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Cummings Delivered Statement On Democracy, Accountability, And Just As The Foundation For Real Change In Liberia

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My fellow Liberians:

One hundred and seventy-five years ago, our country decided to form a government under a constitution that proclaimed all powers to be inherent in the people. It would be a democracy, a government of the people, for the people and by the people. It recognized the equality of all persons under the law.

Therefore, at the heart of the principle of equality must be the commitment to one- person-one vote in elections. Additionally, there must be the commitment to apply the law fearlessly and without favor to all persons. In other words, everyone must be entitled to equal access to justice.

Interestingly, over the years, our national journey has shown that the achievement of democracy has remained mostly aspirational. Our democracy, while deeply cherished, is fragile. It must be protected and sustained by higher commitments to justice, accountability, and respect for the rule of law. Unfortunately, Justice, that important pillar of democracy which ensures equality of all persons, continues to elude our nation.

On the one hand, the powerful in our society believe justice ought to be selective and should exclude them from its reach. They therefore wrongly conspire to weaponize “justice” against perceived political opponents. On the other hand, our system continues to put up justice for sale so that only those who can afford it can actually purchase justice. We can never hope to be a truly free, democratic, prosperous and united society without the guarantees of justice – one that is blind, fearless, requires no special favors, and is accessible and affordable to all.

Here, therefore, I speak of justice that punishes wrong regardless of who commits it, and sets accused persons free where the evidence so requires. I speak of courts unburdened by political interference and abuse of procedures, so that before their bars, all persons can become true subjects of the same law.

Here, also, I speak of professionals rather than partisans in law enforcement so that investigations protect accusers and accused alike, evidence point the way, and victims are protected rather than overburdened with high costs for investigative attention. Here, too, I speak against ‘guilt by association’ or passing judgement on account of prejudice.

Recently, a new Chief Justice was inducted.This transition at the top of the judiciary takes place as we anticipate elections at an inflection point in our nation’s history. Democracy is most tested during elections. Already fragile, our democracy will expectedly come under severe pressure, which we must not fail to hold up to. The Judiciary will play important roles, as they should in anchoring our democracy.

This is why, while I welcome the preferment and induction of the new Chief Justice, I challenge her administration of the Judiciary to not only resist political interferences in the delivery of justice but also to fearlessly guard the courts against being used to achieve unjust ends. I acknowledge that the system and administration of justice in our country are in dire need of urgent reforms. But this must not excuse our individual responsibilities to stand for what is right especially when preferred to do only that which is right for the nation.

Regardless of the difficulties, each leader has a sworn duty to do only that which is right because especially for the Judiciary, theirs is a duty to guard our society away from that which is illegal, lawless, abusive, unconstitutional and wrong. Such is the important place of the Liberian Judiciary in the society that we aspire to be come that the consequences of each decision of the courts extend beyond the present and into the future. It is time to uphold the law rather than just holding on to offices of the law.

In this connection, I wish to commend the Government of the United States for its continued commitment to assist Liberia strengthen its administration of the rule of law and public accountability. This was recently demonstrated in the visit to Liberia of the U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for Global Criminal Justice in furtherance of the establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia. The truth is that after 175 years of self-governance and unfortunate experiences with decades of wars, we should not need to be told that impunity is wrong and only paves the way for the commission of more crimes. Liberia ought not to be told that crimes ought to never go unpunished, or that persons with power must act responsibly and be fully accountable for the use or abuse of their powers.

This is a duty of all lawful societies and democratic nations. Needless to say, we placed this duty upon ourselves back in 1847, when we publicly, and repeatedly thereafter, pronounced ourselves to be a free, independent and democratic nation of the world.

Liberia must, therefore, end the seemingly unending culture of impunity and exclusion. Our society cannot continue to be an environment where especially people with power believe themselves to be above the law, or that the law ought not to apply equally to them. The law must apply equally to all persons regardless of power, position, name, religion, connections, or tribe.

Ending impunity and holding people with power accountable combine to compel me to support the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia. I will determinedly pursue this as President because it is the right thing to do for national healing, reconciliation and democratic consolidation. I am therefore grateful to hear of the promised support of the United States Government for this effort. While it may be named “War and Economic Crimes Court”, especially for economic crimes, it is time to set the right examples that Liberia will be a country of laws and not of men.

No one – absolutely no one – can or should be permitted to stand above the laws of our country, or be permitted to break the law with impunity. No, not anymore!

Rogues steal. If a government official steals, said government official is a rogue and must be treated as all rogues are to be treated before the same law which forbids stealing.This is how we will end corruption. And I am determined to end corruption which keeps too many Liberians unacceptably poor.

Similarly, if a government official rapes, he must be treated as the law requires for all who rape. This is how we will end rape in our society, and protect our women and girls as we are obligated, and I am determined, as President, to do.

We must decidedly do these things not just to reconcile our society with it’s difficult past, or because we wish to settle scores with anyone. We must do this because we share in the duty to build a better future for our children. That better future will not come unless and until we commit to punish crimes, both of the past and the present. In fact, we must all commit to punish crimes of the present just as equally as we desire to punish crimes of the past, if not with more convictions.

My fellow citizens:

Change is hard. Real Change is even harder. As a nation, we have done somethings the wrong way for so long, we have come to either imagine them to be right or have come to believe that there might not be a better way to doing them in or country. A wrong does not become right because we continue to repeat it.

Difficult as it may be for all of us, if we do not commit to doing the right things the right way – if we do not seek justice for all – we risk ourselves and our children to continue to head in the wrong direction which ultimately will lead to the eventual breakdown of our society and collapse of our nation. In the end, laws are not just good because we write them. Laws are good because we enforce them equally on all of us.

Finally, I do not take these positions because they are easy or popular. I take them because ultimately, they are right for Liberia. They enable us to become the nation we have always aspired to become.

I understand the value of popularity in elections. But I also know that leaders must strive to be right, and not just popular. This is why leaders must set not the popular examples but the right examples so that others can follow.

I am running for the presidency of our country to lead our nation toward Real Change. I am not looking to simply repeat the same things. Real Change is not a commitment to do the same things expecting a different result. It is doing things differently – doing things that may not be popular today but are best for our country tomorrow.

I understand that I must first win to work for the real changes that I believe we desperately need and must together undertake.Together, we will win. And yet, even for winning, I am determined not to ever trade the values and principles that I believe – values of justice, truth, honor, hard work, accountability and sacrifice for the betterment of others – the values that have guided my life and professional services for political victory.

I believe to do that – to trade one’s values and principles – is to truly win nothing, commit to changing nothing, and invariably to lose oneself. I do not intend to lose myself or my principles to politics. I have come to change politics so that as honorably intended, politics remains in the service of change and the betterment of the lives of the Liberian people. I have not come to politics to be changed by it.

My burning desire is to change the things, however difficult, that are continuing to keep too many Liberians poor and without opportunities in their own country. I have come to politics to change a political system that enables corruption there by making beggars of too many Liberians and denying them of bettering their lives. My desire is to recreate our society into a lawful one rather than one prone to lawlessness.

I am determined to lift people up rather than continuously keeping Liberians down. By the examples of my leadership, I am looking to have us travel new roads of justice, equality, integrity and decency, as well as giving everyone a deserved chance to travel that new road to a better place for our country – a better place for all Liberians.

Let me be as clear as possible: I will never change these causes nor compromise them – not for winning the election nor in exchange for anyone’s support. Liberia belongs to all Liberians, and I intend to reinforce that truth with determined national policies and programs of inclusion, as President.

I faithfully promise to work with everyone, who like me, desires to work for Real Change in our country. I continue to believe a united people can achieve even the most difficult things. And I am fundamentally opposed to excluding Liberians from the enjoyments of all of the rights and privileges of their citizenship, unless such Liberians are excluded by the law from doing so. This is why, as President, I will exclude no one, not even me, from answering to the law when ever required to do so.

I am also opposed to pronouncing guilt upon individuals only by association. Where individuals are accused of the commission of a crime, they must come to face their accusers and where the evidence is presented to support guilt, each must answer fully and be justly punished before the altar of justice.

However, where the evidence does not support the alleged commission of any crime, all such accused must be dutifully exonerated and have all rights and privileges fully restored, if any were previously enjoined. For me, as it must remain for our society, all accused persons must be presumed innocent until guilt is proved. Justice requires this, and further requires that democratic governments provide affordable access for such speedy determination of guilt or innocence.

This will make our country stronger. It will help us become better. And it is Real Change for enduring peace, justice, equality, and democracy, which we must achieve. Liberia deserves better.

God bless you, and may He continue to bless our dear Liberia. I thank you.

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