By Isaac Fahnbulleh, Minneapolis
The Organization of Liberians in Minnesota (OLM) on August 23, 2009 voted to amend the drafted constitution governing the body. The amendment was proposed by the current leadership headed by Kerper Dwayen.
The process was not free from allegations that the current leadership unilaterally decided to have a referendum without properly explaining the process to the members of the organization and the Liberian community in Minnesota.
According to Ms. Doris Parker, a member of the board, deliberations on the proposed changes were not completed as to the time the referendum should be held. She further intimated that a series of meetings were held after an initial one on August 9, without the knowledge of the entire community.
Ms. Parker said in an interview late Wednesday that the Constitution Committee headed by John Bartee has a track record of dishonesty due to the fact that changes agreed upon by those at the initial meetings to the draft constitution should have been made by the Bartee Committee but that committee failed to do so.
Ms. Parker also indicated that the body agreed that before the referendum can be held, the drafted constitution should be taken to the Liberian community for full participation of members of the community. However, Mr. Bartee and his cronies unilaterally decided to have the referendum on August 23.
Ms. Parker said OLM’s 1986 constitution was amended to meet IRS guidelines and submitted to IRS in 2005.However, the current OLM administration is operating with two constitutions which is against the will of the Liberian community in Minnesota.
Although the Liberian community is interested in change for their community, Ms. Parker said the issue of the constitution is crucial and should not be rushed by any one individual or group of individuals. But the way and manner in which the process is ongoing is totally not good.
Ms. Parker said the OLM board and administration had conflict that has not been resolved regarding the drafted constitution. Liberians, she said, have been disenfranchised because they (Liberians) did not participate in the so-called town hall meeting intended to discuss the drafted constitution.
Ms. Parker regretted that the OLM board has less than five months for its mandate to be over although it had an 18-month mandate given them by the Liberian people. She said her wish was that the constitution issue would have been resolved before the expiration of the board’s mandate.
She also said a group of Liberians calling themselves Concerned Liberians has taken the matter to court to protest the referendum. Ms. Parker said the group filed a lawsuit today at the Hennepin Distract Court in downtown Minneapolis, calling for an injunction on the referendum.
The main concern of the group, according to Ms. Parker, is the omission of changes that were added to the new constitution by the current leadership. The group is insisting that its concerns be addressed before the referendum can be held.
In an effort to get the side of the current leadership, New Liberian decided to attend the referendum. Mr. Bartee, the current Vice President of OLM, who is also the acting president and chair of the constitution committee, was seen at the premises bringing people in his car to vote.
In fact, Ms Parker referred to Mr. Bartee as being the judge, jury and executioner who is pushing his personal interest and those of his cronies.
In our presence, he made several trips to the election site. Mr. Bartee, when asked to be interviewed, gave us a cold shoulder and said that he was busy. He could not address the allegations that the changes made were not agreed upon by the body.
The election itself was poorly attended which seems to buttress the Concerned Liberians claim that the entire Liberian community was not informed about the process.
Efforts to interview Mr. Bartee proved unsuccessful as his phone was either switched off or was in an un-coverage area. Meanwhile the chairman of OLM board, Arthur Zakama, with whom we briefly spoke on Wednesday night could not return our calls after he promised to do so.
The chairman of the election commission, Ben Giple , when contacted to comment about the process declined to say anything while some of the commissioners were hostile to us. We interviewed a couple of voters as to whether they were aware of what they were doing and they responded in the affirmative.However,when asked whether they attended some of the meetings before the referendum was held, they said no.