4 July 2012

Liberia: Dinner Party

Members of the House of Representatives Tuesday took an unprecedented move yielding to the request of Finance Minister Amara Konneh for a joint working luncheon with the Senate over the US$649.72 million draft budget still pending at the 53rd legislature.

In a letter dated 3 July 2012 to the House of Representatives, Minister Konneh requested the joint budget-working luncheon with the House of Senate.

The communication, read at the plenary of the House, quoted Minister Konneh as citing preliminary consultation and the enhancement of the ministry's relationship with members of the Legislative Branch of government as reasons for his communication.

"Dear Hon. Tyler, I have the honor to present my compliments and respectfully request a joint working lunch on the budget with the House and the Senate's Ways, Means and Finance Committee on Wednesday, July 4, 2012, 12:30 pm in the conference room of the House of Representatives."

"The purpose of the meeting is to debate the joint committee in a preliminary consultation on the draft national budget recently submitted to the National Legislature, and to enhance the Ministry of Finance's relationship with the members of the joint committee," a portion the letter said.

During a heated debate on the matter, Rep. Thomas Fallah (Montserrado) argued that despite coordination and collaboration between the both Houses the letter should be discussed separately rather than in a combined session as proposed by Mr. Konneh.

"In my mind, I think we should have a distinct function. That is, you work with the House of Representatives exclusively and the House of Senate exclusively, other than asking both Houses to have a joint lunch session. I believe that the communication is in good fate; but I think the both Houses should do their meetings exclusively and I think we can still achieve the same goal," Rep. Fallah insisted.

But Rep. Gabriel Smith(Grand Bassa) described the proposed joint budget luncheon as a clear violation of article view 34 (d 1) of the Liberian constitution.

"I don't think we should jointly discuss the issue of the budget with the Senate. This will be a violation of article 34 (d 1) of the Liberian constitution, which states, "All revenue bills, whether subsidies charges input duties or other financial matters, shall originate in the House of Representatives."

Rep. Edwin M. Snowe, Jr. (Montserrado), urged his colleagues to agree on grounds that such meeting was in the "spirit of coordination and collaboration".

However, Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue, who presided on Tuesday, announced a secret session to continue the debate that lasted for another hour.

A motion was later adopted for acceptance of the letter from the Finance Minister in its totality, and that the lunch takes place Wednesday, following which the Committee on Ways, Means and Finance and the leadership brief plenary on the outcome of the meeting during Thursday's session."

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