Liberia: Lawmakers Reportedly Refusing to Return for Extraordinary Session Due to Salary Arrears
Monrovia – It is now confirmed that legislators will not be cutting short their constituency break to return to Capitol Hill for the purpose of sitting in an extraordinary session based on a request from President George Manneh Weah.
According to Mr. Isaac Redd, Director of Press, at the House of Representatives, lawmakers expected November 18 to return to the Capitol for this special sitting will be delayed because the purpose for their return is yet to be finalized.
“They don’t want a situation where they will come and have to wait for the finalization of why they were called back, so they are waiting for that to be done,” Redd said adding that he is unaware of the new date for their return.
However, lawmakers confided in this newspaper that they are not returning because the government is yet to pay the arrears for four months. “You cannot owe us four months’ arrears and expect us to come back and work. We haven’t gotten our gas for months, so why should we come back? If we come back, they will feel we are making extra money, so they wouldn’t take our salary issue seriously,” one of the representatives stated.
In response to this newspaper’s inquiry, Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Chie confirmed that senators’ return will be delayed for two reasons. “We need time for senators to return from their constituencies around the country and we are awaiting the Proclamation from the President of Liberia.”
Representative Dickson Siebo, Chairman on the House’s Banking and Currency Committee, in an interview with journalists, went a bit further to dispel some rumors that have permeated the air surrounding the recall of lawmakers. According to him, the recall request is not contingent on only printing additional Liberian dollar banknotes.
Siebo argued that even if the “go ahead” is given to the Executive to print additional Liberian dollars, it will not create a quick fix to the country’s current economic woes.
“We don’t know whether the coming back is contingent on printing money but the Central Bank of Liberia has said, there is a need to print additional banknotes. The situation about printing money will not create a quick-fix solution to the problem and it should not be politicized.”
According to him, the alleged scarcity of the Liberian dollars on the market is not that there is no Liberian dollar but that people are keeping their money in their homes because of the lack of confidence in the banking sector.
“You cannot owe us four months’ arrears and expect us to come back and work. We haven’t gotten our gas for months, so why should we come back? If we come back, they will feel we are making extra money, so they wouldn’t take our salary issue seriously.”– A Lawmaker seeking anynomity
Lawmakers were expected to return for an extraordinary sitting on November 18, 2019 and were expected to stay up to December 11, 2019, according to a release from the Senate’s Press and Public Affairs.
President Weah’s Communication to the Legislature requesting it to return is in consonance with Article 32(b) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
Article 32(b) states: “The President shall, on his own initiative or upon receipt of a certificate signed by at least one-fourth of the total membership of each House, and by proclamation, extend a regular session of the Legislature beyond the date for adjournment or call a special or extraordinary session of that body to discuss or act upon matters of national emergency and concern. When the extension or call is at the request of the Legislature, the proclamation shall be issued not later than 48 hours after receipt of the certificate by the President.”
Two executive members of the ruling Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC), Montserrado County District #8 Representative Acarous Gray and Grand Kru County District #2 Representative Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, who are lobbying with their colleagues to grant President Weah’s request to print additional Liberian dollar banknotes, announced over the weekend that 56 members of the House of Representatives have agreed to grant the President his wish.
The two ruling party’s executive members on social media pledged their respective supports to fulfil the request of President Weah for Legislative approval of the printing of L$35 billion, with Rep. Gray arguing that the printing of money is intended to pay civil servants.
Rep. Koffa further noted that the printing of new currency is inevitable. “I support the printing of money for payment of salaries as a short term measure. Eventually, we have to change the currency,” he said in a Facebook post.
According to reports, 30 ruling party’s lawmakers, including Representatives Gray and Koffa, have pledged their support to vote for the printing of additional banknotes when they meet in their Extraordinary Session.
Rep. Gray had earlier stated that the reasons for their quick return is to focus on strengthening the country’s economy. “We are returning for economic reasons. We will work to strengthen the economy.”
A week before Rep. Gray’s statement, Finance & Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah in a simulcast interview aired across the nation, had stressed the importance of printing new or additional Liberian dollar banknotes to avoid scarcity during the festive season.
The request for the lawmakers’ return was reportedly made by President Weah, who allegedly urged the lawmakers to cut short their time off for a special sitting which is expected to commence from November 18 to December 16, 2019.
The request to print the new banknotes was previously “put on hold” by the Plenary of the Senate during the extended session in September 2019 on ground that there was a need to restructure the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL).