Liberia: Senate to Return in November?

-- New banknotes, RIA Highway reconstruction, others likely agenda issues

Barely two weeks after finally adjourning for their annual break, well placed sources at the legislature have informed this newspaper that the senators are expected to return to Capitol in November 2019 for another "special session."

Paramount reason for the senators return is the printing of the new banknotes, and the communication from President George Weah, requesting the senate to authorize the Ministry of Public Works to enter a contractual arrangement with the East International Group Incorporated to reconstruct a 44 kilometers stretch of road on the Robert International Airport (RIA)/ELWA Highway.

On the eve of the last days of their extended break, the senators received a communication from President Weah, "seeking the indulgence, approbation and acquiescence of them to authorize the Ministry of Public Works to enter a contractual arrangement with the East International Group Incorporated to carry out reconstruction of a 44-kilometer stretch of road on the RIA/ELWA Highway."

But in a motion, Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, said: "Knowing that the request is not within the role of the senate, I moved that the communication be sent back to the leadership of the senate, so that proper decision can be made with the leadership for consultation, and the communication be returned to the Executive for proper direction."

Following that motion, Senate Pro Tempore Albert T. Chie immediately announced the Senate leadership's seizure of the motion.

In his communication to the Senate, dated October 3, 2019, President Weah recalled the September 2017 Senate's ratification of a pre-financing agreement between the Government of Liberia (GoL) and East International Group Incorporated for the pavement of a total of 65.5 kilometers of roads.

It can also be recalled that during its extraordinary session, President Weah, based on what he said was an advice from the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) in September, wrote the Senate to authorize the printing of new local currency to replace the current ones in circulation.

In his communication, President Weah informed the senators that he was in receipt of a communication from authorities of the CBL, advising that the economy may be seriously affected, due to the unaccounted for local currency infused into the economy that is causing high inflation; and has recommended the printing of new local currency to replace existing ones.

The senate's own committee on Banking and Currency, in a surprise move, recommended to plenary to authorize the printing of the requested new banknotes in the amount of L$35 billion in the denominations of L$20, L$50, L$100, L$500, L$1000, and coins in the denominations of L$1, L$5, and L$10, as proposed by the CBL.

The committee's recommendation received, as expected, strong resistance from some of the senators, prompting the citing and appearance of CBL and Finance Ministry officials for public hearings.

So it came as no surprise when Senate Pro Tempore Chie, on the last day of this year's sitting, announced that the Senate had declined the request from the Executive Branch of government to print of new banknotes to replace the current ones.

Pro Tempore Chie, who addressed the Senate plenary before that body's annual break, said that the real need and necessity to print new banknotes to replace all of the existing ones, "most especially that about 86 percent of the notes in circulation is out of the banking system; that there are reports of counterfeit Liberian banknotes on the market, and that significant amount are mutilated."

Nevertheless, Chie recalled that the Senate has raised issue of the proper functioning of the internal controls at the CBL as indicated in the Kroll Report. "There were issues also about confidence factor at the Bank, and issue of funds to print the banknotes."

"After extensive debate, the Senate has declined to give the requested authorization until the restructuring of the CBL is complete," the Grand Kru County Senator announced, and received few "yeas" of appreciation from his colleagues.

Meanwhile, the senate's expected return coincides with the recent appointments in government by President Weah, some of whom will need senate confirmation.

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