20 May 2019

Liberia: House Activities Under Speaker Chambers Are 'Illegal, Unconstitutional'

-- Independent Legislative Caucus charges

Representative Larry P. Younquoi (Nimba #8) caused a short-lived, but awkward scene in Thursday, May 16, 2019 session, protesting what he termed as the deliberate refusal of House Speaker Bhofal Chamber to allow his communication, questioning the unconstitutional reshuffling of members of various committees, to be discussed by the full Plenary -- the highest decision making body of the House of Representatives.

Rep. Younquoi is the chairman of the Independent Legislative Caucus (ILC), whose fiery outburst nearly led to his ejection from session when his amendment to include his communication to form part of Thursday's agenda was dismissed by Bong County District #3 Representative Melvin Cole.

Cole proffered the motion that all the items on the agenda should be used as 'working tools' for the business of the day, which marks the the 30th day sitting of the 2nd session of the House of Representatives.

In wake of the ensuing confusion, Rep. Youngquoi rushed into his Capitol Building office, and informed scores of journalists that the activities of the House under the leadership of Speaker Chambers are "illegal, unconstitutional, and the bills and protocols, which have been enacted or ratified, can be debated in court."

He argued that the reshuffle of committees of the House after one year and four months, runs contrary to Rule #54 of that august body.

Rule #54 of the procedures of the House states, "54.1: All committee chairpersons and members shall serve for three years, but only the chairperson and co-chairperson are subject to removal by a two-thirds majority vote of the members of the House for a cause; 54.2; Should the chairperson of any committee for any cause cease to serve, it shall be the duty of the Speaker to appoint a new chairperson in consultation with the leadership of the House; and 54.3: In the case of temporary absence of a chairperson of a committee, the co-chairperson shall take over until the chairperson proper returns to duty."

It may be recalled that in March, 2019, before the Lower House adjourned to celebrate Easter, the Speaker through the Chief Clerk, Mildred Sayon, announced the reshuffle of several committees, in which Rep. Younquoi was dropped from the Committee on Judiciary, as well as the Board of Trustees of the University of Liberia (UL).

The reshuffle affected mostly members of the ILC, and sparked huge debate among members of the House. It also prompted some lawmakers, including Reps. Nagbe Sloh and Yekeh Kolubah to announce their resignation from all committees they are part of, but were advised against the move by Rep. Younquoi.

"I have reminded the Plenary and the Speaker that if we don't accentuate issues that have to do with constitutionality and legality, most of the decisions we are taking might end up being challenged in court as being illegal," Younquoi said.

He added that despite his removal from the Judiciary Committee and the UL Board of Trustees, he is still being asked to function as member of those committees, a request Younquoi refused to adhere to until the Speaker rescinds his decision.

"I told most of the members that declined from all committees, the likes of Nagbe Sloh and Yekeh Kolubah; I told them that you do not have to decline. You work through committees. If you don't work on any committee, then it means you are not working. So, we have to remain there and straighten these things up," he said.

Rep. Younquoi did not say whether he will pursue his complaint in court if the Speaker refused to reinstate those who were illegally reshuffled.

Meanwhile, Younquoi is the second Representative in less than a week who has accused the Speaker and the House of Representatives of wrongful procedures and activities.

Recently, Margibi County District #5 Clarence G. Gahr, walked out of session, accusing members of the House of Representatives of 'illegal activities and procedures.' He later threatened a lawsuit. Rep. Gahr argued that the required quorum was never met in the Tuesday session in consonance with the 1986 Constitution and the House Rules and Procedures.

He informed journalists that the body count of members of the Lower House was below 23 people, contrary to the 1986 Constitution, which calls for a 'simple majority.'

Article 33 of the Constitution says: "Simple majority of each House shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, but a lower number may adjourn from day to day, and compel the attendance of absent members... ."

Gahr said Speaker Chambers is stonewalling the House's Rules and Procedures which, according to him can be remedied through a motion to compel the attendance of absent members to form part of the quorum.

"Tuesday's session was illegal; we did not have a quorum, because the motion was not carried," he argued.

Rule #12 of the Rules and Procedure of the House of Representatives says, "A quorum shall consist of a simple majority of the members of the House. Quorum shall be necessary for the transaction of business. However, a minority may meet from day to day. Meetings at which a quorum is not present, requires only a motion to compel the attendance of absent members or to adjourn."

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