By: Cllr. Tiawon Saye Gongloe
The two leading parties [during the last elections] were products of the True Whig Party, the party that institutionalized nepotism, cronyism and other forms of patronage in this country. The only way of doing politics that they know best is the True Whig Party way, which is represented the slogan of the True Whig Party, “So say one so say all”. It was, therefore clear to me that a victory for any of the two parties would have led to another era of nepotism in Liberian history. In order words what we have today is a True Whig Party style of governance. Under the True Whig Party, respect for the Constitution and statute laws was not important, but the whims and caprices of the Standard-bearer. So my esteemed comrades, no Liberian should be surprised by the current efforts of the national leadership to institutionalize nepotism. But this does not mean that Liberians should accept nepotism again. No effort to return Liberia to its ugly past should be accepted anymore.
So comrades, under the general theme: Redefining the masses struggle amidst rampant Corruption, Nepotism and massive Unemployment” I will speak to you on the topic: Nepotism was wrong yesterday and is wrong today. Nepotism, according to The Second Encarta Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, is” favoritism shown by somebody in power to relatives and friends, especially in appointing them to good positions.” The Black’s Law Dictionary defines nepotism as the” bestowal of official favors on one’s relatives, especially in hiring.”It is not nepotism when relatives are appointed by someone who is not a relative. For example Dr. Edward McClain is Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, his brother Johnny McClain is Liberia’s Ambassador to Ivory Coast, another brother is the President of NOCAL and and yet another brother is deputy Minister of Agriculture. This is not nepotism because the appointing authority is not a relative.
The two authoritative sources that I have just given do not make competence or integrity of relatives an exception to the definition. Therefore, those who are saying that the appointment of relatives who are competent and have integrity falls outside the definition of nepotism are wrong. Unless they write their own dictionaries, they have to accept the current definition of nepotism. Except for monarchies, like Kingdoms and empires, where countries are ruled by families, nepotism is wrong everywhere, especially in democratic countries such as ours. Nepotism is wrong because it is an abuse of power. It provides a situation where the best jobs in a country are occupied by relatives of public officials. It deprives better qualified citizens who are not relatives of public officials of opportunities for employment. A nepotistic leader promotes patronage, opportunism and sycophancy as avenues for employment. In an atmosphere where nepotism prevails, honest patriots and nationalists are deprived of opportunities for employment because they are not prepared to stoop so low. Nepotism therefore is a dangerous and very serious corrupt practice because it has the tendency to promote corruption and mass unemployment.
Under Presidents Tubman and Tolbert, the last True Whig Party standard bearers, nepotism was the order of the day. The Liberian people including our current president were very critical of those presidents. But nepotism was not prohibited by law. It was only morally wrong. Therefore, it was left to the discretion of those leaders to depart from the practice.
They did not and the critics could do nothing. Perhaps, this was one of the reasons for the military coup of 1980. In order to prevent future leaders of Liberia from practicing nepotism, we the Liberian people decided to provide a prohibition in the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, the highest law of our land to serve as a deterrent. Article 5c of the Constitution of Liberia states that nepotism is an abuse of power and a corrupt practice, yet both Presidents Samuel K. Doe and Charles Taylor violated this provision of our Constitution, having taken oath to “support, uphold and defend the Constitution and statute laws of the Republic of Liberia”. Many of us including our current president criticized and opposed Presidents Doe and Taylor for nepotism which is fast creeping in Liberia.
Nepotism was wrong under Presidents Tubman, Tolbert, Doe and Taylor. We declared nepotism wrong yesterday by the definitions that I gave earlier. By those same definitions nepotism is wrong today. Should we as a people provide a definition of nepotism for President Sirleaf that is different from the definition that we judged other presidents by? No. We cannot and we should not do so. It would be grossly unfair.
In this regard, her recent statement, “I will not fire my sons” as reported in the New Democrat Newspaper is unconstitutional. What she is really saying the Liberian people is that she will not respect Article 5 (c) of the Constitution of Liberia. In a country of great men and women, should any president violate the constitution and go free? The answer to this question is a resounding no. A violation of the Constitution of Liberia by a President is an impeachable offense.
President Sirleaf’s appointment of her sons to positions in government is in clear violation of the Constitution of Liberia. It is therefore, a violation of her oath of office as President of Liberia. She does not have the right to violate the Constitution of Liberia. In this regard, her recent statement, “I will not fire my sons” as reported in the New Democrat Newspaper is unconstitutional. What she is really saying the Liberian people is that she will not respect Article 5 (c) of the Constitution of Liberia. In a country of great men and women, should any president violate the constitution and go free?
The answer to this question is a resounding no. A violation of the Constitution of Liberia by a President is an impeachable offense. No president has the right to choose not to respect the Constitution of Liberia, the people’s own law. No President of Liberia has the right to break the law and still expect to enjoy the respect and trust of the people under the authority of the same constitution. Our country is a democracy where governance is by the people, of the people and for the people based upon the rule of law. It is not a monarchy where the king or emperor’s will prevails. Never again in Liberia should we allow any President of Liberia to govern Liberia like monarch. A president who governs a democratic country like a monarch is an imperial president.
President Sirleaf by her flagrant violation of the Constitution has become an imperial president which she vowed not to be in her inaugural speech of 2006.. Also, by saying that she will not dismiss her sons, even though their appointments violate article 5(c) of the Constitution of Liberia, President Sirleaf has made a clear choice between her sons and Liberia. She has by her defiant statement subordinated the interest of the people of Liberia to the interest of her children.
Our President has made a clear choice in favor of her family over her country. Therefore, I call upon President Sirleaf to do the only honorable and logical thing left for her to do under the circumstances and that is to resign as president and let Vice President Joseph Boakai carry on until the next election. If she does not do so, then the House of Representatives, in the supreme interest of the people should impeach her. President Sirleaf cannot place herself above the Constitution of Liberia. She is not at liberty to place her family interest above the interest of Liberia.
I see the president’s resignation as the only way to keep Liberia peaceful until the next general and presidential elections. Liberians are becoming increasingly unhappy about the President’s blatant disregard for our constitution and the longer she stays in power the more angry people will become. This could lead to a reversal of peace and progress in Liberia.
I call upon the international community, who’s human and material resources helped us to find peace, to seriously re-examine its position on President Sirleaf in light of the risk that she presents by her blatant violation of the Constitution of Liberia with impunity. This is a very serious early warning sign of the eventual erosion of peace in Liberia. Some of us have seen such signs before and are aware of the consequences of ignoring such signs. The international community must not ignore the voices of dissent in Liberia by considering us to be a noisy minority as our president has repeatedly said. The international community must also not dismiss the concerns that we are raising about bad governance as an African standard of governance. The people of Liberia made a choice to build a democratic country and therefore, deserve to be judged by the common standard by which all democratic countries are judged.
Liberia is a democratic state. It is the will of the people that must prevail at all times, not the wishes of an individual. According to the Constitution of Liberia, “All Power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require.” Our happiness and safety require that the President respects the law against nepotism by immediately removing her sons from the political positions they have or resign from her position as President of Liberia. If she refuses we must petition our legislators to impeach her.
President Sirleaf has done some good things for our country in transforming it from a failed state to a normal functioning state, for which she will always be remembered by all well-meaning Liberians. But these cannot serve as a justification for breaking the organic law of the country. The rule of law must prevail, if Liberia must be peaceful, progressive and prosperous.
The above op-ed is an excerpt from keynote speech delivered by Cllr Tiawon Saye Gongloe at the 42ND anniversary celebration of the Student Unification Party [SUP] at the auditorium of the University of Liberia on November 16, 2012.
Pic: PENCIL DRAWING OF CLLR. TIAWON SAYE GONGLOE