25 February 2014

Liberia: Individual or Liberia's Interest? Senate's Depoliticizing Spree

Monrovia — Barely three weeks after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf delivered her state of the nation's address urging members of the first branch of government to look beyond what she called 'narrow self-interests', it took the post war country a shock coupled with mix-reactions from several quarters when the members of the Liberian senate unanimously endorsed an act to amend certain provisions of the act establishing the Central Bank of Liberia, one of the nation's two economic principal managers.

The Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia and members of the Central Bank of Liberia and members of the Board of Governor shall be prohibited to contest any electable public office within three years consecutively after the expiration of their tenure with the Central Bank of Liberia. Landing in the House of Representatives, the proposed amendment took a '4G' trend of passage with just seven lawmakers in the opposite while over thirty others stood firmly to concord with the senate. Rep Thomas Fallah, Eugene Kparkar, Julius Berrien, Saah Joseph, Gabriel Smith and few other lawmakers rejected the passage of the amendment with some arguing that they never obtain a copy of the amendment to peruse it prior to the passage.

Just when the ball has finally rolled in President Sirleaf's cut to exercise her veto power, what could raise serious blow to towards the 2017 elections is on the verge of emerging at the Capitol.

A round of depoliticing measure by the senate barely weeks after the Legislature stamped and sealed amendments in certain provisions of the CBL act is expected to hit several government institutions shortly.

Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate, G. Milton Findley

Addressing reporters at his regular press briefing on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 in Monrovia, the President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate, G. Milton Findley disclosed that several heads of public entities are expected to be shortly banned from contesting political offices in Liberia.

Noting that the ban is not intended to witch hunt any public servant, Findley believes the heads will be given the opportunity to serve professionally and fearlessly, but without the intension to contest for political posts, while serving in government, adding that the affected heads will also have the chance to resign two years prior to vying for any electable positions in the land.

Findley went on to identify the National Elections Commission (NEC), General Auditing Commission (GAC), the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC), among others as institutions that will shortly face the weight of the Liberian senate.

Said Findley on Tuesday: "Those heads stand better chances to be elected due to huge influence they have on the larger society. The NEC Chairman has the ability to influence his colleagues when he resigns to contest for any elected position a year prior to the electioneering period in Liberia. "

"The Auditor General can use his/her influence to tarnish any one character on financial misconduct to be unpopular a few years to electioneering period, and subsequently submit the findings to the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission that will mandate the Justice Ministry for prosecution. "These professional institutions need technocrats and not heads who will use their positions to influence the public to be elected."

If approved by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the new amendment from the Liberian senate prohibits the Executive Governor and members of the board of governors from contesting any electable public office within three years consecutively after the expiration of their tenure with the CBL.

The banning of the Central Bank's Executive Governor and its board of governors from contesting public electable offices in the Senate's amendment to the CBL act has sparked grave debate in several quarters of the county with some vehemently frowning on the legislative action, terming it as "witch-hunting".

Political analysts continue to ponder why the National Legislature does not enact laws that affect the three branches of government, but rather acts that severely affect the executive and the judiciary excluding themselves.

"Look at the code of conduct bill that is currently before them. No one is talking about passing it into law, but they see an amendment in the CBL act as the right instrument to deal with right now. They see the code of conduct as an obstacle because it covers every sector of the government," James Jackson, a political analyst observes.

Many Liberians believe that the Legislature's action was an attempt to protect the interest of one of its members who is poised to contest the nation's presidency while barricading CBL governor Mills Jones who has not publicly declare ambition to eye the Liberian presidency.

But others suppose that the House was on the right trajectory to concord with the senate so as to safeguard the post war nation's national treasury from any danger amid Jones persistent loan scheme to market women. Two key officials of the national Legislature are said to be galvanizing modalities to win Sirleaf's endorsement to carry on her legacy after 2017.

House Speaker J. Alex Tyler

Vice President Joseph Boakai and House Speaker J. Alex Tyler has not publicly declared ambition for the presidency after Sirleaf's departure; either of the two is likely to surface as Presidential candidate comes 2017.

With every eye still looking up to the executive mansion who will decide the next course of action on the proposed amendment, to upper house continue to receive unbending criticism from the public, prominent institutions and figures along with supporters of the CBL governor on the action by the august body.

In a FrontPageAfrica interview Wednesday afternoon on the grounds of the Temple of Justice in Monrovia, veteran human rights lawyer Cll. Tiawan Saye Gongloe sees the decision of the lawmakers against the CBL governor and the board of governors as "discriminatory and a complete breach of Article 11 section (C) of the Liberian constitution.

Said Gongloe: "The Constitution states that all persons are equal before the law and therefore entitled to equal protection under the law. "Laws should not be discriminatory, laws should be for all"

When Lawmakers breach the constitution, the citizens have the right to take the issue to court. "The control and supply of money in the country are the sole priority of the Central Bank."

Gongloe believes that the lawmakers should have removed the portion of the Act that allows the Central Bank to provide loans from the country's reserve since the dishing out of loans by the Central Bank is causing uneasiness.

Continue the human rights lawyer: "Let us revamp the Agricultural Bank and mandate it to provide loans. The action taken by the Lawmakers should have been extended to all public institutions and not only the CBL. "

"What will happen when the Maritime Commissioner announces that he will provide fishing boats to all fishermen in the country from Cape Mount to Maryland Counties? Will the Lawmakers say the Commissioner is politicking and amend an act creating the Maritime Authority?"

In a strong-worded statement issued in Monrovia last week, the Labour Congress views the Senate's action as "troubling and unhealthy for the nation's emerging democracy.

Said the labour congress: "While the National Legislature may have a different understanding of the CBL Loan Program, we believe it is intended to stimulate growth in the economy by giving loans to ordinary Liberians who do not have the capacity to obtain them from financial and banking institutions that have high interest rates and collateral."

Even media instructions have not hidden their frustration about the senate's latest action. Wrote the Daily Observer in an editorial piece a day after the senate endorsed the amendment:

"It is clear that members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, some of whom may have political ambitions of their own, are petrified at the prospect of Dr. J. Mills Jones is running for President. What Dr. Jones has done for the Liberian economy in empowering Liberian businesses has made him a rising star. "

"But instead of strategizing to compete and win or lose honorably on substance (issues), the cowardly legislators have chosen to attempt to disqualify him - albeit unconstitutionally - so as not to have to compete with him man to man."

"The law being proposed by the Senate MUST be vigorously and successfully resisted. Every conscientious and patriotic Liberian and the entire Civil Society must get involved in challenging, in the Supreme Court, the Senate's shameful and cowardly act."


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