Liberia: BWIAA Rejects the Interim Administration; Says It is Unconstitutional and Illegal
MARIGIBI COUNTY – The BWIAA National Convention convened on May 29, 2021, being the last Saturday in the month, and held on the BWI campus, as provided for by the BWIAA constitution. The process was hijacked by a group of alumni, led by former President, alumnus Jonathan Paye-layleh, with the intention of derailing the process of having a democratic election, in favor of an interim leadership. The action of these alumni who were not accredited delegates to the convention, was only intended to hijack the leadership, create disunity in the association, and cheat their way back into the leadership of the association.
We recall a similar situation in the late 1990s when a group of alumni in the government, who claimed to have been aggrieved, stormed the offices of the association on Buchanan Street with armed men, and shut out the constituted leadership. It took more than two years to get the association back on track, and even until today, the seed of disunity that was sown then, still breeds its ugly face.
Summary of the issues raised by the Paye-Layleh group:
- That the outgoing administration’s tenure had expired, and they did not have the authority to organize the convention, let alone, elections.
- That it was a breach of the constitution for the chairman of the convention to oversee the conduct of the elections.
- That the outgoing administration should have held the elections at the end of their term, even during the Covid19 restrictions. Since that did not happen, the leadership, rather than seeking the mandate from the chapters to organize the convention and hold elections, should have waited for the General Assembly to ask for the way forward.
Firstly, the constitutional term of current leadership under President Tenbroh should have expired on Founder’s Day 2020, following the holding of elections in May and induction of the elected leadership in June (Founder’s Day). As we are all aware, our country was hit, like most parts of the world, by the deadly Corona virus disease, and the President of Liberia, Dr. George Manneh Weah, declared a “STAY HOME” Order under the State of Emergency on April 10, 2020, to contain the spread of the global Coronavirus disease. There was a quarantine put in place in four counties, including Montserrado and Margibi, restricting the movement of people. It was not possible to organize a convention and hold elections under those conditions. The constitution provides that convention be held only on BWI campus on the last Saturday in May, but because of the Covid-19 restrictions, BWI was closed.
According to the BWIAA constitution, Article IX, section 5, under Elections, “All elected officers of the Association shall serve for a period of two (2) years, except in the case of force majeure, officers so elected shall not serve for more than two (2) consecutive terms. Elections shall be by secret ballot.”
Secondly, we recognize that we were unable to conduct elections for national officers on the date and at the venue provided for in the constitution, but not because we neglected to do so or refused to do so, but because we were constrained by acts of nature (the Corona virus pandemic) not to be able to hold elections on the constitutional date. However, as soon as it possible to move around without restrictions, we visited all the chapters to discuss the situation, and the controlling decision from the chapters was that we hold the elections at the next convention which was only a few months away, to satisfy the provision of the constitution covering elections.
It is important to note that each chapter nominated a representative to the convention committee to ensure their participation and transparency. We acted in good faith.
Thirdly, we constituted one committee to organize the convention and conduct elections for a new leadership. As a matter of precedence, referencing the last two elections, the convention committee has a chairman, co-chairman, secretary, and members from each chapter appointed to oversee the convention and elections. The elections are an activity under the convention. During the last elections, the Chairman decided to delegate some responsibility of the elections to his co-chair, which did not necessarily make the elections activity separate from the convention. The Convention Chair presided over all aspects of the elections, including guidelines, deciding the fees for candidates, the elections timetable, delegates qualifications, etc. Therefore, there was no breach of the constitution as insinuated by the Paye-Layleh group.
If there was a breach as they claim, and they did not have any ulterior motives, the convention could have mandated the Chair to delegate the responsibility of overseeing the elections to his co-chair. But for one to wrongly use his influence and power, to demand those elections be removed from the agenda and replaced with interim leadership, clearly shows that the group wanted to destabilize the convention and create chaos and disunity.
The issues raised by those who want to cause chaos within the Association are not strong enough to abort the elections in favor of an interim arrangement, besides our constitution only provides for change of leadership by elections.
Fourthly, according to our constitution, under addendum, amendments approved by the general Assembly of 2015, 1. “That henceforth, the election of officers of the National Executive Committee shall be done during the association’s convention which must happen before Founder’s Day. The convention shall bring together ten (10) delegates from each chapter, five (5) delegates from each branch and twenty (20) from the National Executive Committee. Those to be elected during the convention are to be sworn in on the Founder’s Day that follows the elections.”
We have a general assembly on founders’ day that reviews and endorses the decisions from the convention, especially issues bordering on constitutional amendments and other actions proposed at the convention. The endorsement from the general assembly of any constitutional amendment would then qualify that provision to become legal and binding. We did not need to wait for the general assembly to ask to organize the convention and hold elections, as that would be like putting the cart before the horse.
However, if we were to agree with our detractors, then it would only mean that the convention and every decision emanating therefrom, is unconstitutional and illegal.
Fifthly, according to our constitution, “The convention shall bring together ten (10) delegates from each chapter, five (5) delegates from each branch and twenty (20) from the National Executive Committee. Delegates representing chapter/branches are registered members of those chapters/branches, selected by the chapter/branch and accredited by the convention. For the NEC, all national elected officers and chairpersons of standing committees are delegates to the convention, plus any additional alumni appointed by the President, provided the number of delegates does not exceed twenty. Accredited delegates are the only persons qualified constitutionally to participate in decision-making on behalf of the chapter/branch and NEC at the convention.
Alumnus Jonathan Paye-Layleh and his cohort were largely not accredited delegates to the convention – they did not represent any chapter, branch or the NEC – which means they were not qualified to participate in the decision-making process at the convention. Any decision made from their unconstitutional, illegal participation/votes are consequently unconstitutional and illegal.
We want to categorically state that the interim leadership created by, alumnus Paye-Layleh and his group, is unconstitutional and illegal. We do not recognize this group and call on members of the Alumni Association not to do any business with them. This been said, it is clear that, there are hidden and selfish motives behind the idea of the interim leadership when election could have been held. This is only a devilish ploy to provide a vehicle for people who are afraid of elections or those who want to return to power, to cheat their way back into the leadership, and use the alumni association as a springboard to advance their personal interests.
Finally, to ensure a smooth transition to a new administration, we recommend the following:
- That the Association returns to status quo and return to the electoral process that was underway before this disruption emerged.
- That the General Assembly, when it meets on Founder’s Day, sets a new date, within two months, for a special convention, to conduct new elections for the next administration to steer the affairs of the Alumni Association.
- That the current convention committee be expanded to include two or three additional representatives selected at the GA to conduct the elections for a new constitutional leadership.
- That the application process be reopened to as many as would want to apply for elected offices to participate in the elections.
- That a review /re-writing of the constitution with any amendments be done only after the elections, by the constitutionally elected administration.
We therefore wish to call on all members of the Association to support the conduct of a free, fair, and transparent elections to ensure unity and a smooth transition in the interest of the Association.
In another (new) development, the General Assembly of the alumni association will not be able to convene on Founder’s Day, June 26, 2021, due to the new and increasing wave of Coronavirus disease in the country, resulting in restrictions on gatherings imposed again by the government, and implemented by BWI administration. With that said, the National Executive Committee shall initiate a national dialogue with BWIAA stakeholders to convene a special convention, to hold elections for new leadership of the BWI Alumni Association, in line with the association’s constitution.