Head-To-Head: Preview of Crowded Field For Liberia’s Next Speaker

Head-To-Head: Preview of Crowded Field For Liberia’s Next Speaker

Monrovia – Sitting and incoming members of the lower house of Liberia’s National Legislature will get a chance to elect a new leader on the first day of session, later this month.

But even before they get to cast their votes, many old and new faces have begun jockeying for votes in hopes of building blocs with an eye on becoming the next speaker of the House of Representatives.

Despite widespread speculations, former Speaker Edwin Melvin Snowe has told close aides and associates that he is not in the picture for a return to the helm of the lower house. But the current deputy, Speaker Hans Barchue, an independent is.

New entrants Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa(Liberty Party, Grand Kru) and Lawrence Morris(Independent, District 1, Montserrado County) have thrown their hats in the race.

The field also include: Rep. Prince Moye(PUP, Bong); Bhofal Chambers(CDC, Maryland County District 2) and Thomas Fallah (CDC, Montserrado County District 5) and Munah Pelham-Youngblood(CDC, Montserrado County, District 9), have also announced their intentions to run for Speaker.

Article 49 of the Constitution says: “The House of Representatives shall elect once every six years a Speaker who shall be the presiding officer of that body, a Deputy Speaker, and such other officers as shall ensure the proper functioning of the House.”

“The speaker, the Deputy Speaker, and other officers so elected may be removed from office for cause by resolution of a two-thirds majority of the members of the House.”

According to the House rules, all 73 Members then shall elect one of their members as Speaker to serve for a term of six years.

The Chief Clerk shall then appoint a Special Committee, which shall escort the Speaker to his seat, and the Chief Clerk shall then retire.

On the same day, the Deputy Speaker shall be elected to serve a term of six years.

The Speaker shall then direct that a message be sent to the Senate and President of the Republic of Liberia informing them that a quorum of the House has been established, that a new Speaker and Deputy Speaker have been elected and that members have been given the oath of office and that the House is ready to conduct legislative business and is prepared to receive any communication from the Senate or the President.

FrontPageAfrica Profiles Those Who Expressing Interest in Becoming Speaker of 54th Legislature -  The Names Out There

Rep. Hans Barchue

Rep. Barchue has served government in several capacities, Hon. Barchue was appointed Head of the ECOWAS National Unit at the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs where he was responsible to coordinate all programs and policies between ECOWAS and the Republic of Liberia, coordinated the recruitment of volunteers from ECOWAS member states to work in the Health and Education Sectors of Liberia, and served as Chairman of the joint EU and ECOWAS sponsored community development Program. He was also member of the Administrative and Finance Committee of ECOWAS.

This committee was responsible to approve the budgets of the ECOWAS Commissions, the ECOWAS Court of Justice and the ECOWAS Parliament. He served as comptroller of the National Security Agency (NSA), Comptroller of the Ministry of Justice and comptroller of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs.

As the designated representative of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs to the National Budget and Cash Management Committees, Hon. Barchue brought much civility and probity to the Fiscal Policy Management of Government. Hon. Barchue also served as Personnel Director at the National Reconciliation and Re-unification Commission.

Barchue has a number of training under his belt from which he earned a couple of certificates in; a. Budget Formulation, b. Community Banking Reform, c. Accounting, Auditing Principals and Financial Management in Post Conflict Countries, and d. Public Financial Governance from a number of West African States: He holds a Bsc. Degree in the year 1985 from the University of Liberia and credits from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law and Cuttington University Graduate School.

At the National Legislature, Hon. Hans M. Barchue served as Chairman of the House’s ad-hoc Committee on the National Oil Consultation of the Petroleum Law Review, Chair on the House’s adhoc committee of the House Financial Policy Review and Chairman of the Joint Legislative Projects Committee, which tends to decentralize government development agenda across the 73 electoral districts in the country.

Expectations: Aides to Barchue say he has been quietly building a bloc in hopes of defying expectations.

Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa

The lawyer/ politician has had a short but meteoric rise into prominence in Liberian politics, showing a healthy understanding of the body politic along with the ability to cut across political and ethnic divides in order to accomplish national goals and objectives. 

Born in then Sasstown Territory (now Grand Kru) County in 1963, Cllr. Koffa is the son of a military officer, whose family moved to Monrovia, Liberia in 1966 where he grew up. He attended the Cathedral High School in Monrovia and graduated in 1982 while serving as Student Body President. He was voted most likely to succeed.

After spending a year in Japan with his father, then Liberian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Japan, he moved to the United States to begin his under graduate and graduate education. He matriculated to Shaw University, an historical black university in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he studied Urban Planning and graduated in 1987.

He then went on to graduate studies at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina where he earned a Master of Public Administration, with emphasis in Public Budget & Finance. As civil war raged in his native Liberia, he was accepted at the University of North Carolian School of Law in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where he earned a Juris Doctor in 1998.

He entered Liberian politics in 2000 as organizer and advance team head for the Friends of Brumskine, a group dedicated to promoting the presidential bid of former Senate Pro Tem Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine.

In 2003, he represented the Liberian Unification Party (LUP) as lead lawyer at the peace talks in Accra, Ghana, which produced the Comprehensive Peace Accord paving the way for Presidential elections in 2005 and the current democratic dispensation in Liberia.

He founded and then worked with the Ateenah Development Corporation in 2006, a non-governmental organization dedicated to providing scholarships for poor students in Grand Kru County, Liberia. Over 1,400 students benefitted over a four year period in Liberia’s poorest county.

In 2009, he founded the International Law Group, a professional legal organization, dedicated to providing legal services to foreign corporations doing business in Liberia. The Group was later contracted in 2012 to represent Government of Liberia interests in several of its parastatals including the Liberia Maritime Authority.

The Group’s private clients include Dangote Cement, LTD; Heart to Heart, Inc., an American non for profit organization; United Commodities, Inc. the largest rice importer in Liberia; Earthsource Minerals, an Austrialian Mining company; Tong Tai, Inc., a Chinese oil company; Sino Hydro, a Chinese construction conglomerate among other.

In 2014, Cllr. Koffa was admitted to the Supreme Court Bar of the Republic of Liberia with the distinct honors as valedictorian, having obtained the highest scores in the oral and written examination.

In admitting Cllr. Koffa, Justice Sie-a-Nyene G. Youh, speaking for a unanimous Court, said, “The Court congratulates you the successful candidates especially Attorney Jonathan F. Koffa who demonstrated a high degree of excellence during the evaluation period.”

From 2012 to 2016 he served as National Chairman of the Liberty Party and presided over the party increase in its legislative caucus, including addition of two Senators.

In 2016, he was appointed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Minister of State without Porfolio and Special Prosecutor of the Sable Mining Bribery scandal in which several high-ranking members of government were indicted for accepting bribes from a British mining company. A few months later he was appointed as legal counsel to the President of Liberia.

He resigned in late July 2017 to participate in the general and presidential elections as a candidate for Representative for Grand Kru County District 2. On October 19, he was declared the winner of that election contest and currently awaits his certification and induction into office in the 54th Legislature of the Republic of Liberia.

Cllr. Koffa is of Roman Catholic faith, a member of St. Kizito Parish in Paynesville, Liberia and is married to Dama Yekeson Koffa with whom he has three children.

Expectations: The former Task Force head is said to be leaning toward supporting Weah’s bid for the presidency in hopes of winning support from the CDC while structuring his base around newly-elected lawmakers and the ruling UP.

In recent weeks, Koffa’s relationship with the party’s standard bearer, Brumskine has strained a bit prompting some to suggest that the Brumskine is leading a bloc of the party toward supporting Barchue, a move some say could further sever ties between the pair.

Lawrence Morris

Experience: Morris describes himself as a results oriented, energetic, self-motivated, confident, reliable, young and hardworking man, with extensive and an impressive career through Africa, Europe and the United States spanning over Twenty years’ experience in facilitating the implementation of people centered community driven initiatives such as livelihoods project, non-emergency programs, Natural Resources Management and Climate Change programs. 

Morris, who survived a rugged campaign in District No. 1 says his experience extends to financial management, advocacy and lobbying.

“As a Resident Representative presently for the Mano River Union MRU) my rich experience of partner perspective, developing policies and standard operating procedures (SoPs) which has built strong Human resource systems (HRM) systems has greatly influenced the present cordial relationship between our initiatives/program and other key establishment such as USAID, UNOWA, UNMIL, AfDB, etc. as well as the MRU Member States (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’ivoire and Guinea) Government line Ministries and Agencies within the context of agriculture, health and nutrition and some other  bilateral offices of the  Members States.”

Prior to this he was the Country Station Administrator for the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) – a member of the Consultative Group of International Agriculture Group (CGIAR) where his experience of true partnership greatly influenced the successful establishment of management structures, policies etc.

“With a good knowledge in project management, excellent supervisory and managerial skills, a rich experience in managing and analyzing project budget, and using the information to develop very good and relevant budget variance report for management decisions.

I was responsible for the coordination and management of all activities in Liberia, I also work with line government ministries such as the Ministry of Agriculture, CDA – Cooperative Development Agency among others and ensure the Monitoring and Evaluation, and building local partnerships in the project sites.”

Morris credits himself with having special skills in providing technical and managerial support and leadership on field activities to partner organizations to enable them find innovative ways of supporting, strengthening their capacity their project communities to deliver inclusive sustainable services and linking that to the project activities.

Lawrence possesses special skills in facilitation and community mobilization using participatory tools. His special IT skills include MS Word, Excel, GPS, PowerPoint, etc. He speaks, read and write fluently three (3) languages namely; English, French, & Dutch. He also have a working knowledge of Spanish, German and Creole.

Expectations: Morris sees himself as a trailblazer and hopes the transform the leadership in the house and break away from the age-old ways of doing things. “I’ll like to proffer a different face and dynamism in bringing integrity to the 54th Legislature.

We can’t afford as a country to continue down a path of the same “status quo”. We need a speaker that’s free of public disrepute, blemishes, scandals, integrity issues, etc. and one that will ensure a deliverable base parliamentary.”

Rep. Munah Pelham Youngblood

Experience: Youngblood, who survived a brutal campaign for re-election in District No. 9, boasts as being the youngest politician following her election at 27, in 2011.

The lawmaker was selected as one of the Fifty (50) most Eminent Liberian Women; one of Liberia's most influential voices; Legislator of the Year 2012 and 2015; honored as the Representative Without Limit. Honored by the 2013 Noble Laureate, Leymah Gbowee in Monrovia as Ambassador for Humanity for being humble and willing to Share, Serve, Love and Respect the People of Liberia.

In addition to being a politician, she is a philanthropist and entrepreneur and the brain and image behind the movement "Generational Change", which is an advocacy for young people to get into politics.

She is a graduate of a Master of Arts degree in International Relations with emphasis in International Politics from the IBB graduate school University of Liberia. She is serving on the following committees in the Honorable House of Representative; former co-chair on national affair Women Legislative Caucus of Liberia, Co-Chair on Contracts, Monopolies, Public Procurement & Concession, Member on the committee on Gender, Child Protection & Social Welfare, Youth & Sports, Foreign Affairs, Oil & Gas, Banking & Currency, Rules Order & Administration, Secretary General Montserrado County Legislative Caucus, Financial Secretary Women Legislative Caucus of Liberia and Congress For Democratic Change Legislative Caucus  respectively. She is also a Catholic and a Member of the St. Philomena Lady Auxiliary #306 Knights of St John International.

Expectations: Youngblood survived a brutal primary in a bid to retain her seat. Political observers say she faces a challenge getting the party to back her bid for speaker.

Rep. Thomas Fallah

Experience: The third term lawmaker has been a polarizing member of the lower house but has also become one of its influential members. He recently broke ranks with the party after reports emerged that he was building a bloc in hopes of mounting a push for the coveted speaker’s post.

Fallah has been defiant amid reports that he has been holding secret meetings with the ruling Unity Party (UP) in hopes of cementing his foot in the race for speaker.

Fallah, who served as campaign manager of outgoing Speaker J, Emmanuel Nuquay following the removal of Alex Tyler. Fallah came close to becoming deputy speaker in the last elections.

The CDC is reportedly said to be unsettled by Fallah’s overtures to the UP. The party has at least 21 of the newly-elected Representatives, while the ruling Unity Party has 20.

Fallah’s reported meetings with representatives of the ruling party and efforts to construct a bloc capable of landing him the Speaker’s gavel is said to be posing a serious dilemma for Weah and the CDC.

The lawmaker heads the House committee on Maritime Affairs and is a member of the committees on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and previously Health and Social Welfare, Information, Broadcasting, Culture and Tourism, Public Utilities and Transport

Expectations: Fallah faces a daunting task attempting to win the gavel without the support of his party.

Rep Bhofal Chambers

Experience: Chambers has been a firebrand lawmaker since his election to the lower house.

He has a range of experience in law enforcement and criminal justice education.

Prior to his election, he served as Senior Network Planner, Liberia Telecommunication Corporation, President, Universal Professional Systems Network, USA, Security Consultant, Philadelphia, USA. Immediately prior to his elections to the House, Hon. Chambers served as President, National Crime Prevention

Awareness Project in Liberia. Hon. Chambers holds a combined MSc-PHD in Law Enforcement from the Columbus University, USA and has BSc in Law Enforcement Metropolitan State University.

He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as co-chairman and is a member of the Ways, Means & Finance as well as National Security and National Defense.

Expectations: Chambers has been a polarizing presence in the lower house and a strong opponent to the Sirleaf government policies, resisting poor concession agreements and resisting flawed ratification of new oil concessions. Some say, the current administration have hinted a dismay for Chambers’ bid for the speakership.

Rep. Prince Moye

Experience: One of the youngest members of the lower house, Moye is a product of the William V. S. Tubman Gray High School. He matriculated to the Cuttington University in Suakoko, Bong County in 2001 where graduated with a bachelor degree in Public Administration in 2005 and a Master of Arts degree in Public Administration from the Cuttington University Graduate School in Monrovia in 2009. He also has a post graduate diploma in Advanced Goods and Equipment Procurement from Nelspruit, South Africa.

The young lawmaker has served in many prestigious positions, including his well-respected assignment as Chair of the governing Unity Party 2016 National Convention and a staunch businessman in Gbarnga, Bong County; and several administrative positions he held at Cuttington University including Cafeteria Manager and Director of Procurement.

In 2011, Moye contested the position of Representative from Jorquelleh District 2 in the 53rd National Legislature, and won.

In the legislature he has served as a member of the Committee on Ways, Means, and Finance of the House of Representatives. Moye is married to Mrs. Nancy N.D. Moye, and this union is blessed with three children:  Princess, Henrique, and Prince K. Moye, Jr.

The Verdict: The race to head the 54th national legislature will likely come down to who wins the Presidency. The incoming President will most likely be looking to have a speaker with whom he can push his agenda through.

While many political observers say, the next speaker is likely to come from the party that wins the presidency, it is possible that endorsement politics could play a major role. If, for example the Liberty Party gave their backing to either the ruling Unity Party or the Liberty Party, favors could be expected in return.

Complicating this scenario in the case of a Weah victory is the fact that the CDC standard bearer has been courting the incumbent Deputy Speaker, Barchue and the new entrant, Cllr. Koffa, both of who appear to be on the verge or have already thrown their weight behind the CDC standard bearer.

But with at least four members of the CDC expressing interest in getting their hands on the gavel, it appears a lot of back-door dealings and maneuvering could factor in the final analysis.

Expectations: Moye has youth in his favor and could bring a refreshing face to the leadership of the national legislature but whether he has enough bases to build a strong bloc remains.