Liberia: Is Speaker Chambers Bias? Independent Journalists Covering Legislature Give Perspectives

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MONROVIA – The Lower House continues to be polarized day-by-day since Maryland County District #2 Representative Bhofal Chambers ascended to the Speakership of the House of Representatives.

Speaker Chambers has come under a barrage of criticisms from not only opposition lawmakers, but those from his ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).

Lawmakers including Reps. Nagbe Sloh (Sinoe District #2), Yekeh Kolubah (Montserrado County District #10) and the late Adolph Lawrence (Montserrado District #15) openly accused the Speaker of being bias and lacking the leadership ability to lead them.

So polarized has been the House that a segment of the House’s members formed an Independent Legislative bloc which they say is intended to bring about sanctity at the House.

Just recently, Reps. Sloh and Kolubah announced their resignation from all House Standing and Statutory Committees they were member of over what they termed as the Speaker’s refusal to allow their voices to be heard.

In a communication sent to Speaker Chambers, Rep. Kolubah, who served as the Co-chairman of the House Standing Committee on National Defense wrote: “… Unfortunately such were mere titles bestowed on me while my views on all of the trending national issues were denied from being heard at Plenary. I find it a little complicated to grasp the rationale in co-chairing such committee when the basis of its effectiveness (freedom of speech) is chattered by gross political intolerance engrained in dictatorship and autocracy. I have vowed that the last thing is to compromise is the interests of the people of District #10.”

He added, “We witnessed an unprecedented deviation from the fundamental basis of our existence as a Legislature whom should represent the interest of our people, to a classic show of cowardice representative of a sad state where the House plays to the whims and caprices of the Presidency.”

To weigh in on the issue concerning these lawmakers claims, FrontPageAfrica samples the views of cross session of independent journalists covering the Legislature who mostly spoke against the Speaker’s leadership style. Let it be noted, however, not all of the reporters, including all the females reporters covering the House of Representatives, were willing to speak on this topic, some for fear of reprisal.

Amos P. Korzawu, KMTV

“I started covering this place (Legislature) from former Speaker Alex Tyler’s time. Former Speaker Tyler made sure that sessions were conducted properly. Under his Speakership, sessions were conducted in orderly manner but that is not happening under Speaker Bhofal Chambers. Speaker Chambers cannot control his colleagues. For the Sergeant at-arms to even call session to order is a problem. Lawmakers are always making noise. Even for the Chief Clerk to read the agenda or read out communications during session is a problem because the Honorable men are always causing noise. Even when the Chaplains are praying, it is always marred by noise. Can you imagine? They don’t respect the word of God. I believe he cannot control the floor. He needs to work on how he can control his colleagues, because he if he cannot control his colleagues how will he conduct session well?”

Omaska Jallah, Legislative Reporter, News Newspaper

“Section two of the House’s Standing rules calls for session to start at 10: am prompt and can be extended from 2: pm to 4: pm. Like today (April 2), the session started at 12:52pm. That was not a good thing to some of us. Normally session has been starting here a bit late under the leadership of Speaker Chambers. Even though under former Speaker Tyler, session used to start late at sometimes, but at some point in time, he used to instruct the sergeant-at-arms to get into the various offices and get the lawmakers session. But under the leadership of Speaker Chambers, although his style might be relative as I said earlier, session always starts late. Additionally, under Chambers leadership, the Executive (closed doors) has overshadow his administration. Always, all of his sessions end with executive. Whenever he exhausts session, he calls for executive. Even right now as we speak, there is executive session going on. And this has been hindering our own work as legislative journalists. There are some cardinal issues that are discussed which the public needs to know about. But because of the continuous closed doors session, the public cannot be aware.”

Trojan Kiazulu, Fabric Radio

“His leadership style for me I think it is something that is very peculiar. Unlike what we saw with other Speakers like Nuquay and Tyler, session starts very late under Speaker Chambers, especially in the last couple of months since the resumption of the second session of the 54th Legislature. We noticed that lawmakers come to session very late and that could be attributed to the leadership style of the Speaker. This is because most of them (lawmakers) have been complaining that their communications do not come on the floor. Just this morning, I was speaking to one of them, and I asked, ‘Are you not going to session?’ And the respond was like, ‘What am I going to do there? Every time I send a communication, it is not on the floor. The Speaker steps on it.’ If that’s true, it makes them not to go to session. Another thing about him is that, I think he is more defensive of government officials from the Executive [branch].There are lot of time we see communication from lawmakers inviting these government officials to come and explain some of what they are doing so that the citizens can have an insight as to exactly what they’re doing because that is some of the function of a lawmaker: oversight responsibilities. But in most cases the Speaker either ceased their communications. I have seen lots of communications sent to me by some of these lawmakers which have not surfaced on the agenda; and even if they surface, they are sent to committee rooms where they die natural deaths. If their communications appear on the agenda, they are restricted to committee rooms or executive (behind closed doors) and the public will not get to know what their ministers and directors are doing. Overall, he needs to be open, and give his colleagues the opportunity to express themselves and not be that kind of dictatorial Speaker as he’s portrayed to be.”

Jeffery Seibo, Power TV

“Since I came, among all of the Speakers I saw presiding, I think Speaker Tyler was the best followed by Nuquay. He stood for his colleagues and has good relationship with them. When Speaker Bhofal Chambers took over, I thought that he was going to be one of the best presiding officers. Because the Bhofal Chambers I saw in the 52nd and the 53rd [Legislature] is not the Bhofal Chambers that I am seeing in the 54th. The Chambers I saw in the 53rd was robust and fearless and spoke about ills in society. Now, in this 54th, when other people bring up issues from the larger society, I see Bhofal Chambers denying their communications on the floor. Today you were in session and you saw how session started. He doesn’t have control on the floor over his colleagues. I think it is because he is a member of the ruling party and he wants to protect the President even when he is going wrong. So, when issues coming from the Executive (branch) so the House can exercise oversight responsibility, he pays less attention to those things. Because of that, it is bringing split. Other lawmakers are not happy in the process because when there are issues of concerns within their constituents and when they bring it to the attention of the Plenary, the speaker will ignore them. The late Rep. Adolph Lawrence, Reps. Yekeh Kolubah and Larry Younquoi are some of the lawmakers whose communications have been denied by the Speaker. This is the reasons the agenda of the House can’t be rich. He protects the Executive branch so much that issues that supposed to be discussed in open plenary are done behind closed doors. It’s time for him to change his leadership style.”

Lincoln Barcon, Independent Inquirer

“I have been here for about a year now.  And I think the leadership style of Speaker Chambers is a bad one. And it is leading this government into lots of criticisms. If the government is going the wrong way and other lawmakers observe, I think it is necessary for the government officials in the Executive to be invited so that they can provide clarity on their functions. But Speaker Chambers who used to be one of those tough-talking lawmakers during the Ellen’s regime (former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf), to the extent where he used profane languages, and disobeyed the ex-president at a particular function where he refused to shake the hands of the then President’s hands. But today, Speaker Chambers is like the main defender of the government as you can see and looking at the way he performs during session. When lawmakers present their communications, Speaker Chambers denies them for no reason. And some of those communications are in the interest of the Liberian people. So, I think the way he is proceeding is wrong and he needs to change his leadership style and give those lawmakers who were elected by their constituents the opportunity to speak during sessions. If he doesn’t do that, the image of this government will damage and the people might go against the government.”

Jonah Freeman, Radio Maria

“Since the Speaker took over, he has been very good in most of his decisions as it relates to the issue of presiding over the leadership or exercising good leadership of the House of Representatives. What I observed since the resumption of the House of Representatives is, instead of some of the lawmakers focusing on their statutory responsibilities, they are taking personal issues to the Legislature and not doing the work of their people. Section 15 of the House’s Standing rule is clear: before an item enters the agenda it passes through the office of the Speaker and finally the Chief Clerk. It is not the Speaker that prepares the agenda, it is the Chief Clerk. Some of their arguments have been the Speaker always denies them to speak, but some of them including Rep. Yekeh Kolubah are always deviating from the main issues. I think the Speaker has been very holistic in presiding over the House of Representatives.”

Musa Kenneh, Truth FM & TV

“Rep. Bhofal Chambers came to the Legislature as Speaker with a level we all thought will be high. He came to the Speakership with high expectations from some of us who have known him for a very long time as a very vocal and critic of the former President. Controlling plenary was a problem and is still a problem. His performance is dismal as compared to former Speakers Alex Tyler and Emmanuel Nuquay. It beats my imagination to see the Speaker who for the past time has been seen as a champion of democracy, as a leader of free speech is now a man who is suppressing some of his colleagues from speaking out. For the past time lawmakers who have been accused of speaking against the Speaker have been placed under investigation. Reps. Nagbe Sloh and Yekeh Kolubah have been placed under formal investigation for speaking against the Speaker. And lawmakers, especially opposition lawmakers’ letters do not surface on the agenda. Speaker Chambers as opposition was given the opportunity to speak, his communications were placed on the floor; something that is completely different from what he is doing to members of the opposition. The decision for some lawmakers to resign from various committees, I think sends a clear message to the Speaker that it is time to return to the normal proceedings. It is time to exercise true democratic practices at the House, and it is time for true democracy to triumph over dictatorship.”

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