Liberia: Speaker Chambers Seizes Motion Holding LPRC Director Coleman, Minister Tarpeh In Contempt For Misleading Plenary
Capitol Hill, Monrovia – House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, to the dismay of majority lawmakers in plenary on Thursday ceased a motion holding the Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), Marie Urey Coleman and Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh in contempt for lying under oath and misleading the House of Representatives over the acute shortage of gasoline on the market.
The motion to hold the two officials liable was filed by Rep. Haja Fata Siryon (District #1, Bomi County) following a preliminary report given by the 21-man specialized committee setup by Speaker Chambers to ascertain whether there was no shortage of gas in Liberia as claimed by Madam Coleman and Minister Tarpeh.
Following an hour-long deliberations and several amendments to the motion, the Speaker, to the dismay of several lawmakers ceased the motion, leading to most of the lawmakers walking out of session.
It can be recalled that LPRC’s Managing Director, Madam Coleman and the Minister of Commerce, Prof. Tarpeh, appearing before plenary stated that there is no gasoline shortage in the country.
According to Madam Coleman, because of the vessel restrictions placed on major importers including TOTAL, Super Petroleum and Petro Trade by APM Terminal over ongoing dredging of the port, the supplies that were intended for this month -February did not arrive in December 2019.
“This is not about the politic because the preliminary report shows a historicity of looters looting our petroleum for many years. So, what do we do as a body? Should we fold our hands? Should we play politics? We need to bring the perpetrators to book. This is what we need to do.”– Rep. Acarous M. Gray
Because of the restrictions, Madam Urey explained that only bigger importers were able to bring in gasoline and stored at the closed facilities that was no longer operational but had to be reactivated because of the restrictions at AMP Terminals.
At that time, she said negotiations were ongoing with the bigger importers to supply the smaller ones that will stabilize the floor of the product on the market.
She then invited Plenary to further launch an independent investigation by visiting the LPRC facilities and engaging major stakeholders to ascertain the fact if it were not satisfied with the accounts given by them.
Speaker Chambers than constituted a 21-person committee headed by the Chairman on State Own Enterprises, Rep. Zoe Emmanuel Pennue (District #1, Grand Gedeh County) to ascertain the fact and report within one week.
The Committee, in its report signed by the Co-Chairman, Rep. Jeremiah Koung (District #1, Montserrado County) on Thursday stated that contrary to the two officials’ claims, there is actually gasoline shortage on the market and the scarcity is not due to the ongoing dredging at the Freeport of Monrovia.
The committee stated that the National Port Authority (NPA) had informed all importers prior to the dredging to be fully prepared.
However, because of the difficulties in ascertaining all of the facts owing to the multiple players in the sector, and in order to reach out to all players and find a way forward, the committee requested plenary for additional time to fully complete its investigation.
However, some lawmakers including Reps. P. Mike Jury (District #2, Maryland County), Albert Hills (District #1, Bong County), Acarous Moses Gray (District #8, Nimba County), Munah Pehlam Youngblood (District #9, Montserrado County), Ivar K. Jones (District #2, Margibi County) and Mariamu Fofana (District #4, Lofa County) argued the preliminary report gives plenary enough grounds to act.
Rep. Gray, a ranking member of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change admonished his colleagues that the acute gasoline shortage needed the collective efforts of the Legislature and the Executive to find a solution.
He said while, the Committee should be given additional one week, Plenary should empower the three top ranking officials of the House including Speaker Chambers, Deputy Speaker Prince Moye and the Chair on Executive, Rep. Munah Pelham Youngblood to convene a meeting with the President aimed at finding a solution.
He added the report revealed that members of the executives have been looting the LPRC for years.
“This is not about the politic because the preliminary report shows a historicity of looters looting our petroleum for many years. So, what do we do as a body? Should we fold our hands? Should we play politics? We need to bring the perpetrators to book. This is what we need to do,” Rep. Gray cautioned.
Rep. Youngblood called for the officials to be held in contempt for misleading plenary.
“It is just about time that the Executive takes us serous. They have to take us serious because this place is not a place for joke. I think we should be exercising our oversight responsibilities here and no one from the Executives will come before this august body and gives us fallacies and we accept. We must set precedent,” Rep. Youngblood added.
“As much as we want to find a common ground, when you come before the Legislature, the people’s deputies, you approach them with the facts and nothing but the truth. We are the last group of people you must come to with fallacies. So, let us now decide as the highest decision making body in the land. Let us not prolong. It will just be fair if this body will take a decision.”
Also, Rep. Jury, a member of the Committee said he was not a signatory to the preliminary report and was not in favor of additional time.
“Additional time for what? We should give additional time when our people continue to sleep in the street?” he asked rhetorically.
Following a sustained debate, Rep. Haja Fata Siryon filed a motion allowing the committee to be given additional one week. But several amendments were made to the motion, some include the appearance of the management of LPRC, APM Terminal, National Port Authority and the Minister of Commerce during the day of the report, with Madam Coleman and Prof. Tarpeh being held under contempt charges.
However, while lawmakers were anticipating a vote on the motion, the speaker announced that he was ceasing the motion as his legislative privilege to entertain a new motion that will be proffered later.
This lead several lawmakers to walk out of session in anger of the speaker’s decision.
However, in a rather empty chambers, a motion was proffered by Rep. Francis Nyumalin (District #2, Lofa County) allowing the additional one week.
Rep. Gray called for the two officials to appear during the report but his amendment was denied, and plenary voted in favor of Rep. Nyumalin’s motion by a ‘yea and nay’ vote.
Rep. Gray voted against the motion.