BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – Grand Bassa’s legislative caucus has held a one-day consultative meeting to discuss with citizens President Weah’s recently submitted amendments to the constitution.
The meeting took place at the Unification Pavilion in Buchanan, bringing together lawmakers and a cross-section of citizens and stakeholders, including local and traditional leaders, women, youth, chiefs, elders, and civil society representatives.
Speaking at the start of the program, Grand Bassa’s Senator Jonathan Kaipay said following the receipt of 13 propositions from Weah for enactment into law, members of the county’s legislative caucus decided to get the input of their citizens.
“As a normal democratic practice, it is proper that citizens and residents have an opportunity to debate the various issues advanced in the propositions, especially so that they are of constitutional nature,” said Kaipay, who chaired the session.
He said the meeting was a platform for citizens and residents of the county to scrutinize the propositions and make appropriate recommendations to inform the decision of their legislators. He said after the meeting, citizens would be more knowledgeable of the number and quality of changes that are being sought by the Executive Branch.
“When we also see critical issues that are beyond, we need to come to you so that we can consult and dialogue about it. So that you will give us an opportunity to tell us what you think and what is your position as a county and as people. It is that process that we have come here for today,” he told the gathering.
According to him, the legislature’s decision on the proposition would be presented in a referendum to either change or maintain the constitution.
Presented via PowerPoint, the lawmaker named the propositions as an amendment of Article 28 of the constitution to provide for the inalienability of the citizenship of natural-born citizens of Liberia, amending Article 37 to eliminate the holding of by-elections to fill vacancies created in the legislature and substitute with appointments.
He said the president also proposed to amend Article 45 to allow for three senators for each county and to reduce the senatorial term from nine to seven years. Additionally, he called for reducing the tenure of members of the House of Representatives and the president from six to five years.
Others include amending Article 66 to establish the Regional Intermediary Appellate Courts and to change Election Day to the last week of December.
The discussion generated mixed views from the citizens including Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence and the head of the civil society council in Grand Bassa, Bailey Tokpah.
Karnga-Lawrence said the discussion surrounding the propositions is not timely and is not also the priority of the people based on the present economic crisis.
“I will not tell you my position for these different propositions, but I will tell you my initial position towards the entire process,” Karnga-Lawrence said.
“Countries are successful because they have good structures, good systems, and they respect the rule of laws. And for me, for the situation this country is in right now, the discussion we are having about these propositions should not be a priority, I don’t think it is the right time.”
She said instead of focusing on the constitutional amendments, the leadership must prioritize efforts to improve the economy and better the lives of citizens. She also wants the government to, among other things, overcome the challenges in the provision of basic services, such as health and education.
“When you see improvement and growth, then all of the other situations which include revising the constitution can fit in and that way, the arguments, and debates will be elevated at the level where your [people] will understand it and appreciate it,” she noted.
Karnga-Lawrence’s call followed vocal opposition from many citizens during the meeting. The chair of Grand Bassa’s civil society council, Bailey Tokpah, praised the lawmakers for the consultation but said he opposed the propositions, saying they were not timely.
“I am not even looking at them one by one, [but] the entire document is not timely for us to discuss,” Tokpah said. “It is not timely for the Liberian people to spend their money on it and it is not also timely for the international community.”
He said given the current economic hardship suffered by citizens, the proposed amendments are currently not the priorities of citizens.
“With all of the economic issues affecting the country, the breakdown of all our infrastructures, particularly basic social services, I think the government of Liberia should think in that direction to lift the livelihood of the people instead of spending money on things that are not of priority,” he said.
One thing he wants the government to prioritize for Grand Bassa is the improvement of the government-owned hospital, which also caters to residents from Sinoe and River Cess.
Grand Bassa’s second district representative, Mary Karwor, recommended that the consultation be extended to other parts of the county through a district-level consultation meeting, to allow views of citizens out of Buchanan to be heard.
Featured photo by Sampson David