you he/she wants to be the President of Liberia or Secretary-General of the United Nations, Let them realize and appreciate the possibility of what is possible or what can be. I therefore ask you to say “WHY NOT” in pursuing this noble enterprise.

Our nation, our government and our people must seek to end impunity through the rule of law. Years of pillage whether under the guise of war, looting, historic lack of political will, complicity, lack of integrity, lack of accountability, mismanagement and illegal activities in the sector must not go unpunished.  Justice for this sector is a must. Recommendations on economic crimes in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Report must be implemented to ensure reparations for affected communities and possible repatriation of profits. No one must be spared: Liberians and non-Liberians past, present and future.

I therefore speak of justice for the alleged victims and those accused until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

I thank you!

Speech By Attorney Kofi Woods

West African Journal Magazine