CAPITOL HILL, MONROVIA – The House of Representatives on Tuesday declined to act on a bill submitted to it by the Liberian Senate on grounds that the Senate was usurping its functions.
Tuesday’s Sitting, which began on a serene note soon turned acrimonious when a communication from the Secretary of the Senate, Nanborlor F. Singbeh, Sr., urging the House of Representatives to concur with the Senate in ratifying the Mineral Development Agreement between the Liberian Government and BAO CHICO Resources Liberia LTD. was read in Plenary by Chief Clerk Mildred Sayon.
The Senate Engrossed Bill #5 entitled, “An Act to Ratify the Mineral Development Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of Liberia and BAO CHICO Resources Liberia Limited”, according to Singbeh, was passed by the Liberian Senate on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.
However, in a rare move, the Plenary of the House voted in favor of a motion filed by Rep. Clarence Massaquoi (District #3, Lofa County), calling on the House to ignore the bill and inform the Senate that it was in breach of the Constitution.
Said Rep. Massaquoi: “I move if I can be seconded that this House decline to work on the submission made by the Honorable Senate; and that the hearings that have started, in a constitutional origin of such a bill, be continued and decisions that will be made out of those hearings, be transmitted to the Liberian Senate for action.”
He continued: “And that the Senate should be informed that in as much as in the past we have countenance this in the spirit of coordination, that this House is inclined to take due note of this, going forward to ensure that the Constitution is respected to the fullest.”
The arguments of Rep. Massaquoi and majority of his colleagues were based on Article 34 (I) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia which states: “All revenue bills, whether subsidies, charges, imports, duties or taxes, and other financial bills, shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills. No other financial charge shall be established, fixed, laid or levied on any individual, community or locality under any pretext whatsoever except by the expressed consent of the individual, community or locality. In all such cases, a true and correct account of funds collected shall be made to the community or locality.”
Majority of the lawmakers argued that with this constitutional provision, the bill should have originated from the House.
Rep. Acarous Gray (CDC, District #8, Montserrado County) who serves as the Chairman of the Committee on Executive, in a harsh tone, called on the Plenary to inform the Executive to forward all revenues bills including concession agreements and the National Fiscal Budget to only the House of Representatives, and not the Senate.
“The Liberian Senate, with all due respect, has no authority by the Liberian Constitution to act on a revenue bill and send it to the House as if to say this was a conveyor belt. In as much as we will not usurp their functions, we also don’t expect them to usurp our functions.” Rep. Gray said.
“It is about time that we also officially communicate to the Executive Branch of Government to submit these revenue bills directly and exclusively to the House of Representatives, and not the Liberian Senate. And subsequently when we shall have passed these revenue bills, the Senate may concur if it wishes to.”
Rep. Gray further noted that the decision of the Senate was unacceptable; given that it has two former Speakers (Senators Edwin Snowe and James Emmanuel Nuquay), a deputy speaker (Senator Prince Moye) and scores of former members of the House of Representatives, as well as veteran lawmakers who should advised it when it is proceeding wrongfully.
Calls to Act Cautiously Fall on Deaf Ears
Despite majority of the members’ opposition to the Senate’s decision, some lawmakers in session advised the Plenary to act cautiously in order to promote the spirit of coordination and cordiality.
Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis (District #4, Montserrado County) called for the leadership of the House of Representatives to take seize of the matter and engage its Senate’s counterpart to derive at an amicable solution.
Rep. Alfred Koiwood (District #1, Gbarpolu County) pleaded with his colleagues to concurr for the sake of Gbarpolu County, where the company is expected to operate as per the agreement.
The Deputy Speaker, Cllr. Fonati Koffa, briefly serving as a presiding officer during the debate, cautioned that Article 34 (I) of the Constitution may require legal interpretation as it also stated that the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills.
But Rep. Mariamu Fofana of Lofa County said the House’s Chamber was a political theater and not a court room.
Since the inception of the 54th Legislature of Liberia in January 2018, both chambers have always acted in the spirit of coordination. Whenever there is conundrum over proceedings such as the scrutiny of the fiscal budget, the leaderships of both Houses, which almost comprises members of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, would intervene and amicably resolve the situation.
Despite complaints by some members of the House of Representatives in the past that the Senate has been usurping the House’s functions, the leadership always ensure the situation is brought under control.
However, with this rare decision taken by the House of Representatives, political pundits and the public would be waiting to see how the Senate, which boasts of some of the best legal luminaries in Liberia will respond.