Liberia: Power Struggle in Liberty Party

Chairman Bility (right), on Dec. 6 informed his political leader, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence (left) that she has been suspended for owing dues of US$18,000 for the period January — December 2021.    

… Tensions triggered by the suspension of the party political leader over alleged unpaid dues by Chairman Bility laid bare the fragility of the two leaders’ relationship

The Chairman of the opposition Liberty Party, Musa Hassan  Bility has suspended the membership of the party’s political leader, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, and other high-ranking officials for unpaid dues – reopening wounds of past internal crises.

While the suspension is yet to be accepted by Sen Karnga-Lawrence, it is however a rehash of old dirty politics that ensued between the party political leader and its chairman.

Chairman Bility, on Dec. 6 informed his political leader that she has been suspended for owing dues of US$18,000 for the period January — December 2021.

Bility, who claimed that his action is backed by Article IX of the Liberty Party Constitution, then warned his political leader that if she fails to clear the debt, he will be left with no choice but to expel her from the higher leadership position she currently occupies.

“By directive of the National Executive Committee (NEC) and consistent with Article IX, you are suspended from your positions of political leader and a member of LP legislative caucus and its leadership,” he said. “You have 90 days to bring your account current, thereby putting you in good standing, and have your position reinstated. Upon the expiration of the 90 days, if a remedy is not made, you may be permanently expelled from your positions.”

The Liberty Chairman backed up his position by letting the Senator know that his action was predicated on an NEC meeting, which was held on Nov. 20, in Ganta City, Nimba County, where officials of the NEC deliberated on the party treasurer's report and evoking Article IX for officials who were not in good standing or owed dues.

However, Bility, in his letter, did not indicate whether the NEC suspended  Senators Karnga-Lawerence and  Abe Darius Dillon of Grand Bassa and Montserrado counties respectively, and others were invited for the meeting. 

Bility added that his leadership on Nov.  22, sent a letter to the party leader, reminding her of the due obligation of US$18,000 for twelve months – forcing the Executive Committee to approve the suspension of all officials not in good standing.

“In deference to the office of the political leader, the NEC exempted the suspension, pending a second reminder being sent to enable you to remedy the delinquency, and on December 2, a second letter was sent. To date, you have not remedied the delinquency nor have you responded to either communication. Given the above, on December 6, the NEC approved your suspension,” the Liberty Party chair added. 

But Sen. Karnga-Lawrence fired back and denied Bility’s claims of unpaid arrears – and threatened to have him expelled for not respecting the rules and norms of the Party – deepening the root cause of their fierce struggle for political power that dates back more to the day the LP chairman took office this year.

The current dispute marks a new peak in tensions for the Liberty Party, and a display of uneasy alliance between Bility and his political leader, which has split the party.  And showing such, Sen. Karnga-Lawrence did not just deny owing such an amount but also accused Bility of destroying the party and challenging his authority to have her suspended.

“Musa has no authority in the first place to suspend me. You cannot gather five or six executive members who are always behind you to be disruptive. I am the political leader of the Liberty Party and I have individually spent more than US$50,000 to keep the party running, not to talk about settling rent arrears in the past, which amounted to US$ 40,000 a year at the party's former headquarters at Catholic Junction,” the Senator boasted. 

She added: “The monies I have deposited since I took over in 2018 are there in our record books. Musa is a joker. You suspend me; you suspend almost the entire party. I challenge Musa Bility to prove in any way that he has made a contribution close to what I have done for the Liberty Party. I do not owe the party a dime.”

Sen. Karnga-Lawrence noted that action will be taken against the chairman to have him removed for altering the party’s constitution, which has been withdrawn from the National Elections Commission.

“We are working on this process. I don’t want to speak about it now to the public until we finalize all it takes to get him out and restore dignity to the party,” the Liberty Party leader disclosed.  “Musa Bility should be aware that that constitution has been withdrawn and he has no power to act on that constitution until we are done with the corrections.”  

The spiraling crisis between the two, which has come to dominate the body politic of the party, ranging from allegations of anti-democratic behaviors to fraud, might soon lead to political inertia, undermining the party’s ability to raise its voice against bad governance, corruption, and poverty.

And no one can be sure who will win the power struggle that appears to be paralyzing the Liberty Party but the losers are clear – the partisans and an image of a party well-known for its organizational tranquility.

The widening rift is a spillover of Senators Karnga-Lawrence and Dillon, as well as Daniel Sando, an assistant to the party’s political leader, open accusation that the party’s chairman and secretary-general made dubious changes to the party’s constitution.

Then chairman Bility and secretary-general Martin Kollah denied the allegation but took revenge by suspending Sen. Dillon and Sando for “making several unauthorized public utterances, derogatory statements against the chairman and executives.”

In the end, the Liberty Party has been entangled in one problem after another, which at any given time, can be kick-started by the two leaders or their support – thus underscoring the growing challenge they faced in exerting control over the party and unifying it. At the same time, it poses a serious challenge for the party’s National Advisory Council (NAC) which has worked so hard to find a safe option to resolve the internal political quagmire that came out of the tempering claims, as well as find a safe landing.

But that NAC effort might be hurt, as Sen. Kanga-Lawrence claimed that Chairman Bility at one of their many peace conferences confessed to altering the constitution and signed a memorandum of understanding enlisting such change. The Grand Bassa County Senator noted that to take the power from another leader is even more criminal, and it is criminal to alter a legal document without any authorization from those who are supposed to authorize you.

“Bility changed the provision that talks about the functions and responsibilities of the political leader. He reduced the powers of the political leader to suit his selfish reasons. That was one of the changes he made to the constitution.

However, Bility fired back, denying the claim that he confessed to any wrongdoing and that Kernga-Lawrence was lying because of the suspension.  He then added that he takes no interest in suspending his political leader but the party’s law allowed it. 

“She is not telling the truth. The action of the executive committee that led to the suspension of Senator Lawrence is in line with the constitution of the party we are still using,” Bility added.  “The law is the law and Sen. Lawrence should know that.”