Liberia: Internal Wrangling, Impeachment Scare Mar House of Representatives’ Opening Sessions

FrontPage Africa has learned of a plot by several lawmakers to remove House Speaker Bhofal Chambers over what they termed as his bad handling of the affairs of the House

Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The second-day sitting of the House of Representatives of the 54th Legislature in its third session has been marred by acrimonious arguments among lawmakers that led to a hasty closure of session from the public on Tuesday.

Many had expected that the internal wrangling that marred the first two sessions of the 54th Legislature would have ceased by now as they begin a new session in a New Year – a year which promises to be filled with uncertainties amid increasing economic hardship and a failing economy. 

However, from the look at things over the past days, there are indications that the third session will likely be characterized by sustained internal strife over contentious issues that rocked the first and second sessions in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Some of these combative issues include disenchantments of individual lawmakers over what they termed as Speaker Bhofal Chambers’ ineptitude and divisive leadership style, threats of impeaching the Speaker, refusal of the Speaker to place the war crimes court resolution on the agenda for discussion.  

What Sparked The Debate On Tuesday

Tuesday’s session was temporarily halted when lawmakers realized there were no copies available for them, except for the Speaker and Chief Clerk

On Tuesday, following regular devotion, Chief Clerk Mildred Sayon attempted reading out the draft agenda for plenary’s scrutiny and subsequent adoption, but to the dismay of the lawmakers in chamber, there was no copies available for them, except for the Speaker and the Chief Clerk. 

This led to a momentary halt to the proceedings and some lawmakers demanded for copies to properly peruse before adoption.

But when the copies were made available, plenary went out of control, and sensing the tension, Rep. Edwin Melvin Snowe (UP, Bomi County District #1) signaled to Speaker Chambers to call for an executive session.

A motion of adoption was filed by the Co-chairman of the Committee on Judiciary, Rep. Kaine Wesso (Gbarpolu County District #2), calling for an executive session.

This, did not auger well for some of the lawmakers including Rep. Francis Nyumalin (Lofa County District #1) who called for the proceedings to be held in the presence of the public. 

Rep. Nyumalin, in his amendment, advised that it was a bad precedent to begin the third session behind closed doors, but his plea was rejected by the movant.

A highlight of the day’s event came when Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis (Montserrado County’s District #4) called for the inclusion of the resolution calling for establishment of a war crimes court on the agenda, but that was also denied by Rep. Wesso.

The motion was hastily adopted by a yea and nay vote, amid protest from several lawmakers including Rep. Francis Dopoe of River Gee County. 

FrontPage Africa was told that there were series of complaints filed by several lawmakers over wrongful acts committed by the Speaker to the Committee on Rules and Order, which were scheduled to be discussed behind closed doors.

FPA learned from impeccable sources that the lawmakers could not find common ground on any of the items on the day’s agenda in their secret session.

Impeachment Scares Grip Plenary

Flashback: Several members of the House of Reps. in a heated debate over the passage of the War crimes court resolution in October 2019. The fate of the resolution at first lied in the hands of Rep. Johnson Gwaikolo who, serving as a movant had the power to accept or deny, but Speaker Chambers ceased the resolution in the end and called for more consultations with citizens.

Meanwhile, FPA has learned that several lawmakers have resolved to resume their plan to remove Speaker Chambers over what they termed as his bad handling of the affairs of the House.

The renewed call of the Speaker’s removal comes in the wake of reports that lawmakers of the opposition Unity Party are discussing to launch an impeachment proceeding against President George Weah over damaging leaked audio recordings that linked the President to allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

In the tape recordings that are being released by talk show host Henry Costa, the Chairman of the ruling Party, Mulbah Morlu is heard making startling and embarrassing revelations about how the President and is inner circle are illegally amassing wealth and wrongly steering the affairs of the state.

While this is being discussed at Capitol Hill, several lawmakers are now planning to continue with their initial plan to remove the Speaker.

Speaker Chambers, throughout 2019 came under severe criticisms from several of his colleagues at the House of Representatives over what they termed as his ineptitude and divisive leadership style. Many accused him of “going to bed with the executive.”

A lawmaker, citing anonymity, stated that the renewed call for the Speaker’s removal is due to his refusal to correct his numerous mistakes.

Citing Tuesday’s action that led to an abrupt holding of plenary in secret session, the lawmaker said their action is just the beginning of a sustained process that will eventually lead to the removal of Speaker Chambers.

“We resolved to continue with our plan [to remove Speaker Chambers]. And I can assure [you], we will have the numbers. The Speaker has failed to lead, he has become a partisan Speaker and plays to the drum of his party. Because of his actions, this sacred chamber continues to be desecrated. And we will do all to get him out before this session ends,” the lawmaker vowed.

Under the Speaker’s leadership, the House has become more polarized. Several groups including the Independent Legislative Caucus (ILC), Majority Group and Opposition Bloc have been formed. 

It can be recalled that at the height of a rancorous extraordinary sitting in October 2019, 22 lawmakers gathered at the Port City of Buchanan to sign a resolution seeking his removal. 

The lawmakers took the move after they accused Chambers of circumventing legislative procedures for the passage of a bill after he allegedly manipulated three propositions including the dual citizen bill, which has already been printed into handbill and will go to referendum.

He was also accused of blocking the House of Representatives from sending the resolution calling for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia to the Senate after it had met the required two-thirds majority.

During a heated debate on the floor over the resolution, Speaker Chambers took siege of it and ordered every lawmaker to return to their constituents for further consultations pending a decision in 2020.

Several of his colleagues including Reps. Larry Younquoi (Nimba District #8) and Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis (Montserrado District #4) who championed the resolution were annoyed and threatened his removal upon their return in 2020.

In addition, he, along with Deputy Speaker Moye were accused of refusing to cut their salaries, thus prompting a group of angry lawmakers headed by Rep. Hanson Kiazolu (Montserrado County District #17) to threaten to lead a campaign that will remove Speaker them from their respective positions if it is established that they refused to cut their salaries and allowances as they (lawmakers) did to theirs.

The two top officials later debunked the allegations, terming them as false and misleading.

The Speaker has also come under staunch criticisms from journalists reporting for several independent outlets covering the Legislature for allegedly shielding information for public consumption by frequently calling for plenary’s discussions to be held behind closed doors.

Several reporters, in a FrontPageAfrica interview accused him of shunning the press he once relied on to speak against ills in the Ellen Johnson-led administration prior to his ascendancy as Speaker of the House. 

He was also criticized for allegedly revoking the accreditation of journalist Musa Kenneh of Truth FM for his critical and independent reportage on the Legislature’s activities.

A regular visitor of the House, James Gardea, who claimed to have been following sessions since the 1980s summed the ‘Speaker’s lapses’ up during an interview with FPA recently when he said: “Under his leadership, the House breaks most of their rules. It is now the House of late comers because they start sessions late almost every day. They have turned plenary into a cafeteria where lawmakers eat openly and the Speaker says nothing about it.”