6 June 2014

Liberia: Heading for Trouble? Weeks At Risk of Facing Legislative Contempt

Photo: FrontPage Africa
Ministry of Public Works Minister Madame Antoinette Weeks

Monrovia — Like Madam Mary Broh, former Acting City Mayor of Monrovia and former Superintendent Grace T. Kpaan both of whom were held in legislative contempt with a vote of no confidence handed the pair by the House of Representatives, resulting into the exit from their positions, Public Works Minister Antoinette weeks is at risk of facing a similar fate as the House of Senate is requesting the Minister to appear with her legal counsel to show cause why she should not be held for legislative contempt.

Though it has been a debatable issue in Liberia over the years, specifically as regards what amounts to legislative contempt, but members of the National Legislature have used legislative contempt to seek the removal of officials from the Executive Branch of government whom they deem uncooperative.

During day two of the appearance of the under pressure Minister before the Senate, Senator Armah Jallah (Gbarpolu County, National Patriotic Party) requested the plenary of the senate to endorse his suggestion for the Minister to show up on next Tuesday, accompanied by her lawyer to show cause why she must not be held in legislative contempt for impeding legislative functions.

"Mr. Presiding and colleagues of the senate, I move that the Minister of Public works re-appears next week Tuesday with her lawyer to give reasons why she should not be held in contempt for impeding legislative function", said Senator Jallah.

In endorsing the motion by Senator Jallah, the lawmakers voted 13 for, 1 abstention and one against but it took a motion of reconsideration filed by Senator Alphonso Gaye (Grand Gedeh County- to calm the situation provided the senator follow-up his motion in writing in keeping with the senate standing rules. The architect of the motion for reconsideration, Senator Gaye contends that the Senate Committee on Public Works has not officially written plenary complaining about the failure of the Minister to comply with the committee in the discharge of its duties.

In recent days Minister Weeks has become the highly discussed official of government facing inquiry from the National Legislature with both the House of Senate and the House of Representatives citing her to provide explanations for the stagnant state of road construction across the country. On Thursday, Weeks was requested to return on Tuesday along with her legal counsel to face further questioning as to why she should not be held in legislative contempt for impeding the work of the first branch of Government.

Failure to oblige

Senator Oscar Cooper (Margibi County, Unity Party), head of the Senate Committee of Public Works during deliberation Thursday said Minister Weeks on the numerous occasions failed to respond to communications from the committee seeking information on the status of road construction. Some Senators, including Dan Morais (Maryland, National Patriotic Party) complained that Minister Weeks failed to meet senators who requested a meeting with her, insisting through her office assistant that she needed appointment before meeting some of the lawmakers.

Motion to be tested

In keeping with the standing rules of the Liberian Senate, the motion for reconsideration announced by Senator Gaye will have to be tested during the next sitting of the body and disposed of.

Rule 34, motion to reconsider, section 1of the senate rule states "A motion to reconsider any question decided by the Senate may be made by any Senator who voted on the original question, provided, however, that such motion shall be made on the same day on which the vote to be reconsidered was taken. Such a motion may also be filed within the next three succeeding sitting days provided, however, that the mover gives notice of the filing of that motion on the day the decision was taken".

Amid high public sentiments against Minister Weeks due to the poor state of roads in the country, the senators in keeping with their rules will have to either reconsider or reaffirm the first decision for the Minister to appear with her lawyer.

Section 2 of Rule 34 of the Senate rule states "If the Senate refuses to reconsider the question, or if upon reconsideration the Senate affirms its first decision, no further motion to reconsider shall be in order. A motion to reconsider shall be deemed a privileged motion and shall require two-thirds vote of Senators present. A motion for reconsideration shall be deemed as a stay order on the original question against which it is filed. No action shall be taken on the original question until the motion for reconsideration has been considered and disposed of".

Minister Weeks earlier on Tuesday appeared before the Senate, where she was quizzed by the lawmakers on the delay in project implementation, but shifted the blame at her predecessor saying that she inherited a nightmare at the Ministry of Public works.

"The issues senator Coleman raised is a nightmare that we have inherited and we need to find a way to deal with it. One of the nightmares Senator Coleman alluded to is how we address the issue of the contractors", said Weeks. But some lawmakers, including Senator Geraldine Doe Sheriff called on the Minister to resign her post if the problems at the Ministry are complex for her to handle.

Weeks' woes, from senate to House

Minister Weeks' problems seem complex as while she will be awaiting the outcome of the Senate decision in testing the motion for reconsideration, she will not rest in answering queries at the Capitol with an appearance before the House of Representatives on Tuesday. In a statement issued the House of Representatives announced that Minister Weeks will appear before the body on Tuesday.

"Minister Antoinette Weeks has been rescheduled to appear before Members of the House Tuesday, June 10, 2014, to address a number of concerns raised by the House's Joint Committee on Public Works and Contract & Monopoly", the statement from the House of Representatives stated.

According to the body, the rescheduling of Madam Weeks was granted by plenary on June 3 during its 33rd day sitting following a communication written by the minister requesting the House Plenary to extend her appearance from Tuesday, June 3 to June 10, 2014 in order to better prepare her to effectively address concerns raised by the House Joint Committee.

The House of Representatives Joint Committee on Tuesday, May, 12 recommended that the Minister should appear along with the Minister of Finance after it expressed reservation about the poor quality of roads and other infrastructural projects across the country and the questionable manner in which contracts are given out to contractors.

Twenty contracts outside PPCC standards

An investigation conducted by the House Joint Committee disclosed that twenty (20) contracts the Ministry of Public Works awarded to contractors for road rehabilitation did not meet the required standard set by the Public Procurement Concession Commission, as a result, road construction in the country often meet zero compliance.

The Legislative committee stated in the report that all Public Works contracts covering the period, 2011-2014 have been based on a single source without competitive bidding as required by law thereby undermining the doctrine of comparative advantage of quality works. Minister Weeks replaced Atty. Samuel K. Woods, whose administration of the Ministry of Public Works presided over the construction and completion of several roads including the Caldwell Road, Samuel K. Doe Boulevard and other roads across the country.

Pundits believe the Minister might not have an easy task facing the House of Representatives as in the past several other officials of the government have faced the toughest of time at the House of Representatives. Former Mayor Broh and Montserrado Superintendent Kpan have been on the wrong side of history with the House of Representatives as they suffered a vote of no confidence from the body.

The body ordered the imprisonment of Superintendent Kpan but accordingly Madam Broh obstructed, resulting in the casting of a vote of no confidence against the two. The House of Representatives further mandated the Sergeant -At-Arms of the body to arrest Madam Broh and Kpan and take them to prison. Under pressure the pair resigned and Broh later took the matter to the Supreme Court where she won the case against the House Representatives.

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