EDITORIAL: The Yekeh Suspension Points To Ineptitude & Boredom In Liberia’s Legislature

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NEARLY TWO YEARS AFTER the Upper House of Liberia’s National led the charge to impeach Associate Justice Kabineh J’aneh, the Lower House on Tuesday took yet another controversial decision to suspend one of its own, Rep. Yekeh Korlubah(ANC, Montserrado District#10 Representative).

THE LEGISLATIVE BODY has over the past few weeks been debating the legislator’s fate, after some members took him to task over incendiary remarks against President George Manneh Weah, which the body says, put members of the lower house against the presidency and vice versa the citizenry. 

THE DISTRICT NO. 10 Representative is being penalized for allegedly referring to Liberian President George Weah as a “dog”, during one of his usual public outbursts against the President and his CDC  Government.

THE LAWMAKER’S COMMENTS triggered outrage and anger among some lawmakers. Montserrado District#5 lawmaker Thomas P. Fallah, a member of the governing CDC and Chairman of the House’s committee on ways, means and Finance, filed an official complaint to the House’s plenary to look into the matter. 

SO, ON MARCH 25, the House Plenary took the decision to suspend Representative Korlubah, citing Rule 47.8(C) of the House’s standing rule it says gives the right to plenary to take such action against one of its members.

INCIDENTS OF LEGISLATORS insulting their peers or the head of the Executive Branch of government is not unusual.

IN FEBRUARY 2017, the South African parliament descended into chaos when opposition lawmakers denounced President Jacob Zuma as a “scoundrel” and “rotten to the core” because of corruption allegations.

THE RAUCOUS SCENES unfolded on national television as opposition legislators tried to stop Zuma from addressing the chamber, repeatedly insulting the president and declaring him unfit for office.

IN THE UNITED STATES of America, former President Donald J. Trump was fond of raining insults on his political foes.

DURING THE DOG DAYS of his presidency, the former President launched a blatantly racist attack on four duly elected members of the United States House of Representatives, all of whom are women of color, Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota.

IN MAY 1990, a measure imposing stiff fines or jail sentences for insulting or slandering the Soviet president caused a split in the Soviet parliament.  The measure was introduced after an angry Red Square protest on May 1 that year in which thousands of people shouted or displayed slogans demanding the leadership resign. Some called President Mikhail S. Gorbachev a dictator.

IN THE US, the Sedition Act of 1798 provided fines and jail penalties for anyone who “shall write, print, utter or publish . . . false, scandalous and malicious” comments about “the government or the President.” The administration of John Adams went on to prosecute 26 individuals, mostly editors of newspapers critical of the Adams administration.

THOMAS JEFFERSON opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts as federal overreach and was happy to see the Sedition Act expire in 1800. But while Jefferson was publicly supportive of the free press, he quietly supported state prosecutions of a few newspapers to set an example. In 1803, when Harry Croswell, the editor of the Wasp, referred to Jefferson as “a dissembling patriot” and a “pretended ‘man of the people,’” he was convicted by a New York court of seditious libel. In 1806, two years after the Croswell case was decided in the Supreme Court, a federal grand jury in Connecticut returned charges against writers and publishers associated with the Litchfield Monitor and the Connecticut Courant. The charges arising from the Courant’s 1806 story accusing Jefferson of secretly bribing Napoleon with 60 tons of silver—about $2 million at the time—resulted in an indictment. the Connecticut Courant case, United States v. Hudson and Goodwin, went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided in 1812 that federal courts did not have jurisdiction over common law offenses such as libel unless Congress specifically passed a law criminalizing them.

ACROSS THE CONTINENT, Several African countries have laws against “sedition” In Cameroun for example, criticisms against President Paul Biya may be on point it could earn a person five years imprisonment and/or a fine of 20,000 to 20 million CFA francs ($42-$42,260).

IN LIBERIA, in order to suspend or expel a member of the Legislature, it requires “TWO-THIRDS of the ENTIRE Membership” of the House concerned.

ARTICLE 38 of the Constitution states: “Each House shall adopt its own rules of procedure, enforce order and with the concurrence of two-thirds of the entire membership, may expel a member for cause. Each House shall establish its own committees and sub-committees; provided, however, that the committees on revenues and appropriations shall consist of one member from each County. All rules adopted by the Legislature shall conform to the requirements of due process of law laid down in this Constitution. “

ACCORDING TO SENATOR Abraham Darius Dillon, the House of Representatives cannot claim to “suspend” Rep. Yekeh Kolubah and or any other Member of that body WITHOUT obtaining the required “TWO-THIRDS of the ENTIRE Membership.”

SIMPLY PUT, according to the Senator, twenty-five members of the House of Representatives comprising of 73 Members cannot constitute “TWO-THIRDS.” Two-thirds of 73 Members is beyond 51 Members of the “ENTIRE MEMBERSHIP.” “So, in essence, Rep. Kolubah is NOT legally “suspended.” I stand with him in respect of the Law!!!”

WHILE REP. KORLUBAH’S choice of words may have been a bit extreme, there are certainly more important things going on in Liberia today warranting attention from the legislative body.

MEMBERS OF BOTH houses of the legislature have been silent on a lot of things, the printing of new local currency, the strange passage of concession bills without any scrutiny, the struggles of the poor and needy, the rape and killings of innocent young boys and girls, just to name a few.

WHERE IS THE ANGER? Where is the urgency required from lawmakers to address pressing issues? Is the President the only one worth fighting for in our nurturing democracy?

SUCH ARE THE TIMES when sycophancy and patronage to rulers and dictators continue to hamper progress.

WHEN TOO MUCH emphasis is placed on what someone says about the president and how they say it, it puts serious burning issues on the back burner when they should be front and center of what is unfolding in Liberia today.

THOSE ELECTED to serve the people must focus more on why they were elected and not so much trying to please the president or take offense to what someone says or does against the Presidency.

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