Liberia: Rep. Koffa Eyes Speakership

House Speaker Cllr. Fonati Koffa.

….  “In this current election, there was a divided country,” Koffa said. “I believe even the Unity Party will agree that national unity is what we need; now that they have the Executive, it is only fair that the opposition picks up the Speaker position.”

Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, the outgoing Deputy Speaker of the 54th legislature, has confirmed his intention to contest for the speakership when the 55th legislature takes its seat next year.

“If you are in the opposition, I think we should talk, and if you are in the ruling party, I think we should talk also,” Koffa said as he confirmed his candidacy for the speakership in an interview on Monday.

Koffa, who remains confident of winning the speakership, is reportedly being backed by at least 30 lawmakers-elect, but uncertainty looms over whether they will remain steadfast in their support as the speakership elections draw near.

At least 25 of them, which includes some first-time lawmakers, met with him on Monday to formalize strategies that would enable his election.

However, Koffa, who is the first sitting lawmaker to publicly announce his candidacy, faces an uphill battle to secure speakership, analysts say, due to his affiliation with the outgoing ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, which currently holds a significant majority in the House of Representatives.

The incoming Unity Party government, set to take office next year, poses a formidable obstacle for Koffa, given the political dynamics at play as it may want to field its own candidate, which could significantly influence the outcome of the process. 

The Executive Branch of the country has for decades played a key role behind the scenes as to who becomes speaker, and it remains unclear whether the outgoing ruling party, which is in substantial majority, can hold together and produce a speaker.

“In this current election, there was a divided country,” the Deputy Speaker said. “I believe even the Unity Party will agree that national unity is what we need; now that they have the Executive, it is only fair that the opposition picks up the Speaker position.”

“Based on our performance as Deputy Speaker, we have the gravitas and the confidence of our members that we can provide leadership for,” Koffa said in an upbeat tone.

The Deputy Speaker, however, faces a challenge from Rep. Thomas Fallah, who is one of the longest-serving lawmakers in post-war Liberia. Fallah, also a ranking member of the outgoing ruling party and the current chairman of the House's influential Ways, Means, and Finance Committee, is reported to be eyeing the speakership as well.

Asked whether he was concerned about a potential Fallah bid,  Koffa answered in the negative and said that he is confident that the outgoing ruling party will produce a candidate for the speakership.

“For the CDC, we never say certain because it is a party; it is an institution, but the CDC will produce a candidate. Whoever that candidate will be, that is up to the party,” he said.

Koffa, who ascended to the Deputy Speaker post in 2020, had vowed that under his speakership, he would hold the “Executive feet on fire” in terms of making sure that whatever is proffered is in the interest of the Liberian people.

“We will be robust but in the end, it is only to make sure something good happens,” he added. “I think what you can look for under the gavel of Fonati Koffa is accountability and transparency in the Legislature.”

“The ruling government can trust me as a Speaker because I work in the national interest. We are not going to turn it into a partisan Legislature because we are in the opposition,” Koffa added.

Meanwhile, Koffa brushed aside the notion that the Executive Branch plays a key role in the selection of the speaker as he cited the Presidency of Ellen Johnson, whose choice for the speaker position was not preferred by the majority.

“Former Speaker Edwin Snowe and former Pro Tempore Armah Jallah were not supported by the then president, yet they were elected,” he said. “The current ruling party was able to control both Houses owing to the massive win in 2017 — 14 of the 15 counties.”

At the same time, the Deputy Speaker congratulated President George Weah on being a “true democrat who has demonstrated mature leadership at a defining moment in our country’s history.” 

“The grace with which he conceded defeat is legendary and it testifies to the fact that President Weah is a true real patriot and man of peace,” he said.

Koffa has also congratulated President-elect Joseph Boakai on his historic win in the country’s presidential election and wishes him all the best in his service to the nation.