Home Explainer Explainer: Can Boakai send SONA to the Legislature in his absence?

Explainer: Can Boakai send SONA to the Legislature in his absence?

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Given the January 22, 2023, event, there are mounting concerns over President Joseph Boakai’s appearance before the legislature today, January 28, 2024, to discuss his government’s legislative agenda.

Boakai, who took office as required by Article 53 of the 1986 Constitution, was giving his inaugural speech when he experienced a heat wave and halted the speech with the aid of his security.

The Liberian leader is expected to give his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the Liberian people via the legislature in a joint session presided over by the speaker of the House of Representatives in keeping with Article 58 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution.

Article 58 of the 1986 Constitution provides that “The President shall, on the fourth working Monday in January of each year, present the administration’s legislative program for the ensuing session, and shall once a year report to the Legislature on the state of the Republic. In presenting the economic condition of the Republic, the report shall cover expenditure as well as income.”

The preceding clause falls short of the form and manner in which the president should present his legislative agenda. In this case, the president could choose not to appear before the legislature; instead, he could send a copy of the document to that body and have it published on the executive mansion website, which would also comply with the constitutional provision requiring the presentation of the president’s agenda. But this might also further deepen the issue of his poor health condition, which many think makes him unfit to run the affairs of the state. 

Expert Opinions:

Cllr. Jonathan Massaquoi said the president must appear in person and present his legislative agenda.

“He had the opportunity to make an appearance in person. Article 3 states that the three branches of government must coordinate. That’s one point in time where the three branches of government can meet to coordinate; there you have the chief justice, associate justices, speaker, pro-tempore, and the president, so that’s the beauty of Article Three.  You have to be present to present the State of the Nation address.”

Additionally, Cllr. Sianeh Browne said the physical absence of leaders further exposes poor leadership.

“Liberians are suspicious of Boakai’s appearance because of the incident at the inauguration. He now has to tell his citizens and the world if he is fit for the SONA by attending,” Browne said.

Conclusion: There is no precedent for a sitting president to submit his or her SONA to the Legislature without appearing or through publishing on the executive mansion website, as Boakai’s predecessors were physically present at all joint sessions to address the 103 lawmakers as well as the Liberians. As a result, Boakai might be present to deliver his first national plan for Liberia. But we found nothing that makes it mandatory for him to appear before that body as per the constitutional provision.

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