MONROVIA – What appears to be a blockbuster battle for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives is on the horizon following the confirmation of Deputy Speaker Rep. Jonathan Fonati Koffa that he is contesting as Speaker of the House of Representatives come January 2024.
By Gerald C. Koinyeneh – [email protected]
In January 2024, the Legislature will transition to the 55th session after the current 54th tenure expires. The October 10 presidential and legislative elections saw the exit of several heavy weight lawmakers including Speaker Bhofal Chambers [he’s contesting his election rigging claim] and the coming of some big names. Among the names surfacing for the pole position include current Deputy Speaker J. Fonati Koffa who was overwhelmingly reelected by his constituents – Grand Kru District #2, fellow Coalition for Democratic Change member Rep. Thomas P. Fallah who will be representing Lofa District #1 and Musa Hassan Bility, the newly elected Representative of Nimba District #7.
Addressing reporters fresh from his arrival to Monrovia from Grand Kru on Monday, Deputy Speaker Koffa confirmed that he is contesting and is expected to formally declare his intention in the next few days.
He was greeted by about 25 lawmakers at the Springfield Airport in Sinkor and they later escorted him to his residents in Paynesville. Asked if they were all he got as supporters, he said nine of his colleagues were not able to join him because of their engagements. If these numbers are confirmed, he needs an additional four.
“If you are judging from the appearance of my colleagues at the Airport today then I can say it is more than 25 Lawmakers supporting me. Nine people were not able to attend. Three of them in their Districts, and six of them who just could not make it to come,” he said.
Analysts say there could be a split among the CDC-lawmakers if two of their top officials contest for the top seat as both men exert huge influence. Rep. Koffa, an influential lawyer, was easily elected as Deputy Speaker in 2020 following the election of his predecessor Prince Moye as Senator of Bong County. He has established a cordial relationship with his colleagues, many of whom were reelected.
On the other hand, Rep. Fallah one of the longest serving lawmakers in post war Liberia currently served as chairman of the influential Ways, Means and Finance Committee.
Asked whether he was concerned about a potential rift among his partisan lawmakers if Rep. Fallah contests, Deputy Speaker Koffa said he was confident that the CDC will produce one candidate.
“For the CDC we never say certain because it is a party; it is an institution but CDC will produce a candidate, whoever that candidate will be that is up to the party,” he said.
The CDC is currently the majority bloc in the House and will repeat that feat in 2024 when the 55th session convenes. However, following the defeat of President George Weah to ex-vice president Joseph Boakai, the Unity Party will now head the Executive branch. Pundits say this feat gave the UP the edge to control both chambers – the House and Senate.
But Rep. Koffa brushed aside that notion. He said it has not always been the case as former president Ellen Johnson’s preferred choice did not always lead the House and Senate. Former Speaker Edwin Snowe and former Protempore Armah Jallah were not supported by the then president, yet they were elected, he said. He said the CDC was able to control both Houses owing to the massive win in 2017- 14 of the 15 counties.
‘Holding the executive’s feet to fire’
The 54th Legislature has been criticized for not doing enough to checkmate the executive. Every audit sent to the Legislature by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) was hardly acted upon. Most of these audits still languish in committee rooms. The lawmakers are being accused of appropriating huge salaries and benefits for themselves, while passing into law a bill that harmonized civil servants’ salary and refused to be audited. They were also accused of holding too many secret sessions where “clandestine deals and bills” were passed.
The Deputy Speaker vowed to be robust in “holding the executive’s feet to the fire” and promote transparency under his gavel as Speaker.
“I think what you can look for under the gavel of Fonati Koffa is accountability and transparency in the Legislature. I think you can be assured of a legislature holding the executive’s feet to the fire in terms of making sure that whatever is proffered is in the interest of the Liberian people,” he said.
“We will be robust but, in the end, it is only to make sure something good happens.”
He was quick to point out that the ruling party can trust him as a Speaker because he will lead a Legislature that works in the national interest. “We are not going to turn it into a partisan Legislature because we are in the opposition. If you are in the opposition, I think we should talk and if you are in the ruling party, I think we should talk also.”
Asked why he is running, he said based on his performance as Deputy Speaker, he has the gravitas and the confidence of his colleagues that he can provide good leadership.
He also congratulated president-elect Joseph Boakai and vice president-elect Jeremiah Koung on their victory. He called for the new administration to prioritize unity owing to the deep rift caused by the elections.
“In this current election there was a divided country. I believe even the Unity Party will agree that national unity is what we need. Now that they have the Executive it is only fair that the opposition picks up the Speaker position.”
On what he makes of the president’s concession, he said, “I trust President Weah absolutely as a leader and so I trust his judgment. In conceding, it wasn’t anything bad.”
“I congratulate the President-elect and the first start for him is to unify the country. I heard there are lots of misgivings about what President Weah did to keep the peace but he meant well and did well for our country.”