Liberia: Imperatives for the National Legislature

opinion

The Varney Sherman headed joint Senate Committee on the Judiciary and autonomous agencies met with representatives of political parties to discuss issues of common concern arising from the probable postponement of elections, owing to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suggestions from some quarters that the meeting was nothing more than a platform for Senator Sherman to blow hot air cannot be dismissed outrightly, given the gravity of the situation and its potentially destabilizing effects.

For example, critics point to the fact that three (3) years ago, opposition political parties had hammered the issue of a flawed and compromised Voters Registry. The parties even took the matter to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed that the Voters Registry was indeed compromised and, accordingly, it mandated a compulsory clean-up of the Voters Roll by the National Elections Commission(NEC) before the conduct of the elections.

But NEC disobeyed the mandate of the Court and proceeded to hold the elections with a flawed Voters Roll and it did so with impunity. Not even concerns raised by NEC Commissioner Jonathan Weedor about the critical significance of a credible Voters Roll proved sufficient to deter NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoya from proceeding to hold elections on the basis of a flawed Voters registry.

It has been three (3) long years since those elections and so has been the silence of Senator Varney Sherman on the critical significance of creating a credible Voters Roll. Additionally, it is reported that he was one of those senators who voted to confirm Floyd Sayor, the very individual who was not only at the center of fraud allegations in the Montserrado County District 15 elections but was also linked to the fraudulent Voters Registry (VR) used in the 2017 elections.

Granted the COVID-19 had not affected Liberia which has created genuine reasons for the delay in elections, just which Voters Roll (VR) would have been used in the exercise? Is it the same compromised Voters Roll or was there going to be a clean-up of the VR before the elections? How about the pending National Population and Housing Census on the results of which constituencies are to be demarcated as the Constitution provides? The continued use of Electoral Districts to conduct elections is illegal and unlawful.

That aberration was created to address exigencies arising from war especially the internal displacement of at least two-thirds of the population, according to UN sources. Members of the national Legislature have consistently reneged on the establishment of a threshold for the demarcation of constituencies. This means that some counties such as Bong, Lofa, Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties are under-represented in the Legislature and shall continue to be so until otherwise.

From all indications, Senator Sherman appears to be unsure of his footing on issues, desperately trying on one hand to appease President Weah and ingratiate himself into the President's good favor. But such dangerous game of opportunism has its fallbacks and Senator Sherman, of all persons, should be fully aware of this.

Perhaps it was such flirtatious courtship that resulted into a short-lived dalliance with his nemesis, a vindictive and never forgiving character. He ended up facing criminal charges and was still facing trial when President Weah assumed office. Somehow, by huff or puff, he was let off the hook from criminal prosecution and is now a free man, much to the chagrin of former President Sirleaf whose government had proffered criminal charges against the Senator.

According to a leading lawyer (name withheld), President Weah extended Senator Sherman a virtual lifeline by letting him loose of criminal charges and, for this reason, the Senator's politics in the Liberian Senate has since been driven by a need to strike a balance between personal and perceived Presidential interests.

Further according to the lawyer, it is like skating on a very slippery slope alongside a partner with a strong vindictive streak which he claims, rightly or wrongly, is a character trait of President Weah similar to that of his predecessor.

Whatever the case might be, the long-term peace and stability of the country is of crucial and critical concern. And we forget not remind all and sundry that elections -- credible elections -- constitute the pivot on which the future peace and stability of this nation hinges.

The lessons of the 1985 stolen elections results and its bloody aftermath may be quite far back in time for most young people, especially new voters. They may not be aware of the dangerous implications of a diseased and flawed electoral system to the peace and stability of this country. It should not be forgotten that these developments have implications for the successful conduct of the 2023 elections.

In this regard, posturing and pretense will not cut ice. The passage of the recent Senate resolution spearheaded by Senator and President Pro Tempore is a case in point, for as developments now suggest, it was, according to a leading Senator (name withheld), merely a charade cooked up by Senator Chie to convey a false impression to President Weah of "being in charge". Little wonder, there is, why some Senators refused to sign the resolution because, in effect, the State of Emergency Declaration had covered those issues.

Moreover, sources (employees) at the Legislature, have told the Daily Observer that although they have long complained about their lack of benefits on the job, they are nevertheless hard-pressed to admit that gasoline and other allowances for legislators have gone unpaid for months. And according to them, they also need to receive benefits as well, but their abysmal plight has not for once claimed the attention of their bosses.

In the final analysis, it is about Liberia and not about personal interests or seeking or currying presidential favor. And the legislature should be the bastion of protection of the peoples' interests and not otherwise. Those senators who refused to sign senator Albert Chie's bogus resolution ought to be commended. Now they should get down to real business -- holding the national census, demarcation of constituencies and cleaning-up of the Voters Roll.

These are imperatives for the National Legislature.

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