7 March 2014

Liberia: Protesters Storm Capitol Building Over CBL Amended Bill

Thousands of Liberians in support of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) on Thursday, March 6, 2014 stormed the Capitol Building to present a petition, calling on members of the 53rd Legislature to reconsider their decision taken to amend the 1999 act that created the CBL.

The Capitol Building is the seat of the Liberian Legislature.

The pro-CBL protesters were seen in a jubilant mood before the main entrance of the Capitol Building chanting slogans like: "That Modern Slavery, It Will Not Hold! You Are In Error! Ellen Don't Sign It! Don't Target One Person! Stop The Evil!" amongst others.

They were also seen holding placards with the inscriptions: "The Anti-CBL Bill Is Evil! We Love Dr. J. Mills Jones; Do Not Harm Him! Lawmakers Do Not Strangulate The CBL! Liberians Say No To Satanic Law! We Don't Support So-Called Bill! We Say No To The 4G Amended Bill!"

The event attracted several onlookers and passers-by due to the huge number of persons who had assembled before the Capitol Building.

The event also led to the congestion of traffic on the Capitol Bye-Pass route before the Executive Mansion for several hours.

The pro-CBL supporters, who included marketers, elderly women and men, university students, and youths, amongst others, came from across Monrovia and other parts of the country.

Officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) were on the scene to ensure that things did not go out of hand.

It could be recalled that on Tuesday, February 18, the House of Representatives concurred with the Senate in passing the amended CBL act, amid heated debate and public outcry.

Among other things, the amended CBL act prevents the Executive Governor of the CBL and members of the Board of Governors from contesting political offices, while serving in their respective offices.

The reasons for the amendment of the CBL act, according to the framers, include: gross breach of duty, misconduct in office, conviction for felony and being declared bankrupt, among others. But many Liberians had since described the reasons provided by the Legislature as a "calculated ploy" intended to 'witch-hunt' a specific individual at the CBL, an assertion majority of the lawmakers had rejected. Majority members of the House of Representatives said it was necessary that they urgently pass the Act without delay because it is intended to depoliticize the CBL

On the other hand, the minority lawmakers, including the Chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Currency, Representative Julius Berrian, expressed serious disappointment over the manner and form in which the amended CBL Act was fast tracked. Rep. Berrian averred that they (minority lawmakers) were denied expressing opposition against what they called the speedy passage of the document. According to him, majority of his colleagues (lawmakers) went "contrary" to Rule 63.1 of the House of Representatives Standing Rules and Regulations.

He quoted the rule as saying that: "In terms of concurrence on a bill from the House of Senate, a 24-hour notice should be given to every lawmaker in the House of Representatives, prior to the passage of that bill."

But to the contrary, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) lawmaker pointed out that no copy of the bill was distributed to any representative, prior to the introduction of the bill for discussion.

Rep. Berrian maintained that the bill should have been sent to the relevant committee to come up with findings and make a report to plenary within a specific time frame in line with 'normal legislative proceeding'.

Plenary is the highest decision making body of the House of Representatives.

He added: "This is a constitutional issue; the constitution is very clear on who should contest or who do not contest."

The amended bill has to be endorsed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf before it becomes law.

Accordingly, the pro-CBL supporters described the bill passed by the lawmakers as "discriminatory", saying it is intended to please a "selective few."

They stated that the bill is also in total "violation of the Liberian constitution."

The constitution is regarded as the organic law of the land.

The pro-CBL supporters noted that "laws or policies must be made to suit the majority", and therefore, the "4G passage" of the bill does not mean well for Liberia and its citizens.

Speaking in an interview with reporters, the President of the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU), Anthony Williams, said the "bill will affect a greater number of the Liberian populace when it (bill) is signed into law" by President Johnson-Sirleaf.

He said the bill appears to "antagonize" the current CBL Executive Governor, Dr. J. Mills Jones and the Board of Governors of the bank.

He stated that the CBL bill is not only about the current executives of the bank, but also "all universities students that are reading Accounting, Public Administration, and Economics."

"Laws should be holistic. If the lawmakers point is to depoliticize the CBL than, what's happening to the Liberia Maritime Authority and the Ministry of Finance? This bill is very insensitive.

If this bill is signed tomorrow by the President and I want to become the next bank governor; you are telling me that three years I should resign prior to the election. This is unreasonable and unacceptable," he stated.

According to him, the students community will "challenge the bill at the court" if it is signed into law by the Liberian Chief Executive.

"We are here for the lawmakers to have second thought and reverse their earlier decision taken to amend the CBL act. There are so many ways we can petition our lawmakers. This is why we are here to express our grievances and anything on the contrary, we will go to the court," he added.

Also speaking, an elderly woman believed to be in her 60s, expressed fear that the passage of the bill by the Legislature would lead to "fighting" in the country.

The lady, identified as Ma Betty, said the loan scheme being embarked upon by the CBL is a "good thing for us the poor, poor people."

She said the loan program has helped many Liberians to become self-dependence, and therefore, "nobody should go against it."

However, several Liberians, who were also seen with placards, expressed their support for the passage of the bill.

Although they (protesters in favor of the passage of the bill) were not many, they were also seen chanting slogans like: "Pay Agents Go Home! Thank You Lawmakers!" amongst others.

According to the spokesperson of the group, Mr. Archie I. Sarnor, the bill is "intended to protect the public coffers."

He stated that Liberians must concentrate on other things to do to improve their lives instead of "getting into the streets to protest against the bill."

Meanwhile, the petition from those against the CBL bill, according to report gathered by this paper, could not be presented to the lawmakers on yesterday because Tuesdays and Thursdays are session days which do not allow them to receive petition from petitioners.

However, the report added, the petitioners were told that their petition will be receive today, Friday since it is not one of the session days.

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