The Debate About The Appointment Of City Mayors
By Alphonso Nyeuh
The Constitutionality Argument: Both sides to the debate raise constitutional arguments. Those who contend that the President has the legal authority to appoint City Mayors cite Article 54 of the Liberian Constitution which reads “"The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Senate, appoint and commission superintendents of counties, other county officials and officials of the political sub-divisions." They maintain that the phrase “…other county officials and officials of the political sub-divisions”, includes City Mayors.
In a “Letter of the Day” by Mr. Martin Scott of Atlanta Georgia, a proponent of this argument maintains that this provision clearly and unambiguously gives the President the authority to appoint City Mayors. “There is no ambiguity in this provision”, he contends.
President Sirleaf herself appeared to support this argument in her interview with Frontpageafrica.com published on 10/19/07. In that interview President Sirleaf noted the following:
“First of all, there is no constitutional issue here. Let the people read the constitution. I’m so glad because when these issues come up it gives us all a chance to read our constitution and learn our laws. There is no constitutional issue there. Look at the laws…”. Mrs. Sirleaf attempts to justify the appointment of Mayors by furthering that “Many of these people in these positions are not really carrying out their responsibilities. First of all they were not elected to these positions, they were appointed. Secondly, if they were doing a good job, there will be no reason to bother them. Look at the status of our cities and what they do. Some of them are selling land illegally, some of them are not paying attention to the plight of the people of the city, what am I supposed to do?”
Those who oppose the appointment of City Mayors also cite Article 54 but contend that this provision does not give the President the authority to appoint mayors, and that it is at beast ambiguous and vague on the subject.
The Conditionality Argument: On the Conditionality Argument supporters of the appointment of mayors argue that the President has the authority to appoint mayors because the government does not have the money to finance municipal elections.
This piece will seek to address both arguments.
What does the Law really Say?
Article 54 of the Constitution of Liberia (to which both sides have laid claim) states that
"The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Senate, appoint and commission superintendents of counties, other county officials and officials of the political sub-divisions."
In my opinion, Article 54 of the Constitution does not give the President the authority to appoint City Mayors. “Other county officials and officials of political sub-divisions” as stated in the Article does not mean “ALL” county officials and officials of political sub-divisions. If that was the case then we should not be electing Paramount, Clan and Town chiefs since in fact they are also officials of political sub-divisions.
Instead what the framers of the Constitution were doing by their use of the phrase “other county officials and officials of political sub-divisions” was A) to make provision for the appointment of other county officials and officials of other political sub divisions such as Circuit Court judges, Stipendiary Magistrates, Labor Commissioners, County Attorneys, Land Commissioners, District Commissioners, Education officers, etc, that the President has authority to appoint; and 2) to avoid naming every county official or official of political sub-divisions that the President has the authority to appoint.
Is this Constitutional provision clear enough to be interpreted by everyone as I am not so sure.
But Constitutions are statements of the general principles- the legal, political, social, principles and aspirations of a people, group or society. As such they lack detail in many respects and in others may appear to be vague. The details and clearer explanations are usually contained in the other laws, which I would refer to herein as sub-laws. These laws are the Election Laws (to deal in depth with election issues), Immigration and Nationality Laws (to deal with immigration issues) Labor Laws (to deal with labor issues), etc.
In discussing the legality of appointing or electing City Mayors the relevant laws are the National Election Laws and the legislative Acts establishing the city corporations.
Election Laws: While the New Election Laws of Liberia of 1986 do not explicitly discuss municipal elections they speak to the issue in chapter II, sec. 2.9 sub sec. (q) as reads: “the Elections Commission shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to …accreditation of all… who have been duly elected as President, Vice President, members of the National Legislature, Paramount, Clan and Town Chiefs and CITY MAYORS WITH THEIR COMMONCOUNCILMEN.” (my caps). This provision supposes the holding of elections for City mayors.
Legislative Acts: Most cities are autonomous or semi-autonomous entities, created by Acts of National Legislature defining them as city corporations. These legislative Acts define the authority of the cities, their governance structures, how their leaders should be chosen-whether elected or appointed- and how they should govern. These Acts grant the cities the legal authority to establish their own police forces, to collect taxes, make their own laws (ordinances) and have quasi legislative bodies such as City Councils (also referred to as common councils) all of which run fairly independently of county or national governments.
PRECEDENCE: Another means by which we can settle constitutional or legal questions is to look at precedence. Where the Constitution and other laws are silent or vague on an issue or as a way of lending further support to a law the prudent legal course has been to look at PRECEDENCE- What was or has been the practice. From all indications, City Mayors have historically been elected in Liberia, not appointed by the President.
OUR NATIONAL ASPIRATION FOR DEMOCRACY: The next thing to look at, and I think this should always be considered, is the general aspiration of the people. Our aspiration has always been our yearning for democracy- to break down the imperial presidency, take power away from the executive and place it in the hands of the people. For me, as a democracy and human rights activist, this should be an over-riding factor in resolving any question or ambiguity regarding whether or not we should hold elections or have officials appointed
THE CONDITIONALITY ARGUMENT
Proponents of the appointment argument also argue that the government should be allowed to appoint City Mayors because there is no money at the moment to hold municipal elections. This seems a reasonable argument to me. There are circumstances in the life of any nation when they must deviate from their established laws to address national constraints and, the absence of money in this case could be such condition.
However this condition does not give the President the automatic authority to override the legal requirement of electing City Mayors.
In a situation as this which is not a national emergency, our democracy will be saved, our country will be spared a political crisis were the administration to go to the legislature and ask for the legal provisions mandating the holding of municipal and chieftancy elections to be temporarily set aside and the administration given the authority to appoint mayors. While the absence of money may be a real situation and President Sirleaf’s concern about the dismal performance of some of the current mayors may be genuine any action not rooted in the legal ramifications could undermine those valid conditions and good intentions