House of Representatives Leadership Crisis Spillover To Liberian Senate
Monrovia – The fight for leadership change at the House of Representatives has stalled major national undertakings for more than a month with crucial bills including the Land Rights Act and other essential instruments such the draft national budget 2016/2017 currently getting dusty at the Legislature.
Report by Henry Karmo – [email protected]
“This statement that the Senate will not do business with any of the parties in the Lower House is misleading and contradictory and it clearly shows that the President Pro Tempore wants to play games with this very serious matter because at no time did we discuss and a decision made by Plenary”- Alphonso Gaye, Senator (Grand Gedeh County, Unity Party)
The crisis seems far from over with Speaker Alex J. Tyler and his loyal lawmakers expected to leave today for agriculture break while the bloc dubbed the ‘majority bloc’ recognized by the Executive Branch of Government remains at the Capitol to continue legislative work.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has already issued a proclamation extending the stay of the lawmakers at the Capitol for a period of one month beginning September 1 to October 1.
President Sirleaf has justified that her proclamation was based on a receipt of a Certificate of extension signed by 29 members of the House of Representatives and 18 members of the Liberian Senate. Eighteen (18) members of the House of Representatives and Eight (8) members of the House of Senate are constitutionally required to sign a Certificate for extending a Legislative Session.
Article 32 (b) of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia provides that the President shall, on the President’s own initiative or upon receipt of a certificate signed by at least one-fourth of the total membership of each House of the Legislature, and by proclamation, extend a regular session of the Legislature beyond the date of adjournment or call a special or extraordinary session of that body to discuss or act upon matters of national emergency and concern.
Neutral Senate stance sparks outrage
With the impasse at the House of Representatives affecting the normal operations of the Liberian Senate, Senate pro Tempore, Gbarpolu County Senator Armah Z. Jallah announced a peace proposal to amicably resolve the impasse setting up a peace committee.
Said Pro Tempore Jallah – “We have a peace proposal that we are refining right now. That process should be concluded within the next few days, and our proposal will be presented to both sides and subsequently we should be able to meet with them to be able to reason out on how we can bring an end to this stalemate”.
The head of the Senate though admitted that the two bodies – Houses of Representatives and Senate are constitutionally independent but said the intervention of the Senate is based on sisterly relationship between the two bodies.
“Constitutionally, the two houses are independent of each other, but as a sister whose house is on fire, we have taken the initiative upon ourselves to help the House of Representatives to get reorganized.”
While the initiative by the Senate was applauded by many, further comments by Senator Jallah that the senate will remain neutral has angered some senators who believe their head is recognizing what they termed as the ‘illegal’ action of the group known as majority lawmakers under the leadership of Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue.
“The Speaker is the legitimate Speaker, but the numbers are not on the Speaker’s side to be able to take decisions.
The other group they do have the numbers, but they don’t have a constitutional presiding officer to be able to preside over the body. So, considering the three factors, we intend to remain neutral and play a mediating role to find an end to this conflict,” he said.
Speaker Tyler who got a big blow in the entire fight as the ‘majority bloc’ was recognized by the Executive followed by call from the head of Traditional Council of Liberia, Chief Zanzan Kawor for the Speaker to resign, was looking up to the Senate for support.
The Senate has been forthcoming with the support by continually communicating with Speaker Tyler as head of the House of Representatives but the situation changed when the Senate Pro Tempore Jallah said the senate will be neutral in the House of Representatives impasse, a statement that could be interpreted that the senate recognizes both parties to the conflict.
Senators at Pro temp’s throat
The pronouncement that the Senate remains neutral has sparked disagreements with some senators expressing that the Pro Tempore is supporting the illegitimate action of the ‘majority’ lawmakers who are attempting to oust a duly elected Speaker without using the due process as provided in article 38 of the 1986 Liberian constitution.
Some aggrieved Senators Monday announced a press conference to address the situation after others took to radio stations early morning to express disagreement with Pro Tempore Jallah for pronouncing that the senate will remain neutral.
Senate lost independence to negotiate
Senator Alphonso Gaye of Grand Gedeh County, a ruling Unity Party lawmaker announced that the Senate should not be taken serious as it has lost its independence to carryout genuine mediation to resolve the conflict.
According to him the involvement of the Senate in the mediation process will further deepen and prolong the crisis.
Senator Gaye said: “I pray that other stakeholders will add to my voice to call on Inter Religious Council of Liberia, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), ECOWAS and the US Embassy to assist us mediate the crisis at the House of Representatives.”
The Grand Gedeh County Lawmaker described Senate Pro Tempore Jallah statement that the Liberian Senate will not do business with any of the parties in the Lower House as misleading and contradictory.
“This statement is misleading and contradictory and it clearly shows that the President Pro Tempore wants to play games with this very serious matter because at no time did we discuss and a decision made by Plenary to that,” Senator Gaye said.
Senator Weah Wants Due Process
Montserrado County Senator George Weah added his voice to the House of Representatives impasse recently when he declared that he is on the side of the law and wants due process.
“This is a country of law and due process is the best way, everybody should follow the law”, Senator Weah said.
Senator Weah’s own party, the Congress for Democratic Change, has turned the entire impasse on its head suspending there of its lawmakers –Representatives Munah P. Youngblood, Acarus Gray and Julius Berrien for signing the ant-Speaker Tyler resolution.
While out of the country at the time of the suspension, Senator Weah declared that he was not aware of any suspension and announced that a counter statement was to be issued against the suspension of the three lawmakers but that statement is yet to be issued.
Thirteen aggrieved senators to speak out
The aggrieved senators look to be going for the head of Pro Tempore Jallah and announced a press conference Monday but the process was later cancelled and rescheduled to be held today.
One of the aggrieved Senators, Sando Johnson (Bomi County, National Patriotic Party) announced that the conference will go ahead on today (Tuesday August 31, 2016).
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Press, I regret to inform you that the Press conference has been re-schedule for tomorrow 10:00am,” a staff from Senator Johnson’s office told Journalists.
According to legislative sources more than 13 senators are aggrieved about a decision taken by Senate Pro-Tempore Jallah who is part of 18 members who signed a resolution that was added to 29 signatures from the House of Representatives asking for extension of one moth stay at the Capitol.
Pro Temp Jallah on hot seat?
From the situation at the Capitol Monday, Senate Pro Tempore Jallah appears to be heading for trouble from his colleagues senators, many of who think he is double dealing by taking a side in the House of Representatives crisis.
Some legislative observers believe the Pro Tempore could also shortly fall in the shoes of embattled Speaker Tyler especially for signing a resolution extending the stay of his colleagues without their consent.
Like the Speaker of House or Representatives the Senate Pro Tempore is constitutionally elected for a period of six years and shall be removed by a-two thirds majority of members of the Liberian Senate.
Article 47 of the Liberian constitution provides – “The Senate shall elect once every six years a President Pro Tempore who shall preside in the absence of the President of the Senate, and such shall officers as shall ensure the proper functioning of the Senate.
The President Pro Tempore and other officers so elected may be removed from office for cause by resolution of a two-thirds majority of the members of the Senate”.
Liberia currently has a Senate made up of 30 senators, meaning the Pro Tempore can only be removed by a resolution signed by 20 senators constituting two third of the 30 senators.