Liberia: Who Controls SONA Protocol: Executive or Legislature?



— As Senators recall previous intimidations 

There is an American saying that goes, “Once bitten, twice shy,” and it is in this context that Senators on Capitol Hill have commenced debates on the need for proper coordination as President George Weah delivers his sixth and last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, January 30.

At their sitting on January 24, Senators were reminded by Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon that, although discussed recently by plenary and authorized, the Senate is yet to receive a copy of President Weah’s last (2022) SONA.

“The President is coming here Monday to present to us his legislative agenda for his first six years, but we are still at a loss as to what was contained in his last address to us, and whether he fulfilled what he promised to do,” Dillon said. 

The debate then took on another trend; whether it was not possible for legislators to have advance copies of the president’s upcoming speech, or at the very least receive it immediately after the address, to avoid what is now happening. 

Another concern raised by the Senators is the question of who heads preparations for the SONA, and who should be invited to attend the ceremony in the Joint Chamber. Again, Senators Dillon and the chair on Rules, Order and Administration, Nyonblee Katanga-Lawrence, recalled and narrated separate instances of intimidation, which they personally suffered at the hands of Presidential security who, they claimed, stopped them from entering the grounds of the Capitol, even though  they introduced themselves as Senators. 

Questions and concerns then crossed the floor as to which of the branches of the government constitutionally must head the protocol aspect of the state of the nation address. 

According to Liberia's 1986 Constitution, “The President shall, on the fourth working Monday of January in each year present the Administration’s Legislative program to the ensuing session...” 

Senator H. Varney G. Sherman, making legal intervention, clarified that both the Executive and Legislature have the right to give out invitations, but they must be done in a coordinated fashion. 

However, and regrettably, the House of Representatives, whose Speaker presides over the joint session during the President’s visit, seems to be working single-handedly with the Executive Mansion, instead of the Rules, Order, and Administration committees of both Houses working jointly with the President's office. 

The President Pro-Tempore, Albert Tugbe Chie, on behalf of the Senate, is expected to hold talks with House Speaker Bhofal Chambers to resolve the issue before Monday because, as Dillon analogized it; “once bitten by a snake, even a lizard’s tail scares you.”