OP-ED: The Petition That Didn’t Petition – An Assessment of the Council of Patriot Demands

The Council of Patriots has scheduled another protest on July 31, in a quest to get the government to act on its 45-count petition presented on June 9, 2019. However, the petition presents three challenges that probably inhibit the government’s response. First, the unofficial delivery, second the legitimacy question that arises with the fast disintegration of COP; and third, most of the demands are flawed, unspecific, and moot.

Here, I have outlined a few of the issues with some of the demands.

“…Urgently proceed with efforts to amend and/or repeal the current Electoral Law.”

This demand fails to recognize ongoing efforts by the Election Coordination Committee and the National Elections Commission. COP should have been specific why they want the elections law repealed or what provision of the elections law they recommend be amended. Based on recommendations for the redrawing of legislative boundaries,[i] COP could specifically demand the conduct of census as a matter of urgency to inform such a demarcation.

“Immediately commission an independent investigation into the hasty impeachment of Associate Justice Kabineh Jan’eh… and commence immediately… an overhaul of the Judiciary, including the reconstitution of the Supreme Court Bench.”

Considering that the Executive Branch doesn’t exercise oversight over the legislature, it cannot commission an investigation of the legislature. The Liberia Bar Association had identified the legislature’s failure to “prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings” as flawed. The president’s authority to remit public forfeitures and penalties does not extend to impeachment. Also, calling for the government to reconstitute the Supreme Court bench is a call to violate the constitution, which guarantees tenure for Supreme Court judges. In Count 20, a similar disingenuous demand is made for the government to “reconstitute through independent vetting, all integrity institutions to ensure independence.” This is asking the president to ignore tenure, declare vacancies and constitute a vetting panel irrespective of whether the positions are vacant or occupied. This demand runs contrapositive to the rule of law.

“Launch an immediate investigation into the mysterious death of Central Bank of Liberia Assistant Director Matthew J. Innis…”

This demand is moot because the Liberia National Police had already launched such an investigation ever since the death of Matthew J. Innis occurred.

“Establish a court to address claims, corruption, and strengthen Criminal Court E…”

This demand is counterproductive to the fight against the violation of human rights and corruption. Establishing a single court to address claims and corruption is illogical. Considering that the constitution provides for the establishment of a claims court, the legislators within the ranks of CoP should ally with integrity institutions and draft the two bills to establish the claims and corruption courts separately. Besides, this demand needs to be reconciled with demand number 22, which calls on the government to “Immediately establish a special court to try all corruption cases in Liberia ……” The legislators within the ranks of CoP should have similarly sponsor the bill to effect demand number 18.

“Immediately demobilize all former Fighters re-deployed into various entities/ security agencies…”

CoP assumes that the government mobilized and redeployed ex-fighters. If the government did not mobilize and redeploy former fighters, it cannot demobilize them. CoP should list few formal fighters and the entities they are deployed in; This is not implementable absent proof of remobilized and deployed ex-fighters.

“Immediately establish a Task Force… to implement the recommendations… for the establishment of a war and an economic crimes court in Liberia without delay (The Government of Liberia should make a request to the United Nations for such a court before July 26, 2019).”

The demand for the establishment of “a war and an economic crimes court” leaves the question of whether we anticipate two separate courts or one court with two subject matter jurisdictions. CoP needs to be clear what the government will be requesting. This request is not implementable due to its ambiguity.

“Immediately implement the comprehensive audit of all government ministries, agencies and parastatals of the period of this Administration and legally address past audits.”

The General Auditing Commission has its own risk analysis that inform the need for audits. Besides, the GAC lacks the capacity to immediately audit all government institutions.  Regarding past audits, the president already committed the government to reviewing GAC’s audit reports going back 10 years back and directed legal actions to begin, based on the findings.

Demand #16 calling for the government to “immediately launch an audit of all infrastructural and ongoing road projects” and demand #27 to “immediately conduct a comprehensive audit of the National Legislature” would face similar technical and capacity challenges including the lack of budgetary appropriation.

“Conduct a comprehensive Audit of all and any of the dozens of personal infrastructures and/or building projects undertaken by President Weah….”

This demand amounts to compelling the president to “furnish evidence against himself” contrary to the protection guaranteed to every citizen in the constitution. Besides, the constitution gives the president blanket immunity, which makes such an investigation impossible where the president is not impeached and removed from office.

“Immediately halt the unlawful awarding of contracts to businesses with close ties to the president and senior members of his administration.”

CoP should have been a little specific with cases where the procurement laws were ignored in the awarding of contracts and detailed those businesses with “close ties” to the president or senior members being referred to.

“…George Weah and his officials should immediately make public (publish) “assets” they are reported to have ‘declared’….”

Publishing of assets is based on individual will of public officials. The LACC is privy to the asset records and is obliged to maintain confidentiality. This demand is not implementable since the government cannot compel any official to publish their assets.

“Beginning effective fiscal 2019/2020, reallocate to health institutions all appropriations for medical check-ups and benefits for public officials….”

There is no such line as “medical check-up and benefits” in the Chart of Account of the government and certainly not in the budget unless it is hidden under some other cost. Perhaps summing appropriation under FY 2018/2019 would show clearly how much transfer CoP is talking about here. Until this can be clear, the demand is not implementable.

“Legally expel all individuals previously convicted for crimes in their countries who are now operating in Liberia.”

There might be a lot of fugitives in Liberia without the knowledge or awareness of the government. CoP must specifically identify those fugitives recommended for expulsion otherwise the demand is not actionable.

“Immediately stop funding activities of the First Lady. There is no such office legally created under our constitution.”

CoP should know that the constitution does not create every institution of government. Rather, it empowers the legislature to make laws to establish institutions. The establishment of the Office of the First Lady is construed once appropriation is made under the budget. Considering this, the demand would make sense if the CoP were to indicate expenditure of the First Lady which were not appropriated.

“Develop, design and implement an economic reform plan ………”

The government’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development is already an economic reform plan. Is there a gap that CoP is requiring such plan to address? The PAPD has monitoring, evaluation, and coordination mechanisms which facilitate review and redesign. Is CoP calling for the development of an implementation roadmap that includes prioritization and sequencing of economic reform interventions? This demand is not implementable except it is specific on what alternatively or complementarily is required.

“Restore integrity to our forestry sector by taking urgent steps to maintain the current monitoring system as the contract with SGS will soon end.”

COP seems to suggest that SGS has been ensuring integrity in the forest sector and as such the GoL must renew her contract that is soon to end; while on the other hand, they are suggesting that integrity has been wanting within the forestry sector and the GoL must restore the lost integrity. The CoP needs to be clear whether SGS eroded and should be discontinued. This demand is unclear and as such unimplementable.

“Immediately desist from withdrawing funds from Liberia’s foreign reserve….”

The president’s policy position in his May 29, 2019, Nationwide Address makes this demand moot: “I wish to announce that the Government of Liberia, under my leadership, will no longer borrow from the Central Bank of Liberia for its short-term liquidity needs.”

“Immediately address the run-away exchange rate and high prices of goods and services.”

This demand is being undermined by demand number 6 calling for the disbanding Technical Economic Management Team. TEMT cannot be disbanded, though members on the team can be dismissed.

“Halt or refuse to sign into law the New Rape Law that makes rape offenses bailable”

This demand betrays the fact that CoP is unaware that the current rape law makes rape bailable. Subsection 14.70(4b) provides that bail shall be treated as capital offences under section 13.1.1 of the Criminal Procedure Law which states that “[a] person in custody for the commission of a capital offense shall, before conviction, be entitled as of right to be admitted to bail unless the proof is evident or the presumption great that he is guilty of the offense.” This demand is contrary to the principles of human rights and it is not implementable.

I conclude that the petition as submitted suffers intellectual starvation probably because its authors were under the illusion that they were all-knowing and ignored consultation with various interest groups who would have provided concrete actionable demands. It seems to me that the petitioners did not give the development of the petition as much attention as they did the mobilization of people to turn out on June 7.

On this basis, I conclude that rather than organizing another protest, the CoP needs to review, consult broadly, and resubmit a comprehensible petition.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Herron Gbidi is Senior Policy Director at the Liberia Policy Research and Advocacy Group

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