Liberia: ‘More Laws, Weak Oversight,’ Says NAYMOTE in Damning Report on Legislature

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bhofal Chambers, right and The President Pro-Tempore, Senator Albert T. Chie.   

.....“The findings suggest that more bills were passed in 2022 (53 bills) than in 2021 (29 bills), but oversight of the implementation of the enacted laws by the executive branch remains weak,” the report said.

Despite excelling in the area of lawmaking, one of the Legislature's three cardinal functions, which it performs dismally, is its oversight responsibility,  a damning report by Naymote has disclosed.

Naymote, one of the country’s renowned civil society organizations, gave an embarrassing detail of how Liberian lawmakers, who are among the highest-paid lawmakers in the world, failed to perform their oversight responsibilities adequately.

This means lawmakers are not doing much to ensure that the executive branch remains responsive and accountable to the people, represents good value for money; in compliance with applicable policies, laws, regulations, and ethical standards.

In the 16-page report, Naymote noted that while there was an increase in the number of laws enacted in 2022 as compared to the previous years, that was not the case with oversight of the implementation of the enacted laws, by the executive branch, which remains weak. 

“The findings suggest that more bills were passed in 2022 (53 bills) than in 2021 (29 bills); but oversight of the implementation of the enacted laws by the executive branch remains weak,” said the Legislative Digest report — which covers the period January 1 to December 31, 2022.

“Activities of the legislative committees responsible for oversight are not easily accessible, and this assessment could not access reports of ministries and agencies filed with the committees. The team could not also access special reports of legislative committees on their statutory functions carried out during the year,” it added.

The report is a damning indictment of the 54th legislature as it shows that lawmakers have been derelict in exercising their oversight responsibilities over the executive branch as enshrined in the Constitution.

Such an attitude has given the Executive so much power — reducing the legislature to a rubber stamp.  According to the report, activities of the legislative committees responsible for oversight are not easily accessible, and it is notoriously difficult to access any, even if they are filed.

‘No Accountability’ 

Other issues highlighted by the report have to do with accountability, which is in regard to the Legislature's deliberate refusal to make a publicly available financial record of how it spent taxpayers' money regardless of public demand. 

The budget appropriation for the Legislature, as shown in the 2022 approved budget, was US$64.4 million, representing an increase of 44.34% from the fiscal year 2021-2021, during which the allocation was US$44.6 million, the report added.

During the transition to this new fiscal year, the last six months of 2021 were considered a Special Fiscal Year 2021 and the Legislature received a total allocation of US$26.10 million in the special budget.

In the 2021 Legislative Digest report,  Naymote finds that Liberian taxpayers spent US$164 million on the Legislature in the four years to June 2022. 

The report notes that it is impossible to get firm numbers on expenses given the absence of public records and the body's refusal to submit to an audit. The 2022 budget had in its US$4.6 million for new vehicles and US$3 million for fuel for those cars. By way of comparison, Liberia's entire public education sector - for primary, secondary, and tertiary levels - received US$92 million in the 2022 budget.

However, not a single report has been made public ever since with Naymote saying that there “is no publicly available financial report to account for the use of this money and that  popular demands to audit the financial records of the Legislature have yielded no results.” 

“Despite the huge financial support to the Legislature, the body does not have any regular (official) publications on its activities or an active, official website for public information. The assessment did not also find any voting record, making it nearly impossible for citizens to track their elected representatives' legislative and voting decisions.”

Meanwhile, Naymote's report disclosed that 36 executive sittings were held by the House of Representatives despite the Senate not agreeing to do so. 

The report however noted that there was a slight decrease in the number of executive sittings, which is a setting that is held behind closed doors — cannot be observed by the press and the public — and is usually meant to discuss sensitive national security and defense matters.

While the number of executive sittings reduced in 2022 when compared to 2021, more than one-third of legislative deliberative sittings were held behind closed doors, undermining transparency and public participation, and engagement, the report disclosed.

“The Legislature did not do much in 2022 to improve transparency and public participation in their activities. It is still difficult for citizens to openly access information about the legislature, including voting records and legislative decisions made in executive/secret sessions,” it added.

Naymote Partners for Democratic Development is a good governance and research institution working to advance the principles of democracy, rule of law, and participatory governance in Liberia.