20 September 2006

Liberia: What Went Wrong in Passing Forestry Bill?

After months of lingering at the legislature, the National Forestry Reform Bill was yesterday passed, but four lawmakers are unsatisfied with the process that led to its passage, and urged Liberians not to consider it passed.

Representative George Mulbah of Bong County, Gabriel Smith of Grand Bassa County of Grand Bassa Kuku S. Dorbor of Montserrado County and Emmanuel J. Nuquay of Margibi County held a press conference last evening at a local restaurant in Monrovia to state their opposition to the passage of the bill.

The lawmakers said they took exception to the passage of the bill because of some ambiguity that needed clarification.

They claimed that before the motion for adjournment was put forth, those of them who had opposed certain portion in the bill filed a motion for reconsideration which was not honored by the Speaker Edwin Snowe, who presided over the session because of personal reasons.

Because of the manner in which the process that led to the passage of the bill was conducted, the four representatives said they do not consider the bill passed and called on Liberians and the international community not to honor it.

"We want the Liberian people to know that the forestry has not been passed. There is taint on it, and there is a motion for reconsideration that is hanging on it and we want the international community should not consider it as being passed," the lawmakers in separate statements indicated.

Stating reasons for their opposition, Representative George Mulbah said House Speaker Snowe was in the habit of "stage-managing" issues to suit his interest.

"It has now become a practice at the House of Representative that a debate of which we have the privilege to exercise our right is now being stage-managed by the Speaker of the House Edwin Snowe," he said.

According to him, free expression on issue is a cradle of democracy, adding that it has become a way of life for the Speaker to "direct and dictate the pace of issue on the floor." "The issue at bay is that we have a forestry bill which was acted upon by us, and we made some amendments for the operation of the bill and presented it the Senate for its concurrence. The senate made its position clear and sent it back to us, and a vote was taken on it. When the vote was taken, those of us who opposed the bill decided to utilize our rights under our rule which calls for a motion of reconsideration," Rep. Mulbah reflected on some of the reasons that sparked their opposition.

In this case, the Speaker has the right to consider the motion, he said but he failed to apply it.

The Bong County lawmaker alleged that the speaker is in the habit of calling for a motion of adjournment whenever he was not in favor of a particular motion.

According to him, in the wake of the shortcoming on the part of the Speaker to consider the motion that was announced during the session, the bill should not be considered passed unless the motion was heard.

He said anyone acting contrary to legitimate prescriptions as far as the process of passing a bill is concerned, such person will be contravening the law, adding that the bill was not passed and is considered null and void The four lawmakers said the trend they have taken is a testimony that Speaker Snowe can't and will not override them. We reject the action of the Speaker to deny us our motion, and we want to tell the Liberian people that we are not in the legislature to dance to whims and caprices of the Speaker.

Although the bill was passed by a majority vote as required by the rules therein, it is equally noted that whenever there is opposition and a motion of reconsideration is put forth, that motion must be given due attention.

Providing further clarification on why they think the bill should not be considered passed, Representative Gabriel Smith noted that they were only interested in ensuring that the interests of Liberians are protected, making reference to the 40% exclusive forest reverse for Liberians.

According to him, they have a duty to make sure that the interest of Liberians is given primary focus in their interactions and dealings.

When contacted via mobile phone minutes after the four lawmakers' allegation, Speaker Edwin Snowe said his colleagues have the right to exercise the franchise under the law. "There was a motion which was voted upon; people abstained. The record showed that they voted against the passage which is their right," he said.

According to him, he understands the concerns and frustrations of his colleagues, but clarified that the bill was passed in keeping with the rules and regulations governing of the House.

"Before the raise their motion, the motion for adjournment was already made. And under our law, the motion for adjournment is not debatable," he said.

He denied accusation made by his colleagues that he was in the habit of influencing certain things when they are not in the interest of Liberians. "I think the Liberian know that I stood for them, I stood for the interest of Liberia and I do not think that I will do anything against the interest of the Liberian people," he noted.

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