Liberia: Lawmaker Wants President Weah Declare State of Emergency to Avoid By-elections

Rep. Dixon Wlawee Seiboe of Montserrado District #16 wants President Weah to declare a state of emergency to avoid all by-elections that will come after July 2, 2019

Capitol Hill, Monrovia – A communication from Rep. Dixon Wlawee Seiboe (Montserrado District #16) seeking the indulgence of the House of Representatives to request President Weah declare a state of emergency has been greeted with mixed reactions among lawmakers in plenary.

Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]

In his communication, Rep. Seiboe said the state of emergency, when declared will lead to a joint resolution from the Legislature to postponed all other by-elections after the planned July 2 polls to save the state from incurring huge expenses in the wake of the economic challenges.

Rep. Seiboe crafted the communication in the wake of the death of Grand Cape Mount County’s Senior Senator, Edward B. Dagoseh from a protracted illness.

According to Rep. Seibo, just as former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency in the wake of the 2014 Ebola outbreak that led to the postponement of the mid-term elections at that time, President Weah should be requested to declare an economic emergency to pause all other ensuing by-elections until the 2020 midterm elections.

Rep. Seiboe writes: “Honorable Speaker, Hon. Deputy Speaker, fellow colleagues, based on the provisions quoted above and considering the pronounced economic squeeze the country is enduring as even stated in the President’s latest speech, I write to request that we as deputies of the people ask the President of the Republic to declare economic emergency, which will thereafter lead to a resolution from the Legislature, for the sole purpose of postponing all other by-elections that have been or may be due after already scheduled July 2, 2019 by-elections, until the 2010 mid-term elections.”

His communication, following lengthy deliberations, was sent to the Committees on Judiciary, Elections and Inauguration, and Ways Means, Finance and Development Planning to review and report within two weeks. 

However, before plenary’s decision, Rep. Seiboe’s communication received mixed views as some lawmakers argued that the move will be unconstitutional.

Rep. Robert Flomo Womba (UP, Bong District #4) opposed Rep. Seiboe’s suggestion on grounds that it there is no genuine reason for a state of emergency

Rep. Robert Flomo Womba (UP, Bong District #4) differs on grounds that the country’s economic challenges have not reached a crisis point to warrant a state of emergency that will not just give the President sweeping powers, but deprive a segment of the population representation at the Legislature.

In Rep. Womba’s arguments on the floor, he noted that declaring a state of emergency lies within the purview of the Executive branch with approval from the Legislature.

“The Legislature will be in error if it petitions the President to declare a state of emergency with the intent of cancelling by-elections,” he stated.

Rep. Jeremiah Koon (Nimba, District #1) suggested that the resolution should target particular election(s) and under certain circumstances; not all other by-elections leading to the 2020 midterm elections as he puts it: “One does not know what the future holds.”  

According to Rep. Koon, if Rep. Seibo’s suggestion becomes a law, there could be a possibility for the legislature to cease to function in the wake of resignations or deaths of majority members in any of the Houses Representatives and Senate.

Rep. Koon’s argument was based on the law that prohibits a legislative function in the absence of a majority member of either Houses. 

Rep. Ben A. Fofana (Margibi District #4) agreed that although the government is grappling with some economic challenges, but questioned to what extent does it warrant a state of emergency.

He vowed to vote against any decision as it will not be prudent for the Legislature to crave the Executive for a state of emergency. 

Montserrado County District #8 Rep. Acarous M. Gray backs the idea of a state of emergency to extend all by-elections after July 2, 2019 to 2020 midterm polls

Proffering his argument on the floor, Rep. Acarous Gray (Montserrado County District #8) pledged his support to Rep. Seiboe’s communication and noted that if the state of emergency is declared, the Legislature can take cue from the decision of 2014 to draw up a resolution to extend all other by-elections after July 2.

According to him, the fact that lawmakers and other public officials are not receiving some of their benefits show that there is economic crisis; hence a state of emergency was needed. 

For his part, Sinoe County District #3 Rep. Matthew Zarzar suggested for the Legislature to copy a clause in the United States’ Constitution which gives powers to State Governors to appoint an acting lawmaker in the wake of vacant seat until regular elections are held.

According to him, crafting of a similar law to give authority to Superintendents to appoint acting lawmaker of a particular constituent within their respective counties in the event of death, resignation or impeachment until a regular election, will stop the multiple by-elections as being experienced of late.

Meanwhile, Senator Dagoseh’s death brings to three, the number of lawmakers who have died from the 54th Legislature in 2019.

The deaths of Senator Geraldine Doe-Sherrif and Representative Adolph Lawrence of Montserrado County District #15 in February and March respectively have triggered Senatorial and Representative By-elections which has been scheduled for July 2, 2019.

However, the Chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Cllr. Jerome Korkoya has hinted at a possibility of the elections not holding on the July 2, 2019 owing to the delay of the government to disburse the funding for the exercise.

At a press conference recently, Chairman Korkoya announced that if all election materials are not procured and brought to Liberia by June 30, 2019, NEC will be left with no alternative but to cancel the elections and revert to the Legislature for a way forward.