Liberia: House of Representatives Refuses to Act on President Weah’s Veto Power over Foauni Brothers Incentive Agreement Bill

The House Joint Committee advised that the President was free to resubmit the agreement when his own concerns regarding the essential terms and the loopholes he alluded to in his rejection of the bill have been addressed

Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The fate of a bill seeking the ratification of an agreement between the Government of Liberia and Foauni Brothers continues to hang in limbo as the Plenary of the House of Representatives voted in favor of a motion calling on the Legislature to take no action on President George Weah’s veto power against the bill.

The bill entitled “An Act to Ratify the Investment Incentive Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Liberia and Foauni Brothers Corporation,” was vetoed by President Weah last August because a page containing important information was omitted.

The agreement was previously submitted by the President to the Legislature. It is calling for the development, construction, and operation of a refinery by Foauni Brothers, which is expected to process approximately 13,000 metric tons of Crude Palm Oil (CPO) per month for the production of edible vegetable oil and the derivatives from such oil palm.

The President, in a communication disclosing his intent to veto the bill stated:

“At the end of page 30, I noticed the heading “Confidentiality” and therefore believe page 31 must contain details about confidentiality. The principle of confidentiality is key to any agreement; it is about privacy and respecting the wishes of others. It means that one party should not share personal details about another party with others unless that party grant permission to do so. Therefore, without page 31 the bill is incomplete and I cannot approve it.”

In a communication to the House, President Weah informed the Speaker that vetoing the bill also gives the Legislature an opportunity to review the entire bill and ensure that all ambiguities are corrected in the interest of the country.

The President’s decision to send the bill back to the Legislature was in line with Article 35 of the Constitution which state:

“Each bill or resolution which shall have passed both Houses of the Legislature shall, before it becomes law, be laid before the President for his approval. If he grants approval, it shall become law. If the president does not approve such bill or resolution, he shall return it, with his objections, to the House in which it originated. In so doing, the President may disapprove of the entire bill or resolution or any item or items thereof. This veto may be overridden by the re-passage of such bill, resolution or item thereof by a vote of two-thirds of the members in each House, in which case it shall become law. If the President does not return the bill or resolution within twenty days after the same shall have been laid before him it shall become law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Legislature by adjournment prevents its return.

However, the House, acting on the advice of its Joint Committee on Judiciary, chaired by Cllr. Fonati Koffa (Rep. District #2, Grand Kru County) and Investment and Concession chaired by Rep. Tibelrosa Tarponweh (District #1, Margibi County), in its 50th Day Sitting on Tuesday, voted not to take any action against the President’s decision on grounds that the bill did not originate from the Legislature.

The committee advised that the President was free to resubmit the agreement when his own concerns regarding the essential terms and the loopholes he alluded to in his rejection of he bill  have been addressed.

“Because the bill did not originate in either chamber of the National Legislature, it cannot be repaired by the National legislature and still have Executive backing. It is the Executive who negotiated the bill that must identify any loopholes and fix them,” the Committee recommended.”

In its report, the Committee also outlined that the agreement lacks clarity on how the 22,000 local palm producers will benefit instead of the veil attempt to create a monopoly in the edible oil industry, since the private investor proponent of the agreement is already the largest importer of edible oil industry.

The Committee said it is not clear as to the ownership of the investment, having no reliable assertions as to how much Liberian participation is involved.

The Committee furthered that the agreement needs to ensure that the investor is obligated to buy all of the locally grown palm in absolute terms before importing CPO as this may create an incentive or monopoly and destroy the local production industry.