Constitutional & Legal Foundations
Liberia is a constitutional republic with a strong presidency shaping the direction of Liberian economic, political, and social life. The country's Constitution of 6 January 1986, outlines the basic structures of governance. Liberia's dual system of statutory law features a legal system for the modern sector based on Anglo-American common law and a system of traditional African customary law transmitted by oral tradition for the indigenous sector. All Liberians, women and men alike, are eligible to vote at age 18; men are considered fit to serve in the military from ages 15 through 49 years of age. Despite these age limits, significant recruitment of child soldiers has taken place during Liberia's unsettled recent decades. The UN estimated that up to 20,000 children might have taken part in Liberia's 7 year civil war from 1989-1996, serving with both the government and the opposing warring factions. Some of the child soldiers reportedly were as young as six years.
Liberia's chief executive is the president, elected by popular vote to six year, renewable terms of office. The president is both head of the government and chief of state. Since 1997 the elected president of Liberia has been Charles Ghankay Taylor, a faction leader from Liberia's civil war who rose to power with the death of former President Samuel Doe, Liberia's president from 1989 until 1990 who was killed in the armed uprising. The executive branch of Liberia's national government also includes a cabinet of ministers, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
At the national level the Liberian legislative branch consists of the bicameral National Assembly composed of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The House has 64 members, elected to 6-year terms by popular vote, and the Senate has 26 members, elected to 9-year terms by popular vote as well. The third branch of the national government is the judicial system, which consists of a Supreme Court.
Despite its problems with numerous human rights abuses and continuing political unrest and military insecurity, Liberia received rather substantial overseas development assistance from international agencies and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations during the late 1990s after its civil war ended. By 2001, however, many bilateral and international donors allegedly were growing weary of providing assistance to support sustainable development in a country where the government itself seemed to be doing little to help its own people, despite the mineral wealth and other natural resources Liberia had at its disposal. As of 2001 Liberia was not receiving any World Bank assistance due to the country's failure to repay its loans. US$3.5 million of funds from the International Finance Corporation had been allocated to acquire and recommence a large rubber operation owned by the Liberian Agricultural Company, whose work had been halted by the civil war, but this and other international support was being held in reserve in 2001 pending improvements in the country's security status and governmental willingness to cooperate with international partners on a number of issues. Cross-border trading in illicit diamonds, weapons trading, and support to other armed conflicts in the West African region allegedly by persons associated with the Liberian government were having a decidedly negative impact on the enthusiasm of other states and nongovernmental organizations who otherwise might have chosen to do business in Liberia or support development projects in the country.
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