OPEN LETTER: To the President, Officials and Members of the Press Union of Liberia regarding our position on the December referendum

As one of the longest-serving active members of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL),  I write to suggest that the PUL and the general media community take  a definite position on whether or not Liberia is really ready to have a referendum in December. 

We need one, but are we ready as a nation to have it in December?

Less than four months left for the holding of this referendum I can report to you that my interactions with people in some rural counties and towns have established that not only are people unaware of the impending referendum, they do not know and understand the propositions on which Liberians are to vote “yes or no” should the referendum go ahead.

Politicians who have started premature campaigns in the name of acquaintance and consultations with the electorate are only concerned about the senatorial polls; they are not explaining anything about the referendum to the locals.

I am afraid as media people, if we sit supinely and do not act as the mirror and conscience of the society, all of us belonging to the enlightened class would be heavily blamed for possible blunders that may result from going ahead with the ill-timed referendum. We have to speak out.

I think we should call a meeting of media people and/or leaders to derive a decision and subsequently proffer a suggestion to the National Elections Commission.  We have to.

If our stance on this cardinal national issue is ignored, at least we would have made our position clear.

We have a situation where even the educated class are still confused and debating what the reduction of the presidential tenure and having this as part of the propositions would mean. There is a debate whether if this proposition passes, and the incumbent happens to win in 2023, that would be considered his first term under the new amendment or whether this would be the start of his second and final term. These things need to be made clear.

Even on the dual citizenship debate, many people still do not understand whether this means one can, for example,  be a Liberian and a Guinean, whereas as a country we don’t have the sophistication to know who true Liberians are.  Anyone can come from across the border and take on a Liberian citizenship relying on cultural and name commonalities.

 Mr. President and officials, many people in rural towns wanted to know from me if the dual citizenship proposition is voted “yes”, and one becomes, for example,  a Liberian and an American citizen, whether America will recognize that person’s Liberian citizenship. In other words, if the person who is both an American and a Liberian commits a crime in Liberia and flees to the United States, will the authorities of the United States be obligated by law to return the person to face justice in Liberia? Do we have that extradition treaty with the US or next door Sierra Leone or Ivory Coast?

I am not opposing the dual citizenship drive; but I am concerned that we could find ourselves in some tight and ugly situations if we rush and don’t proceed the right way.

Obviously, there will be some civic education to precede the holding of the senatorial elections and the referendum; but experience has shown that these important exercises are usually inadequate, incomprehensive and restricted to accessible places where groups of dancers would simply gather to sing and dance before crowds of curious people, and that’s supposed to be civic education.

President Coffey, I believe we should be heard and heard now; we need to have a position — stating whether or not we feel Liberia is really ready for the referendum.

It is only institutions and organizations such as ours that should take the lead in debates  like this.

I respectfully submit.

Yours truly

Jonathan Paye-Layleh

Member, Press Union of Liberia since 1987

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