Liberia: Senate Comes to Life at Eleventh-Hour

Pro-Tem Albert Chie consulting with Senators, including Chair on Judiciary Committee, H. Varney G Sherman on the need to consider Article 44


…. Are they appeasing voters?  

With less than three months to the October 10 Presidential and Legislative Elections, the Chambers of the Liberian Senate seem to have been hit by a surprisingly high-tide typhoon, causing members of the senate, especially those seeking reelection, to make vote-saving moves. 

Non-active committees chaired by outgoing Senators are now putting on unprecedented performances, holding public and committee hearings with 4G speed. 

Referred to as ‘born again Senators’ in the corridors of the Senate, they have even openly teamed up with the so-called like-minded opposition group, led by Montserrado County Senator, Abraham Darius Dillon, to now start to do the Liberian people’s work. 

So it came as no surprise on July 12, when an enraged Senate plenary, backed by its equally enraged Pro-Tempore, called for four ministers of Public Works and voted that they be incarcerated in a common jail for twenty-four hours. 

However, saved by Article 44 of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, they received a reprieve to appear the following day with their lawyers.

Article 44 says: “Contempt of the Legislature shall consist of actions which obstruct the legislative functions or which obstruct or impede members or officers of the Legislature in the discharge of their legislative duties and may be punished by the House concerned by reasonable sanctions after a hearing consistent with due process of law. No sanctions shall extend beyond the session of the Legislature wherein it is imposed, and any sanction imposed shall conform to the provisions on Fundamental Rights laid down in the Constitution. Disputes between legislators and non-members which are properly cognizable in the courts shall not be entertained or heard in the Legislature.”

Their ‘contemptuous’ charge is that they lied under oath, by informing the Senators of progress made by some local contractors handling roads in the southeast, though a self-explanatory document from the Ministry showed otherwise.

Public Works Minister Ruth Corker Collins and her team were summoned to provide updates on the ongoing road construction contracts awarded to various contractors. She revealed at the hearing that some companies contracted by the government of Liberia to carry out road construction are failing to meet the expectations outlined in their agreements and are underperforming.

Some of the underperforming companies named by the Minister include the New Millennium Construction Company, Desire Construction Company, JD Construction, Chen Construction, and Fultsure Builders. Unverified reports have linked ownership of those companies to top government officials, including Lawmakers.

Minister Collins and her team were also accused of providing false testimony under oath when they claimed that the companies working on the stretch of road between River-cess and Sinoe Counties were actively engaged in construction, though evidence proved that there has been an  absence of contractors on the road, making it impassable.

Those who appeared at the Tuesday hearing were Public Works Minister Ruth Coker Collins, Deputy Minister for Administration Joseph Todd, Deputy Minister for Technical Services Amos Barclay, and the Assistant Minister for Operation Kaustella Kialain Sarsih. 

The Public Works officials’ alleged false testimony led to a heated debate in the Senate Chamber, leading to a proposal of contemptuous charges against them.

The initial motion was proposed to detain the minister and her team for 24 hours in a common jail for perjury, but it was later amended to ensure that due process was followed. 

The drama continued when the Senate Committee on Autonomous Commissions and Agencies prematurely suspended a confirmation hearing of nominees of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) due to what it termed as a breach of the LACC Act by the nominees. 

The dramatic event occurred in the Chambers when the three nominees told the Committee that they did not declare their Assets prior to their appearances before that body for the scheduled hearing, which is in violation of the new LACC Act. Section 6.12 of the new LACC Act calls for any one nominated to the Commission to declare his or her Asset before confirmation. 

Those who appeared yesterday included Commissioners-designate Randolph Tebbs, nominated to the position of Monitoring and Investigation; while Dr. Miata Jeh and Samuel Dakana were nominated to the positions of Commissioner and Investigation.