24 June 2019

Liberia: Capitol in Darkness

"It is just embarrassing, if we want to do our personal work, we have to go to the World Trade Center or Gurley Street." -- Rep. Lawrence Morris, one of least 55 lawmakers, central administrations affected

The main Capitol Building, which provides offices for at least 55 members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, has been engulfed by darkness for at least three weeks, which is raising uneasiness and tensions among members of the 54th Legislature as well as impeding the works of lawmakers amid the bad economy and political turmoil following the planned series of protests.

The blackout of the Legislature was caused by a deliberate power outage orchestrated by the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) in coordination and approval from the Leaderships of the House of Representatives and the Senate to connect the Main Capitol Building and the two Annexes to the LEC Grid.

Only the two annexes (the House of Representatives and the Senate) which were constructed by the People's Republic of China (PRC) currently have electricity because of a donated generator and fuel from the PRC. The generator is also operated by the Chinese, which is turned on from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. daily, while the main Capitol Building remains in the dark throughout.

One of the lawmakers affected by the prolonged power outage is Montserrado County District #11 Representative Richard Koon, who told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview that the situation has caused most of the lawmakers to be idle and 'work-shy'. According to him, lack of electricity hinders their functions to write or proffer communications and draft laws in the interest of the Liberian people and host or entertain constituents or guests.

"I have to bring a generator and rewire my office to work. The continuous darkness of the Capitol Building without a backup generator to enable most lawmakers to work is a disfavor to us," Rep. Koon said. "I share my generator current with Rep. P. Mike Jurry from Maryland County."

Since the power outage on the Capitol Building individual lawmakers have been using their personal generators to work.

Offices of the Deputy Speaker, Chairpersons on Executive; Rules, Order and Administration; Foreign Affairs, as well as Ways, Means, Finance and Development and others have been in the dark also for the past 21 days.

"It is bad and besides the bills we have written, including the Disabilities Bill and Old Folks Bill of 2018 and the Bill to Reform the Election Laws, we have more bills to submit and communications to write. But the continued power outage is an obstruction. There is more work we need to do as it relates to the Ministry of Education to be mandated allow Constitution be taught in schools."

Other lawmakers, Montserrado County Districts 1 and 17 Representatives, Lawrence Morris and Hanson Kiazolu, respectively, also expressed their dismay concerning the darkness in the main Capitol Building.

"It is just embarrassing, if we want to do our personal work, we have to go to the World Trade Center or Gurley Street. This power outage shouldn't have lasted more 72 hours. It should have coordinated well instead we are even in doubt if we will current next," Rep. Morris said.

"I am just feeling bad and most of the time we sit idly after we use the current in the charged laptop. Sometimes we go to the internet café to continue our works. It is outrageous."

A staff with the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), who asked to remain anonymous, told the Daily Observer that the cost of a high voltage transmitter for the Legislature, including connection and installation, cost US$48,000, and the decision was reached following meetings with both Leaderships of the House of Representatives and the Senate including the Maintenance Department Directors.

"Only half of the money was paid, and the remaining US$24,000 is outstanding. Therefore LEC is awaiting the full payment of the US$48,000 to complete the connection and installation of the transmitter," the LEC staff said.

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