Liberia: Legislature Returns to Work Today

 The Capitol building, Liberia.    

.... Key among pressing assignments: Recast Budget ; 2nd Look at AML Deal; RIA Runway and Diaspora Vote.

The 54th Legislature has shortened its seven-week constituency break to reconvene today to discuss several issues of national concern.

This includes, among other things, the recast national budget, the provision of electricity at the Roberts International Airport, as well as a second look at the controversial third amended mineral development agreement from ArcelorMittal.

The Legislature’s recess should have ended on May 17. 

Upon the legislature's return — both the House of Representatives and Senate are  expected to look at the government proposal for a recast budget, aimed at augmenting the US$786.5 million approved budget for the fiscal year 2022.

The expected recast budget, which would be submitted anytime soon by President George M. Weah, focuses on increasing spending on infrastructure projects, including roads, while addressing the unexpected power crisis at the RIA — a project that was not captured when the budget was approved. 

Of late, the RIA has been experiencing some critical power outage problems — the latest instance being the power outage on the night of April 27, which forced an inbound Brussels Airlines flight to return to Freetown, after attempting to land.

The incident caused panic over the safety of the passengers crew aboard the aircraft. 

The RIA reportedly served 228,000 passengers annually in 2018 and is the nation's busiest and most important aviation facility, currently hosting the country's only scheduled commercial airline services, with direct connections to several major African cities as well as flights to Europe and beyond.

The Brussels incident occurred after President Weah’s chief aide disclosed that the government needs between US$20 to US$23 million to fix all the problems at the airport. 

The Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill, revealed that the problems with the Robert International Airport are not just concerning the electricity supply, but that the airport apron — where aircrafts are parked, serviced, unloaded and loaded — is in dire need of’ urgent’ repair.

Such ‘urgent’ repair, and the attendant price tag, are announced after the airport underwent two major upgrades under contract and financing secured by the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration. A new passenger terminal was built for US$50 million, while the runway was refurbished for US$30 million.

AML, take-two

Additionally, both houses are also expected to take a second look at the US$800 million ArcelorMittal Liberia deal which was conditionally rejected by the House and had it returned to the president for renegotiation.

In a letter to the President, the House expressed misgivings about the agreement, particularly the impact of the treaty between Liberia and Guinea on the ownership, operatorship, and users’ rights of the Yekepa to Buchana railroad as enshrined in Article 3 of the treaty with Guinea.

According to the House Director of Press, Robert B. Haynes, members of the House of Representatives and Liberian Senate have signed the certificate of reconvening and scheduled the date for today.  

Meanwhile, the Liberian Senate is also expected to act on the New Election Law, which was passed by the House of Representatives.

Accordingly, members of the House voted to double the US$2,500.00 registration fees for the president; US$1,500.00 for the Vice President; US$750.00 for Senators; and US$500.00 for the House of Representatives.

So, aspirants for the office of President must now pay US$5,000; US$3,000 for the Vice President position, while Senate is US$1,500 and Representative US$1,000.00.

Also, the House voted to amend Section 4.5 of the 1986 election law which set aside an exclusive 30% for women representation in every political party during the submission of candidates to the National Elections Commission (NEC). Section 4.5 (1d) of the Elections Law Amendment Act also called for a Political Party or Coalition to have at least one woman contestant for every primary at a convention for each constituency.

Twenty-four lawmakers voted in favor of the approval of the amendments while Nimba County District #5 Representative Samuel Kogar voted against it.

He argued that the amendments violate Article 18 of the Liberian Constitution, which says: “All Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and all shall be entitled to eqwaspay for equal work.”

The House also voted to amend Section 5.12(3) of the law which talks about hearing and determination of complaints. 

The amended section seeks to create an independent body in which its members cannot be dismissed or subjected to disciplinary action based on their ruling.

And section 3.1, which deals with the registration of voters, has also been amended to grant Liberians in the diaspora voting rights, provided they will meet the requirements listed in the Act. 

The requirements include; possession of a valid Liberian passport or a National Identification Card (NIR) known as a Citizen's ID Card.