LIBERIA: UL Law School debates Constitutional Mandate On Presidential Transition

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Professors, lawyers, and students of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, academics, and other members of the public have debated Liberia’s Constitutional Mandate on Presidential Transition, focusing on the benefits and risks associated with the 90-day waiting period for a new government to commence.

The presentation in this session was led by Prof. Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe, a former Liberian presidential candidate and renowned Human Rights Lawyer, moderated by Prof. Cllr. Benedict F. Sannoh, Liberia’s former Justice Minister, and a team of student researchers.

The intellectual discourse was held recently at the Law School on the University of Liberia Capitol Hill campus as part of a day-long activity to mark the school’s 2023 end-of-year programs.

The programs also included a discussion on Health and Women Issues for a Robust Legal Education under the auspices of the Law Students Association (LAWSA); and the dedication of the “David A.B. Jallah Faculty Lounge” and the “Jonathan R.A.L. Williams Café and Gift Shop,” led by Cllr. Sylvester D. Rennie, President of the LNBA.

In the evening, a LAGSL Christmas Tree Lighting program was held. These events were complemented with lots of music, rendition of Christmas Carols by the newly established LAGSL Chorus, meal and
person-to-person conversations.

Liberia’s Constitution gives a president a six-year term which commences on the third working Monday of January after the conduct of elections in October.

Under the mandate of the Constitution, election results are to be announced within 15 days after the casting of ballots.

Given these constitutional mandates, Law Professors, Law Student Researchers, Lawyers, academics, and members of the public used the year-end programs to debate the strengths and weaknesses, or benefits and risks associated with the time provided for a president-elect to assume office, especially in a case where an incumbent is voted out.

In between the time of voting and the declaration of a winner, the Constitution also provides time for a losing candidate to challenge the election results.

This process begins with the National Elections Commission (NEC) and ends at the Supreme Court.

During the discussions, some participants suggested that the three-month waiting period for a president-elect to assume office is reasonable because there might be a need to adjudicate election cases after the casting of ballots.

On the other hand, some participants, including students and lawyers, said the long waiting period is a dangerous risk because anything could erupt and undermine the smooth transition of power.

In his presentation, Liberian Law Professor Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe avoided providing a direct answer on the subject of the risks or benefits of the long wait in the presidential transition.

However, during the question-and-answer period, Cllr. Gongloe agreed that the long waiting period is a dangerous risk.

Once an Executive Assistant/Legal Assistant to Liberia’s former Interim President, the late Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, Cllr. Gongloe recalled how Ministers were unwilling to leave power and went asking Dr. Sawyer about how they were leaving offices.

“That’s why this long waiting period is not good,” said Cllr. Gongloe. Knowing that surprises can happen in Liberia, Cllr. Gongloe said he was concerned that Liberia’s President-elect Amb. Joseph Nyumah Boakai left the country for the U.S. and incumbent President H.E. George Manneh Weah was also out of the country.

“And because he’s President-elect, he does not have that legal authority and no nation must give him security protection, that’s dangerous,” Cllr. Gongloe indicated.

Additionally, Cllr. Gongloe noted that in some hostile countries, the risk is that some people would claim that the State had been left vulnerable and would proceed to play the national anthem [for a state of emergency].

Moderating the discussion, Liberia’s former Justice Minister Cllr. Benedict F. Sannoh explained that the Constitution gives six years for a presidential term.

He said he thinks almost everyone had agreed on the need to reduce the time a president-elect has to wait to assume power.

But Cllr. Sannoh said if it is established that the 90-day period for transition is too long, Liberians must find a way to address the challenges – whether that’s by the way the cases are adjudicated by the NEC or the duration of the trial.

On the issue of emergency power, he said if a government loses favor from the electorate and a new government is elected while the incumbent constitutionally remains in power, the Constitution limits the emergency power to having a consultation with the Legislature.

But the problem Cllr. Sannoh finds with this is that the Constitution does not define what consultation means.

Under Liberia’s constitutional democracy, he said every branch of government must jealously protect the power it has.

He said unless Liberians are proceeding on the premise that they don’t have a separation of power, then what the president says will go.

“But it is a risk …, in a real democracy with separation of power, it may not be a risk because the representatives may not agree on that as long, they are going to remain in power,” Cllr. Sannoh noted.

Earlier welcoming the participants, the Dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law Prof. Dr. Jallah Barbu hailed the Professors at the school for their immense sacrifice over the years.

Dr. Barbu said the Law School is on an upward trajectory, saying what they are doing is not as common as people would think.

“What we are doing here is to ensure that we have an environment free of harassment, of unwarranted tension, of anything negative to a learning environment,” he said.

He said the for second time, they were celebrating their year-end activities and the Christmas and New Year to provide a greater avenue to mix with students and the public.

UL Vice President for Legal Affairs, Cllr. Viama Blama, representing the President of the University of Liberia Prof. Dr. Julius Julukon Sarwolo Nelson, Jr., appreciated the discourse and promised that the Law School will present papers through the Lux Talk.

He said he enjoyed the topic that was being discussed, saying the presenters were very frank, adding that the University will support the program.

For his part, LAWSA President Mr. Robert Henry Johnson, II, said that at Law School, they decided to start taking the lead in discussing key issues on the legal aspect of the country.

From this program, he announced that they would be coming up with their Law Journal.

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