The House of Representatives has threatened to charge the Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel Tweah and Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah with contempt if both or any of them do not appear before the full plenary on Thursday, May 30, at 10:00am in regard to the alleged planned shutdown of major referral hospitals and other public health facilities across the country due to the lack of medicines and electricity to cater to patients seeking treatment.
Contempt of Legislature refers to conduct that is disrespectful to either to the House of Representatives or the Senate, so as to impair or impede the usefulness of the body or a committee thereof, in performing legislative functions.
The two senior government officials have twice failed — on Tuesdays, May 16 and 21 — to appear before the House’s full plenary. But the third ‘invite of order’ is followed by a vote on a motion carried on Tuesday, May 21, during the 31st day sitting, that their failure to face the lawmakers on May 30, will cause them to face contempt charges and possible jail time, as well as fines.
The amended motion to charge the Finance and Health Ministers with contempt charges if they failed to show up was made by Margibi County District #2 Representative, Ivar Jones, within the original motion proffered by Sinoe County District #3 Representative, Matthew Zarzar. Bong County District #3 Representative, J. Marvin Cole, also amended the motion that the two ministers should appear must appear on Thursday, May 30, at 10:00am.
Plenary’s decision insisting on the summons of the Finance and Health Ministers was followed by a communication from Rep. Cole, craving the indulgence of the House to invite before its Plenary the Minister of Health and the Minister of Finance & Development Planning, as well as the Administrator of the Phebe Hospital, to explain to the Liberian people what is going on in the health sector across the country, relative to the alleged shut down of operations due to the lack of electricity or lack of medicines.
The Bong County lawmaker’s communication was prompted when the Phebe Hospital, because of the lack of medicines and electricity, declined to treat several injured persons from the President George Weah’s convoy when a vehicle in the convoy collided on Sunday, February 10, with a vehicle belonging to former Solicitor General Micah Wilkins Wright, along the Monrovia-Gbarnga highway.
The accident left 12 members of the presidential press corps seriously injured and were admitted at the Phebe Hospital in Suakoko, but shortly discharged because of the lack of medicines.
Among the injured persons, Gabriel Wilson, commonly known as Executive Horn, who was on board the presidential convoy vehicle, as well as a lady identified as Victoria Wlue, who was on board Cllr. Wright’s vehicle, died instantly in the collision.
Before the fatal accident, it was reported that the Phebe hospital had been without electricity for almost one week, putting patients’ lives at risk. The referral hospital in central Liberia relies on generators to power critical wards such as the emergency ward, the maternal unit and the intensive care unit (ICU), as well as the dormitories of the Phebe Nursing School.
The Medical Director of Phebe Hospital, Dr. Jefferson Sibley, said he has been so preoccupied with finding fuel to keep the lights on that he has not found time to treat patients.
Sibley said doctors are operating in the dark, while vital medical supplies are lacking.
“The situation is compounding the hospital’s problems because staff can’t report to work while patients flock to the hospital,” he said.
Besides the Phebe Hospital, the Liberian Government Hospital in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, and the C. B. Dunbar Hospital in Gbarnga, as well as the Tellewoyan Memorial Hospital in Voinjama, Lofa County are all at the verge of closure if prompt interventions are not made.
Meanwhile, if the Finance and Health Ministers fail to show up and are held in contempt, it will be second time in 17 months for the House of Representative charge the Cabinet members of the Executive Branch of Government in contempt charge.
The Deputy Minister for Press and Public Affairs at the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), Eugene Fahngon, was considered a non-governmental material and sentenced him to two nights in prison for legislative contempt. In addition, the House’s plenary levied a fine of L$4,999.99 against him.
The Deputy Minister was sent to jail for proven misconduct against two members of the House of Representatives, including Bomi County District #1Rep. Edwin Snowe and Montserrado County District #8 Rep. Acarous Gray.
Meanwhile, besides the Legislature’s power to detain people for ignoring its summons and subpoenas, it also has the significant power to demand witnesses and documents.
The contempt process can start in either the House or the Senate. Unlike with legislation, it only takes one of the Chambers to make and enforce a contempt citation through a majority vote. The contempt citation is a key part of the Legislature’s clout.