Liberia: House of Representatives Boycotts Session Amid Disagreement with Executive Over State of Emergency

In what should have been the 38th Day Sitting of the 3rd session of the House under the current 54th Legislature, the House, for the first time since its inception in January 2018 failed to attain the numbers

Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The House of Representatives on Tuesday, July 7 failed to convene session over its inability to have a quorum.

The incident comes in the wake of what seems to be a looming stalemate between the Legislature and the Executive over the status of the State of Emergency declared by President George Weah.

What Does the Rules Say?

The Rules and Procedures of House of Representatives call for a quorum to consist of a simple majority of the members of the House.

Rule 12.1 states: “A quorum shall consist of a simple majority of the members of the Honorable House of Representatives. Quorum shall be necessary for the transaction of business. However, a minority may meet from day-to-day. Meetings at which a quorum is not present, only a motion to compel the attendance of absent members or to adjourn may be made.”

Based on the rules, 37 members of the House out of 73 constitute a quorum. Even if the House counts at 72 owing to the death of one of its members recently, the number ‘37’ would have still constituted a majority.

However, in what should have been the 38th Day Sitting of the 3rd session of the House under the current 54th Legislature, the House, for the first time since its inception in January 2018 failed to attain the numbers.

Announcing the attendance at about 12:40 p. m., the House’s statistician said there were 26 members present, 41 absent, five distance and one deceased.

With that, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bhofal Chambers called on his colleague to dismiss and return on Thursday.

“With 27 (a lawmaker entered while speaking) members present, we lack quorum and we are authorized to be here on Thursday,” he declared.

Did Members Boycott?

Although it has not been established whether the members deliberately refused to attend session, several lawmakers including members of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) Legislative Caucus earlier called for the revocation of the State of Emergency because it has passed the constitutional deadline for legislative approval.

The CPP, in the a press conference recently said: “We, as members of the CPP Legislative Caucus wish to bring to the attention of the Liberian people that the State of Emergency as announced by the President of the Republic of Liberia on June 22, 2020 for a 30-day extension has not yet been passed by the National Legislature, as such, it has passed the maximum constitutional time frame to be enforced as provided for in Article 88.”

According to the lawmakers, the 72-hour deadline has passed and the Legislature, comprising both Houses of Representatives and Senate has not acted on the President’s proclamation, and as such, they would institute measures to ensure the revocation of the state of emergency.

Some had earlier threatened to boycott session in protest of the President’s ‘flagrant’ violation of the Constitution.

But the Minster of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism Lenn Eugene Nagbe, challenged members of the CPP Legislative Caucus to institute legal action against the second state of emergency declared by President Weah to curb the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic in the country, if they are dissatisfied.

Minister Nagbe, appearing as guest on the OK Morning Rush Show on OK FM 99.5 in Monrovia on Monday, July 6, challenged the opposition lawmakers to use the court instead of planning to stage a protest or walk out action against the move made by the Liberian Chief Executive to declare a state of emergency for additional 30 days.

“If any member, whether from the CPP or any Liberian believes that there is a violation of the constitution by the President submitting the SOE request to the Legislature, there is an avenue under our constitution and democratic dispensation for you to ask the Supreme Court to interpret because it is a matter of understanding and comprehending what the constitution says”.

Nagbe argued that when the President declared the State of Emergency, the Senate was not in session. They had shut down when a senior staff tested positive for COVId-19.

Following its resumption, he said the Senate passed the resolution, and the House should now debate it and decide.

Meanwhile, a member of the House of Representatives, who asked for anonymity told FrontPageAfrica that they did not boycott session as it is been insinuated. Rather, it is the Speaker who, sensing that majority members were not in favor of the Senate’s resolution approving the SOE and requesting the House to concur, decided to exercise his power to unilaterally shutdown session.

The lawmaker said, usually, the Speaker would exercise patience and call them from their offices to come to session. But on Tuesday, most of them were on their way to session when the Speaker dismissed the few that had gathered in the chamber.

“He just decided to stop the President from being embarrassed. We were all set to reject the resolution because the constitutional time frame has expired,” the lawmaker, requesting anonymity said.

But responding, the political officer and head of communications in the office of the Speaker, George Watkins said the speaker acted in line with the rules of the House and his actions were not deliberate.

However, he said most of the lawmakers were busily engaged and as the result, session will be convened on Wednesday, July 8 to continue work for the people of Liberia.