De-Tenurization – An Overdue Necessary Political Austerity

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From January 22, 2018 to perhaps for some weeks and months to come, the 24th President of Liberia, duly elected by popular adult suffrage and sworn in to protect and defend the constitution is being grossly disenfranchised. His hands are being tied behind his back. He is being denied the exercise of the people’s power as reposed in him by the organic law, the Constitution of Liberia. Nothing expresses these denials and political asphyxiation than legislations engineered by his predecessor(s) for the purpose of not only building iron bars around and shield some of their favorite appointees and devotees but also to leave their political and economic claws on the governance landscape.

Report by Sherman C. Seequeh, [email protected],Contributing Writer

Unarguably, the Executive Power of the Republic is vested in the President, who is the Head of State, according to the Constitution at Article 50, and it is his prerogative, according to Article 56, to appoint all members of the Executive Branch who serve at “his pleasure”. Notwithstanding those clear provisions of the Organic Law, President George Manneh Weah, for the last ten months and up to the time the rumored or reported de-tenurization bill is done, reluctantly and helplessly contends with a good number of members of the Executive Branch of Government in whom he apparently got no pleasure, no will and no trust.

At the onset of the CDC administration, even while transitional arrangements were ongoing, some legal pundits and revolutionary minded folks called on President George Manneh Weah to apply a more radical approach to clear up the inconvenience faced with by the tenured debacle. He was therefore persistently requested by these pundits to appoint his pleasured individuals to positions tenured by his predecessors. Radical pundits had said the President needed to do this to deliberately ignite a constitutional debate, provoke possible Supreme Court intervention that would settle the matter once and for all. Those who made the proposition contended that the tenurization of executive positions, something that reached epidemic proportion at the last days of the Unity Party-led administration, was not only devious and cunning but stood in clear breach and violation of the Constitution of Liberia.

There were also moderates who called for calm and time to allow the new government to explore the legal and political implications of the matter before determining the best way forward. According to these moderate proponents, the President needed time to see if those serving tenured positions met the Constitution’s “pleasure” intent and qualified for appropriate re-nomination. There were those who however wanted a legislative process—submission of a bill seeking the Legislature to scrap off the legal shield tied around the tenured positions. 

There were, and perhaps still are, leftists who argue that the legislation of tenure for some Executive Branch positions is not all about building fence of protection around some public servants but meant to meet and satisfy standards of some international partners consistent with their practices. By this, proponents of this school of thought think tenurization is an acceptable good governance practice that gives “nonconformist” appointees in the Executive job security and shield from arbitrary replacement by a sitting president. They have also argued this will help to tame presidential excesses.

Sorry to say all the justifications we have heard in favor of tenurization are void and pointless when tested against minimal logical thinking and Constitutional dictates. Firstly, temporal tenure on a job—be it for five years or ten years or whatever time—as to satisfy some unknown international best practices still have an end point. They are not lifetime. Every tenured post has expiration period. It also ends when the beneficiary runs afoul with the law and ethics.

Besides, we have had the history in this country where tenured officials were asked by the President of Liberia to resign—and they did. Have we forgotten our most recent instance when former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf demanded the entire team at the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTA) to resign and they did without delay?  So what is the importance of this policy of tenurization in Liberia for which many compatriots are foaming with rage when the tenured officials can resign without delay upon request of the President? 

Even in the United States of America, the country prided as the oasis of good governance best practices, President Donald Trump recently sacked James Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), tenured FBI top position. So, clearly we can see from these examples that legislated tenurization is a fleeting action that merely flirts with so-called good governance dictates but not with a president’s constitutional prerogative.

Secondly, the legislation of tenurization of certain executive posts grossly conflicts with the organic law, the Constitution of Liberia. The President has near-sweeping appointment powers in the Executive Branch where it is noted he can nominate people that serve at his will and pleasure. One does not need to be a Constitutional Law scholar to know that tenured executive public servants, technically, do not necessarily serve at the pleasure of the president. In fact, in a president who inherits these tenured officials, as is the case with President George Manneh Weah, they serve at the gross displeasure of the president. Unfortunately, even some Liberians who are passionate articulators of the Constitution of Liberia are spewing venoms and throwing hate messages in the air for a proposed law that falls in the ambit of the Constitution. 

Thirdly, the policy of tenurization of executive posts is the root of unquestionable waste, plunder and pillage in Liberia. It underpins arrogance of the beneficiary officials and their political masters who grant them such a legal shield. In order words, the policy simply provides iron covers for scoundrels and thieves schooled in furtive corruption with the immunity granted and with impunity. Those who fight to tenurize or ascend to tenurized positions are usually officials who seek legal approbation to protect their incompetence as well as their acts of thievery and the vulnerability that comes with their wrongdoing.

Conversely, anyone who feels competent to serve and who feels fearless for wrongdoing and immune to corruption and wasteful spending in Government should not crave for tenured positions. There is no reason for anyone to discredit President George Weah or any president endeavoring to end the tenure epidemic in this country by the bill reportedly submitted. 

Fourthly, the tenurization policy which benefits only special commissions and authorities assumes that cabinet positions such as ministers, their deputies and assistants are less important to be given the same security against presidential powers. Why think so? Liberia’s growth and development largely lies in the hands of the cabinet that not only directly interacts and supplies the felt needs of ordinary people but also represents the very image of nation next to the President. They take direct bullets for government failure. They go into trenches to fight poverty and put smiles on the faces of ordinary Liberians. What makes heads of commissions and authorities and their deputies distinct for legal protection?   

In fact, it is very clear that in Liberia, the motives for legislating tenured positions were, and still are, far more than taming presidential powers or subscribing to any international best practices. What any critical thinker can see and decipher is the cunning motives behind the move of tenurization. And this can be seen clearly in the very epidemic nature of the process. If there were no ulterior motive the country would not witness, during just the last few months of the last political administration, endless streams of executive positions converted into tenured status at various commissions and authorities. 

The thirst for tenure was so glaring and insatiable that it began to flow from the Directors-General, Commissioners-General to their deputies and assistants. In fact someone just told me that if the 2017 campaign heat had not sent the National Legislature asunder, the new President would have met a government in which every top executive position ranging from heads of all Commissions, Authorities and even Ministries to all their staffs been tenured. The President would have been left with none to appoint. And all that was a subtle stratagem intended to leave intact and undisturbed a dis-elected political system subtly seeking to entrench indelibly its tentacles and ghost on the governance landscape.

Everyone has seen how the tolerance and understanding of President Weah and his new Government caused them walking nearly injured into the labyrinth of merger in constitutional and inherited tenured situation. 

It would be quite a revolutionary move if President Weah and his Government secured the demolishment of the useless tenured regimes in our governance system and complete the configuration of his national administrative team that has commonly clear philosophical affinity to, and alignment with, the just launched pro-poor agenda for prosperity and development. It will also help break the shield of impunity over tenure-protected officials and have them submit to instant political and administrative accountability, increase competitive public servants recruitment process and save our Organic Law, the Constitution, from defilement and contrariness. 

Who is a president or leader and does not want to have in his government the brightest of persons. Certainly President Weah needs this as he faces the enormity of national transformation challenges in the face of his great passion to succeed. But this cannot be done at the expense of the Constitution and his desire to replace fatigued members of the administration—fatigue being a natural tendency—and protecting his vision and mission. Thank God he’s doing it legally, not dictatorially as others had suggested months ago.  

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