Liberia: A Country Too Poor for a Constitutional Referendum?

In April 2015, delegates from 73 electoral districts across Liberia voted at the CRC Conference in Gbarnga, Bong County, for 25 propositions to alter the 1986 Constitution of the West-African State. Originally scheduled for 2016, the referendum was postponed to 2017 (see http://www.thenewdawnliberia.com/news/9338-national-referendum-set-for-2017). Whereas the National Democratic Institute is still optimistic that the referendum will take place prior to the general elections also scheduled for 2017 (see https://www.ndi.org/liberia?quicktabs_country_page_tabs=3#quicktabs-country_page_tabs), a statement made by the chairperson of the House Committee on Governance, Rep. Larry Younquoi, a few months ago is less optimistic: according to him, the referendum would cost USD 20 million – money, the country does not have (see http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/politics/2179-house-committee-on-governance-referendum-cancellation-raises-eyebrows). The question is: can there be a price-tag on democracy?Among the 25 propositions, one is very controversial: it would label Liberia to be a Christian State, and obviously triggered protests from Muslims, but also other people who emphasize that the West-African State should remain a secular nation without an official State religion.

In addition, there are two other propositions which should be looked at: first, pursuant to one proposition, the tenure of the President and members of the House of Representatives would be reduced from six to four years and that of Senators from nine to six years – a clear move towards more democracy happening in Liberia.

Second – and of great importance for the mining industry, according to another proposition, land owners on whose lands minerals and other resources are found are to share the benefits accrued with the government, and that they should be part of the negotiations between government and concessionaires, meaning that mining would become more beneficial for the Liberian population (provided that the mining laws will be amended accordingly).

Since the aforementioned statement by Rep. Larry Younquoi in October 2016, no information became available whether the referendum will take place at all – and if so, when it will take place in 2017. Given that it might result in the reduction of tenure, it might be likely that politicians try to drop the referendum in order to ensure that they remain in power. However, given that Liberia does not even have the funds to finance  additional wings to the Capitol Building (see http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/news/2974-chinese-gov-t-finances-additional-wings-at-liberia-s-capitol-building), it is also not unlikely that Rep. Larry Younquoi is right – and that the country lacks of sufficient funds to hold a referendum (and China might not have an interest in funding this referendum as well). But maybe the taxes and royalties Liberia get from mining operations, including from Arcelor Mittal’s new mining project (see http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/business/2959-arcelor-mittal-to-start-operations-in-new-mine-in-liberia-re-employs-redundant-workers) can be well spend on increasing democracy?

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