Liberia: President Weah Recalls Lawmakers for 30 Days

President Weah. 

 — to confirm Chief Justice designate, new census date top Agenda

President George M. Weah has formally written Members of the 54th Legislature, to convene a Special or Extraordinary Session for 30 days to discuss and act upon matters of national concern, which the President described as “time-bound, critical national issues.”

Should the House of Representatives and the Senate endorse the President’s request, this will be the Second Special Session of the 5th Session of the 54th Legislature.

The President’s action is backed by Article 32(b) of the Constitution, which provides “that the President shall on his own initiative or upon receipt of a certificate signed by at least one fourth of the total membership of each House and by proclamation extend a regular session of the Legislature beyond the date for adjournment or call a special or extraordinary session of that body to discuss or act upon matters of national emergency and concern.”

In President Weah’s communication to Speaker Bhofal  Chambers and Senate Pro Tempore Albert T. Chie, dated July 28, 2022, he called a Special Session of the Legislature from Monday, August 15 to Tuesday, September 13, 2022; and said there are critical national issues which ‘must’ be resolved as a matter of national emergency.

“They are so critical that they cannot await the return of the Legislature” on the second Friday in October, the President said. 

“They include, inter alia, the appointment of a new Chief Justice, setting of a new census date, passage of the amendment to the New Elections Law, and ratification and passage of other significant instruments pending before the Legislature, especially agreements of economic nature,” the President wrote.

Consent of the Senate

The recall of the Legislature by the President is to allow the “Sitting Senate” to complete the process by consenting to the appointment of the Chief Justice.

The President said: “Honorable Speaker (Pro Tempore), as you may be aware, the current Chief Justice is about  to reach the retirement age of seventy (70) in accordance with Article 72(b) of the Constitution, prompting the need for a successor. The Constitution provides at Article 54 (c) and Article 68 that the President shall and with the consent of the Senate, appoint and commission the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.”

The President argued: “A Judiciary Branch without a head will not only be harmful to the legal system but also detrimental to the entire governance of our country.”

Setting of Census Date

President Weah also told the House of Representatives  and the Senate that his recall is based on advice from the Census Steering Committee, that everything is on course to  conduct the 2022 National Population and Housing Census (NPHC) in October 2022.

He said the Census was launched September 25, 2020 and much has been achieved as logistical equipment and supplies have been procured and enumeration of staff are in place.

The President said substantial financial resources  to conduct the Census are available, whereas the geographical mapping has been completed; pilot Census has been conducted with results informing the preparation of the actual census, among others.

“This census will be the fifth National Census, but the first digital census. The census is expected to provide significant information for development planning. With these achievements, further postponement of the census from October 2022 would have far reaching consequences for the Census Project,” the President indicated. 

In June this year, the plenary of the Senate voted to postpone the conduct of the census from October 2022 to March 2023. The nation’s fifth census, which was supposed to be held in 2018, has been postponed more than five times, in violation of the Constitution, which mandates in Article 39: “The Legislature shall cause a census of the Republic to be undertaken every ten years.”

The successive postponements, according to LISGIS, had been due to lack of funds to conduct the national headcount exercise. And now that significant preparations have been made for the census to be conducted in October 2022, the President is urging the Legislature to charge forward with the date, stressing that further postponement would cost more money. 

President Weah stated that postponement of the Census from October 2022 to November 2022 will create an added staff cost of US$139,000; December 2022, is staff cost of US$278,000; and in March 2023, a staff cost of US$695,000. 

The President furthered that, through a south-south cooperation, the Government of Ghana loaned the Government of Liberia 21,000 electronic data collection tablets and accessories, which are to be returned at the end of October 2022.

“If the census is not in October 2022, these devices will be returned and the Government of Liberia will have to purchase its own electronic tablets at a cost of US$5,355,000. Also, financial commitment by donors may not be fulfilled if the census is not conducted in October 2022,” the President noted. 

Amended to Elections Law

As the time draws near for the 2023 general and presidential elections, the President stressed the need to streamline the election laws by removing ambiguities and amending the law to conform to the current reality.

For example, the President said, the current law provides that for verifying whether a person is a Liberian for voter registration and update, he or she must produce a valid  Liberian passport without an option for a national Identification Card. But under the amendment, producing a valid National Identification Card is an option to the valid Liberian passport.

“There are other amended provisions key to the conduct of a smooth, free, fair and transparent elections,” the President intimated.