An Educated Legislature, a Catalyst for Qualitative Decision Making: A Case of the Liberian Legislature
Accra: I have argued that the quality of Legislators set the country for progress which automatically places the Liberian Legislature in a position to deliberate on various issues ranging from the public to executive, and formulation of the necessary policies. In a democratic form of government, the legislature has the prime policy-making responsibility since it represents the people directly and seeks to harness and harmonize their demands and problems into policy actions for legislative legitimization. Unfortunately, the Liberian legislature has declined in power and lost the people’s confidence due to the fact that they have delegated their constitutional responsibilities intentionally to the executive due to collusion, dishonesty, and wanton dereliction as well as corruption allegations to pass laws which are influenced by the executive. It is reported in recent times that, in a bid to print about 34 billion Liberian dollars, the Legislature through the influence of the executive and members of the ruling party in both houses have overwhelmingly endorsed the decision of the Executive to print the proposed amount.
The writer seeks to point out the most imminent bogus legislations that did not meet best practices due to the natures of the Liberian legislators both past and present. Fraudulent voting and subsequent legislation of concessions by the Liberian legislature are deeply rooted in the Firestone Concession agreement of 1926 and the recent sixty-six (66) bogus concessions of the past Liberian leader Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf under the ambiance of the Fifty-third (53rd) National Legislature. The Firestone agreement had acquired virtually unlimited rights over an area equal to 4 percent of the country’s territory and nearly 10 percent of what was considered the arable land in the country. This agreement ignored the interests of the succeeding generations and how the proceeds of the country’s wealth can be distributed.
According to February 24, 2018 publication of the
Perspective, Moses Y. Yahmia opined that it is a commonplace fact that the
regime of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf enacted into laws concession agreements that
are not only in violation of Liberian laws and further inequality but also at
the disadvantage of the majority poor mass of Liberians. Consequently, the
state has failed to adequately mobilize capital to improve or develop other
aspects of social development in the West African republic. Amidst this sad
reality, concessionaires earned tens of millions from the illegal concession
agreements, while education, health, infrastructure and etc. in Liberia
remained deplorable under the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-led government. According
to the British based newspaper, the Guardian (May 8, 2013, Edition), “In
2013, the London-based accounting firm Moore Stephens, after an audit,
concluded that out of US$ 8billion worth
of sixty-eight (68) concessions granted in the agriculture, forestry, mining,
and oil sectors, only two were in accordance with Liberian laws while sixty-six
(66) were flawed.”
In 2012, surging news about corruption and fraud in Liberia’s US$ 100million timber sector led the Liberian government under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to suspend large logging operations in the country for a short period of time. Furthermore, the Guardian also carried a news story in its May 8, 2013 edition, that in 2012, “A deal with ExxonMobil and its partner Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited over an oil field known as Block 13 did not conform to the dictates of Liberian law, which requires 10% in royalties for the republic. The deal only generated 5% in royalties for Liberia.” So, it has been the fervent hope of not only this writer but also many Liberians who are the victims of these bad agreements that mortgaged the country’s mineral and natural resources to predominantly multinational foreign monopoly capital, to have a government, driven by national consciousness, which will overhaul these agreements and ensure they reflect the socio-economic interest of the republic and its people. These multiple bogus concessions were passed based on the systemic malfeasances, bribery and the lack of intellectual depth to analyze, review and evaluate legislations from the Executive for ratification by the national legislature. This is as a result of the quality of people we have continued to elect as members of our bicameral legislature.
Why has the Executive Branch influenced Policy Decisions of the Legislature?
Based on historical antecedents there are compounding factors why the Liberian legislature has been completely influenced by the executive in policymaking which undermines the independence of the supposedly first branch of the Liberian government. In Liberia, most of our problems in terms of governance are attributed to the gross ineptitude of our policymakers largely the National Legislature. This has exposed not just the dismal failures but the performance of the Liberian legislature has inspired zero confidence of the people.
Pundits believe that the National Legislature shares a greater responsibility of the country’s challenges in terms of governance due to their gross incompetence in cross-examining nominees of the Executive who are expected to be properly vetted before confirmation. One would argue that the Senate’s decision to wrongly impeach an associate Justice of the Supreme Court bench, Justice Kabineh J’anneh was marked by constitutional errors and alleged inducement of the two-third majority of both houses and the rudimental influence of the executive. Also, the recent confirmation of the governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Hon. J. Aloysius Tarlue, and the subsequent decision of the Legislature to approve the printing of new Liberian banknotes in the tone of L$35 billion could be seen as a weakness on the part of both houses and the dominant influence of the Executive. The money, according to the President, will be infused into the economy when printed. The infusion of the proposed banknotes may cause excess liquidity in the economy which could potentially undermine the value of the Liberian dollars against the United States Dollars being cognizant of the dual currency regime.
Firstly, the Liberian legislature lacks the necessary cohesion to generate, initiate and formulate policies that will benefit the majority of the citizens. This has caused them enormous challenges in making necessary legislation with majority acknowledgment. As a result, significant numbers of policy proposals are being initiated, sponsored and influenced by the executive while the legislature is allegedly induced and influenced by the executive.
Secondly, their background prior to being elected as lawmakers shows that many legislators lack the intellectual depth, professionalism, skills, and technocracy needed to tackle the complex problems of the country ranging from social, political and economic quagmires which the executive functionaries may have.
Thirdly, most legislators demonstrate flippancy. That is, they have little understanding of the weight of their assignments. Basically, they are not well-positioned to meet the increasing need for expertise in governance. Most of the Liberian legislators are voted on the basis of populace election thus ignoring proper evaluations as to who becomes the people’s deputies. This has not only caused dismal performance but it has significantly caused the low number of representatives that have the requisite control of their functions as policymakers who have the constitutional mandates to draft public policies for the Liberian government.
Additionally, the “executive – centered era” as manifested in the possession and deployment of enormous resources, the power by the executive has put the Liberian legislators at a great disadvantage. They are easily tempted with cash or threatened with removal by the executive to do its bidding. This has caused complete dominance of the executive in policy development of the state irrespective of the doctrine of checks and balances in the tripartite arrangement of the Liberian government.
According to December 27, 2019 publication of the FrontPage Africa newspaper under the caption “Lawmakers Receive US$5K Each for Signing Printing of L$4 Billion Resolution”, the paper alleged that the majority members of the Lower House of receiving the mentioned amount ($5,000) as an inducement to acknowledge the printing of the new Liberian banknotes to be infused into the economy through the Central Bank of Liberia. Why should the Legislature accept bribes to pass a law? Isn’t their action an impeachable offense under our laws?
Liberia and Zambia share commonalities in terms of the capacity of the members of the legislature. Both countries’ legislatures do not have the institutional strength and integrity to perform satisfactorily as far as the decision- making process is concerned According to article 30 of the Liberian constitution “citizens of Liberia who meet the following qualifications are eligible to become members of the Legislature. a, for the Senate, have attained the age of 30 years and for the House of Representatives, have attained the age of 25 years; b, be domiciled in the country or constituency to be represented not less than one year prior to the time of the election and be a taxpayer”. This particular clause of our Constitution is said to have ignored the academic qualifications of persons vying for elected posts.
According to Dr. W. N. Mafuleka, the legal barrier to capacity building in Zambia’s legislature is enshrined in the Republican Constitution. Article 64 of the constitution which spells out qualifications for anyone intending to contest elections to the National Assembly is silent on level of formal education. All it says is that a candidate should be literate and conversant with the official language used in the legislature. These clauses of both Constitutions did not spell out the minimum academic requirements for persons desiring to vie for an elected seat. I argue that such an article has been the reliance on unsophisticated persons to emerge as Liberian legislators irrespective of their limited understanding of public policy issues. These persons do not possess both educational and institutional knowledge to adequately formulate, analyze and evaluate public problems in which they seek to provide solutions. The decision-making process in my analogy involves the activity of policy players to detect faulty reasoning and identify the worthiness of policy inputs presented by other stakeholders in the executives. Screening policy inputs and the ability to foresee their prospective desirable and undesirable outcomes are important aspects of capacity in policymaking. Along these lines, capacity in policymaking is reflected by the ability of local institutions to have effective direction and control over their policies.
It means to have the requisite human resources, the physical infrastructure, the financial muscle, and the national political determination to motivate and inspire the whole process from the stage of conceptualization, adoption, implementation, monitoring, as well as evaluation of policies. Where it involves one institution in interacting with others, capacity will be judged not only by the ability of the single institution to identify errors in other institutions’ policy inputs but also by the ability to suggest plausible policy alternatives W. N. Mafuleka, (2005).
In efforts to effectively represent the interests of the people and enhance governance through checks and balances, the Liberian legislature must project independence in all aspects of their functions including lawmaking, representation, and oversight. This will result in good and beneficial public policies and decision making which remain the sine qua non to good governance in every nation whose government is serious and focused on addressing and solving the complex and compounding problems of the society. The role of our legislature in policymaking by way of legislative enactment, for instance, relating to investment, is fundamental to the progress of the Liberian society. The decisions of our legislators should be based on research, technical complexity, and specialized knowledge and attention. The inability of many of the Liberian legislators has increased the dominant influence of the executive on the decisions and the workings of our bicameral legislature. This has resulted in the poor performance of our governance system, implementation of public projects, and as well as political and economic instability and the resultant decline of the standard of living of the people which is evident by the current socioeconomic turmoil that has beclouded the nation.
The crux of the argument is that the quality of people that become our public policymakers requires vigorous scrutiny in all aspects of human evaluation in order that only the crème de la crème of our nation will be opportune to serve not the current of the micro nationalist, petit bourgeoisie, and a bunch of unprincipled characters.
In order to address some of the observed barriers to the development and strengthening of capacity for the legislature in Liberia, the following could be considered as possible policy recommendations for the national legislature to increase its knowledge on policy development and review of policy proposals from the executive branch of government.
- CONSTRAINTS TO CAPACITY
Unclear constitutional provision to encourage appropriate level of literacy among National Assembly representatives
• Article 30 of the Liberian Constitution, which spells out qualifications for election to the legislature, should include a specific level of formal education for intending candidates. This provision should be extended to Article 52 for the qualification of presidential candidates
- CONSTRAINTS TO CAPACITY
Absence of orientation and continuing training of new and veteran legislators
Introduce an intensive orientation program for all new members to the legislature. Carefully develop the curriculum for the orientation program, Mount continuing educational programs to inculcate into legislators’ information search skills such as computer operation skills and Training in fields such as policy analysis, the budget analysis should not be confined only to professional officials. This should be extended to legislators as well.
- CONSTRAINTS TO CAPACITY
Lack of expertise among many legislators
• The legislature should take account of the training and educational background in order to foster knowledge specialization
- CONSTRAINTS TO CAPACITY
Inadequate data banks for generation, storage and perusal of relevant policy information for legislators.
Existing national libraries, archives, museums, and research centers should be strengthened through staff training, improved selection and expansion of reading materials and laboratory equipment, as well as incentives for staff motivation, Extend data banks to rural areas and Introduce transparent and wider radio, television and print media national debates to attract inputs from a much larger policy environment.
- CONSTRAINTS TO CAPACITY
The National Legislature lacks a functioning website
The Legislature should build a system of Information service which should be named “Liberian Legislature Information Management System” which updates the public on the activities of its proceedings through a functional website.