27 May 2014

Liberia: Ellen Dumps Mills Jones

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has finally signed into law the controversial amended Central Bank of Liberia Act prohibiting the bank's Governor and board members from contesting political office (s) while serving in their respective positions.

Speaking on a local radio talk show yesterday, Presidential Press Secretary Jerolinmek Piah said, "there is one thing I can say to you for a fact. And that is, the President has signed the amended Central Bank Act into law." Although Piah did not give details, he mentioned that the legislation is awaiting printing into a handbill. The Legislature recently voted to amend several sections of the CBL Act, with section 17 of the amended Act providing that, "The Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia and member of the Board of Governors shall be prohibited to contest political office (s) while serving in the respective offices and shall not be qualified to contest any electable office within three years consecutive after the expiration of their tenure and in his/her resignation from the Central Bank of Liberia." The move by the Senate and House of Representatives followed a raging debate over whether the CBL Governor was using the national reserve to dish out millions of dollars to small-scale traders in the country. There were unconfirmed reports that the Governor was engaged in political ventures.

"He has confided in some of his allies that he wants to become President," one lawmaker said during the debate. "This is why everywhere he goes he takes calendars, key holders and promotion materials bearing his pictures with him; lest to mention his unbelievable spending from our country's reserve. We will not sit and allow people use our country's resources to the benefit of him and his family." However, the overwhelming passage of the Act by both Houses triggered angry reaction from civil society group condemning lawmakers and dragging them to court.

Carrying placards and banners, hundreds of Liberians believed to be supporters of Central Bank Governor Mills Jones, blocked entrances of the Capitol Building in protest. Standing in the blazing sun for hours, the protesters described the passage of the ACT as unconstitutional and called on the President not to sign it into law. They cited Article 21 (a) of the Liberian Constitution which states: "No person shall be made subject to any law or punishment which was not in effect at the time of commission of an offense, nor shall the Legislature enact any bill of attainder or ex post facto law."

The group headed at the time by Mr. James Brooks, Chairman of the National Citizens Solidarity Council, also cited Article 18 of the Constitution which also states; "All Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and all shall be entitled to equal pay for equal work." As the debate raged, the Central Bank Governor later broke silence on the matter, denying that the bank was using the national treasury to dish out money to Liberians. "The Central Bank is not doing anything strange, except that the Bank is breaking new paths in the Liberian economy."

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