20 November 2012

Liberia: Making Normality in Government an Indispensable Tool


It is a disheartening fact that relations currently existing between the Lower Chamber of the bicameral Legislature and the Executive is far from normal, prompting Chief Zanzan Karwah, chair of the Traditional Council of Liberia, to initiative mediation between the Mansion and the Capitol Building. The root cause of the discontent is very clear: money. It started when the multiyear fiscal budget landed a month late at the House of Representatives, who saying they were not in a hurry, later dissected it and captured additional US$20 million, which increased the figure to US$672 million before passing it.

As lawmakers praised themselves for being meticulous in capturing additional financial resources during the budgetary process, public outcry quickly drowned their euphoria accusing them of increasing their perks and US dollar allowances and other benefits that summed into hefty amounts while not a cent was added to the salaries of civil servants.

Without commenting on this crucial development at home, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made public her stance during a fundraising program in New York. After foreign journalists asked for clarification about reported hefty financial benefits enjoyed by Liberian legislators, she bluntly replied: "They took it; they were not given it. Her assertion prompted Speaker Alex Tyler to allude that the President acquiesced because if she had been against it (the budget allocation to the legislature), she had the veto to block it.

But Speaker Tyler elevated his statement by demanding a retraction by the President, which she has so far been reluctant to do despite the Speaker insisting, "No one person is above the country."

After sensing the emerging trend as being dangerous for our infant democracy, can Chief Karwah succeed in using palaver hut mediation to diffuse the apparent full scale bad blood brewing between the House of Representatives and the Executive? The President sees a neutral ground as proper place for the mediation; but the Speaker insists the Capitol, or seat of the legislature, as most appropriate.

But could this matter have been laid to rest if the President, despite her strong belief in the assertion she made in New York last September, had withdrawn her statement. But why? All citizens are supposed to take Presidential pronouncements seriously, and withdrawal of such can only lead to eroding confidence in her leadership and authority. Now, after crossing the first hurdle of getting both sides to agree to talk, Chief Karwah's next headache is to convince them to accept a suitable venue to iron out their differences.

It is noteworthy to recall that landmark decisions in the world become colorful and historic when they are made in overlooked towns or cities like the example of Sanniquellie, Nimba county, where three African leaders met and laid the cornerstone of the OAU in 1959. So, the present homework for Chief Karwah and his mediation team is to cleverly move quickly to convince both parties to agree to meet in seclusion somewhere in Liberia to put this ugly past behind the Executive and the House of Representatives before the legislature reopens next January.

Though Chief Karwah's initiative is not unprecedented, we hail his concern and urge the Executive and Legislative branches of government to uphold commonality as the hallmark of their functions in serving the Liberian people as mandated by the constitution.

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