22 July 2013

Liberia: Political Parties Sustainability Bill Stuck

The whereabouts of the Political Parties Sustainability Bill sometimes ago passed by the National Legislature remained unknown to date as it is yet to reach the desk of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who has to sign it before it becomes law when it is printed into handbills.

Originated from the House of Representatives, the Liberian Senate on May 30, 2013 concurred to pass the Bill which seeks to strengthen political parties that score set voting percentage with about US$2 Million dollars.

The passage of the bill sparked overriding public anxiety and uproar to some extent that members of the Legislature were chastised as not being concerned about the well-being of the nation which is dire of total transformation at all levels of its existence.

According to its opponents, lawmakers were wastefully putting tax-payers' money in the hands of politicians who do not have the country at heart but only seek their personal uplipftment, sternly arguing that it was offensive to give tax-payers' money to greedy politicians instead of directing same to national development projects that benefit everyone.

But since the passage of the Bill despite strong opposition from within and out, it is yet to be forwarded to the office of President Sirleaf, thus raising questions.

Normal legislative procedures required that a committee of members of the either the Senate or Representatives, the last to concur with the other, headed by the Chairman on Executives takes the bill to the president for her perusal, and if possible or signature or rejection.

The whereabouts of the bill formed part of discussions held between President Sirleaf and a five-member delegation of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), a body of sainted men and women from diverse religious denominations.

During their visit on July 20 to update the president on the organization's operations, the issue of the political party sustainability bill was put on the table of discussion.

On behalf of the delegation, Episcopal Bishop Jonathan B.B. Hart told the Liberian leader wanted to know the status of the political parties bill.

The LCC is of the view that the President should exercise caution on this Bill; that with so many pressing national needs requiring funding, it was difficult to justify what would be achieved by giving US$2 million annually to political parties.

It had been widely rumored that it was the president who was not interested in signing the bill, perhaps in response to numerous calls from cross sections of Liberians including civil society groupings.

But in her response the President told the delegation that the Bill was yet to reach her desk, saying that she understood that there were two different versions that needed to be reconciled in conference, but did not single out the two different versions that needed reconciliation.

"It never reached us, and yet I understand one of the Senators has claimed that the Bill has passed because of my failure to sign it within 21 days. It's not true; it never did reach me," the president is quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Executive Mansion at the weekend.

Without completely sweeping or brushing aside the idea of giving political parties money to sustain themselves, the President conceded that the situation was not unique to Liberia, but was quick to note some apparent hiccups.

"There are countries that give money to political institutions; however, in the case of Liberia, much work needed to be done to develop such institutions. Liberia has political personalities," she noted.

"Establishing political institutions would require a membership that contributes to the party."

In the view of the president, political parties, in principle, can get support, using the experience of other countries, but there are certain conditions that must pertain before such support can materialize.

"There was also a constitutional issue, wherein the Constitution states that you cannot make a law retroactive, while supporters of the legislation want it to go back to 2011. Whatever bill is finally agreed upon will have to relate to the 2014 or 2017 elections. Another issue with the Bill is that it ignores Independent candidates altogether," the statement said.

With these juxtapositions emanating from the propositions of the Bill, pundits are beginning to hint that the bill may not go through the office of the president unless certain conditions are imbedded.

But whether it is because of some of the issues highlighted by the president that the Bill remains stocked at the Legislature, or reasons far from her views, many are concerned about the status of the Bill for which Liberians are so much divided in opinion.

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