Liberia: Handful Of Lawmakers Defying Odds; Speaking Truth to Power
MONROVIA – Only hours after the Senate voted in favor of a motion to recall Mr. George Patten as Ambassador to the United States of America last Thursday, Liberians on Facebook dubbed Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence (Liberty Party, Grand Bassa), the Nancy Pelosi of Liberia.
It was the lawmaker’s initial query about the decision by President George Manneh Weah to appoint and commission Patten without a Senate Confirmation that triggered interest from the full body of the Senate.
Her move prompted the Senate’s Plenary to charge its Committees on Foreign Affairs and Judiciary with the responsibility to investigate a concern raised by the Grand Bassa Senator.
In a motion last Thursday, Senator Gbleh-Bo Brown (Independent, Maryland) of Maryland County moved that the Senate immediately recalls the “Ambassador-designate” and be made to appear before the Senate in order to go through the confirmation and be re-assigned. “I move that the Liberian Senate immediately recalls the Ambassador-designate to the United States and that he be made to face the Senate’s confirmation before reassignment,” the Maryland County lawmaker motioned.
Standing up to the Executive
Senator Varney Sherman(Unity Party, Grand Cape-Mount County) sought to amend Senator Brown’s motion, asking the Maryland Senator change the word or terminology “recall”. According to Sherman the use of “recall” will mean the process has been terminated.
The move by both Senators come at a time when many Liberians have been raising concerns over the silence of members of both houses in the national legislature in the wake of numerous unilateral decisions taken by the Executive Branch of government.
The Senate’s plenary took the decision because they believe the Ambassador’s commissioning was unlawfully done by the Executive.
Supporters of the President have said his decision was based on Rule 55 of the Liberian Senate which gives the him the authority to appoint officials of the Executive during their recess. Rule 55 however calls on the President to refer said appointment(s) to the Senate after their break for confirmation and appointment where necessary.
Despite the concerns a few lawmakers are standing up to the executive branch and raising some questions about the missteps taking place.
One of those is Senator Steve Zargo(Independent, Lofa County), who has been critical of Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee overextending his responsibilities
The Senator said last week: “The paramilitary uniform on the MCC police is wrong and it is illegal. The Municipal police of the MCC is limited and the Mayor should reconsider his focus, and instigate campaigns to clean the filthy city of Monrovia.”
Zargo who heads the Senate’s Sub-Committee on Intelligence and Security Lofa County Senator Steve Zargo prevailed on the MCC mayor to put emphasis on the sanitation of the country’s capital city and stop focusing on the MCC police, which illegally wears paramilitary uniforms.
The brief but vehement verbal exchange ensued on Tuesday, January 29, 2019, when Sando Johnson took the Senate floor to briefly inform his colleagues on his activities in his county during the First Sitting of the First Session, but mentioned persistent questions and concerns about the missing L$16 billion.
Johnson v. Johnson: Heated Debate Over War Crimes
Senator Sando Johnson, who chairs the Senate Committee on Concession, has used his presence on the floor of the Senate to flag numerous issues. He was very vocal against the missing LD16 billion and has not shied away from debates relating to the US25 million President Weah ordered to be infused in the economy to curb the fluctuating US exchange rate.
“We are not trying to accuse anyone directly; “but L$16 billion is missing, we cannot also account for US$25 million and, in the midst of that, when government officials get involved in building fabulous homes, the speculation will be that it is the people’s money that they are using,” he told legislative reporters recently. “So, some of us flagged this issue during our vacation; we always respect our leaders, but when things are wrong, we will say it. As we have come back, the Liberian people are watching us; I want us to put aside the partisanship, friendship, county and tribal connections and remain firm to avoid integrity war; if we do that, they will respect us.”
Last week, he shocked many of his peers when he openly took fellow Senator Prince Y. Johnson to task over the issue of war crimes, telling his peers that while he was on annual break, he worked with civil society organizations (CSOs) to ensure that the issue of war and economic crimes are established in Liberia.
“Today, Mr. Taylor (Charles Taylor) is in jail serving his term, and we believe that justice is not meant for one person; all those that were involved in creating heinous crimes in the country must face the same thing,” Sando said amid laughter and cheers from the audience.
In the lower house where many are being slammed for failing to cross-check the executive, a handful are raising their hands and asking questions.
Senator Oscar Cooper recently blamed the Liberian Senate for the current economic situation faced by the country. He said things are what they are because the Legislature failed to exercise it constitutional oversight given them by the Constitution.
Speaking on a local radio talk show ‘the Costa Show’ the Margibi Senator said they accused the legislature of being compromised by the Executive Branch. He said members of the Senate are too scared to speak on prevailing issues fearing that they would lose the 2020 elections should they venture such.
“People are elected to the legislature on party tickets but go to the legislature with self-interest not the ideology of their respective parties. Parties who have lost need to come together and pull their resources to do checks and balance on this government.
“There is no party in the legislature it is all personal interest. It is amazing that there is no opposition.”
Senator Daniel Naatehn of Gbarpolu County has been another outspoken Senator who is always present for debate and gives his position on matters as he sees it prudent. He is one of the four senators who took the entire Senate to the Supreme Court in the Justice Kabina Ja’neh impeachment debate.
Representative Francis S. Dopoh (River Gee County District #3) recently petitioned the plenary of the House of Representatives to invite the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah and the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) Thomas Doe-Nah to discuss the performance of the budget for the last two quarters.
For Dopoh, the importance of the fiscal overturns’ report is intended to give the Legislature an understanding of the performances of the various budget lines and help us to shape and guide the direction of the government’s fiscal stance. “It beats my imagination, that in a country where the budget is a cash-based balance budget, the Liberia Revenue Authority is over performing in revenue generations, while expenditure lines are underperforming as being reported. In such a case, it is probable that there is ongoing off-budget spending.” The River Gee Lawmaker wrote in his communication to plenary.
Perhaps the lawmaker with the most noise to date is Representative Yekeh Kolubah(District No. 10, Montserrado County).
Rep. Kolubah has been vocal against the ruling party, particularly, President Weah, whom he has urged his colleagues in the lower house to impeach. “What is best in the interest of the Liberian people is that the President, Ambassador George Weah should be impeached on grounds that he has violated all of the laws of the country,” Representative Kolubah told journalists recently.
Representative Kolubah’s stance came in the wake of calls for the impeachment of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh of the Supreme Court by some Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) lawmakers, Representatives Acarous Gray and Thomas Fallah of Montserrado County districts eight and five respectively.
The Montserrado County Representative asserted that the President violated the Code of Conduct and the Liberian Constitution relating to the holding of by-elections in the country and has challenged the President to show his assets prior to becoming president.
The lawmaker has also been critical about the president’s rapid wealth accumulation, telling legislative reporters recently: “The President is telling the Liberian people to hold their heart and be patient with his administration but then he is building all of his properties around here, I think he should be holding his heart and stop building and address the needs of the Liberian people.”
Fiery Kolubah Doesn’t Hold Back
His fiery tone has landed Kolubah in the bad books of Speaker Bhophal Chambers. Following a recent attack on a party the lawmaker had organized for children in his district, the plenary of the lower house subjected him to a Ministry of Justice’s investigation, a move which triggered a wave of criticisms.
Professor Alaric Tokpah, head of the National Democratic Coalition (NDC) and Founding Chair of the New DEAL Movement (Liberia’s social democratic party), strongly condemned the attack on the residence of the lawmaker as well as an earlier violence carried out against innocent citizens who had been call together by Hon. Kolubah for a children party.
The Professor said he believes that the attack on Rep. Kolubah is not only sufficient evidence that a dangerous dictatorship has appeared in Liberia but also a clear sign that citizens of Liberia and opposition politicians have no protection under the George Weah dictatorship.
Rep. J, Nagbe Sloh(Sinoe County District # 2) has recently joined Rep. Kolubah in taking the Executive Branch to task as well has calling out Speaker Bhophal Chambers for some misdeeds.
The Sinoe lawmaker recently slammed the speaker and insinuating that he was ‘incompetent’ to lead the body.
The Sinoe County lawmaker and some colleagues were seeking explanations from the body about the lack of vehicle provision or monetary allocation for said purpose, and the failure of the Executive Branch to provide money for legislative projects despite Speaker Chambers and cronies claim of assigning the just stated figures in the budget. “So, it is you alone your people should see as implementing projects? That’s cruelty of the first order, and we are not willing to sit down here and allow that to happen. It will not continue.
“The Speaker is very incompetent. He cannot manage seventy-one persons? This is the man, who in case of any eventuality will become President of this country? Only on the dead-bodies of some of us. The guy is completely incompetent,” Rep. Sloh said angrily.