22 September 2006

Liberia: Forestry Bill Causes Stir in the House

Since the passage of the Forestry Bill about three days ago, there has not been any genuine tranquility between those who opposed and favored the passage. But the situation almost went out of hands during Thursday's session. Our legislative reporter detailed the seemingly destructive issue.

Legislative sessions are always characterized by tension, argument and some time invectives between and among lawmakers who then tried to push their interest, but yesterday session of the Lower House went beyond that.

Legislators who favored and opposed the passage of the bill came to the point of fist fight and accused each other of their seeking individual interest by not observing the rules that govern the body.

Several lawmakers detested the manner in which the forestry bill was passed by the body. The argument disrupted the entire session for almost an hour to the point where Speaker Edwin Snowe lost control.

The new Forestry Bill was submitted to the Legislature by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for passage into law. The international community led by the United Nations has been pushing for forest reform as a condition for the lifting of sanctions on the timber industry.

It may recalled that the UN Secretary Council imposed sanctions on country's diamond and timber industries in 2003 during the regime of President Taylor on grounds that proceeds from the sale of sectors were not benefiting the nation and its people.

About two months ago, the world body however gave the government of Liberia 90-day ultimatum to pass a new legislation on the new forestry, or forfeit the lifting of sanction on the country.

The Lower House reviewed the document and made some amendments which it felt was in the interest of the country and its needy citizens. The house particularly set aside 40% of the commercial forest for Liberians and then sent it to the Upper House (Senate) for its concurrence.

After reviewing the document, the Upper House stretched out the 40% forest reverse for Liberians by not concurring with the Lower House and both houses eventually passed the bill.

On the day the bill was, some lawmakers from the Lower House filed a motion of reconsideration in keeping with rules governing the body. They contended that the 40% be maintained In their motion, Margibi Representative Emmanuel Nuquay and Montserrado County Representative Kuku Dorbor, opponents of the bill, noted that the House's version was a form of conservation taking into consideration that Liberian loggers might not have the capacity to deplete the forest as foreign loggers.

The two lawmakers said that the House version of the Bill seeks to exclusively set aside 40% of the commercial forest geographically for Liberian loggers.

They alleged that the decision of the House Plenary was not erroneously made. According to them, it was unacceptable for anyone to coerce them to accept a version that runs contrary to the desire of the people they represent.

In its amendment, the Senate calls for of 51% ownership shares, awarding of forest contract to foreigners without Liberian ownership forced upon them. However, the lawmakers in their position observed that if such portion was maintained, it would lead to the speedy depletion of the country's forest.

When the Chief Clerk was asked by the Speaker to read the two lawmakers motion of reconsideration on the floor, some lawmakers argued that the motion should not be read, as the bill as already been passed describing such Bill as meaningless.

The two lawmakers buttressed by other colleagues reminded their colleagues what the house's standing rules are. The rules call for the reading of any motion of reconsideration and it is to be debated.

The opposing lawmakers said the refusal of House Speaker Edwin Snowe and others to allow the motion put on the floor for discussion was a complete violation of the rules and also "a bad precedence that was reeling its head in the house.

However, Grand Bassa County Representative Gabriel Smith later made a motion that the motion reconsideration earlier filed be adopted and opened for discussion.

But the lawmakers voted against the motion: 25 persons voted against, 7 voted for while 3 abstained.

Speaker Snowe told group of legislative reporters that the decision of the House Plenary to pass the Bill was irreversible as the president, the vice president; the senate including himself had already signed the document.

Some Lawmakers accused the Speaker as stage managing the bill. According to them, the passage of the bill was not in the interest of the Liberian people, but intended to satisfy the UN in order to lift the traveling ban on him (Snowe).

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