The race for the President Pro-Tempore position is gaining momentum as old and new senators are set to elect ‘the first among equals’ this week.
It is now clear that the more than six names that emerged right after the Special Senatorial Election last December, have now reduced to three potential candidates vyingfor the post.
From all indications, Oscar Cooper (Margibi), Joseph Nagbe (Sinoe) and Armah Zolu Jallah (Gbarpolu) are the three senators that are opting to occupy the Pro-Tempore vacancy.
The following is a critical analysis of the track record of those wanting to lead the Senate as presiding officer.
Margibi County Senator Oscar Cooper
Since joining the Legislature in January 2012, the Unity Party senator, a professional businessman, wasted no time in establishing himself as a seasoned politician.
As an entrepreneur, his work outside the Legislature of creating hundreds of job opportunities for many Liberians has paid off for him.
Sen. Cooper has encountered some difficulties in presiding over the committee on Public Works and Rural Development which entails providing direct oversight over the Committee considered‘critical and vital’ to the development agenda of the UP-led government.
His work has been solid on committeeswhere he has the time to sit and work with his colleagues. However, for the last three years that he has been in the Legislature, his committee is one of several that have failed to provide annual reports to plenary detailing how its oversight responsibilities are being carried out. For the record, like all other committees, his has been able to present only confirmation reports to plenary.
With respect to presiding over sessions, Cooper has never made any attempt to lead his colleagues as presiding officer even though he sits in leadership roles on many committees including, Ways, Means, Finance and Budget; National Defense, Intelligence, Security and Veterans’ Affairs; and Maritime.
The job he is opting for requires one to know legislative or parliamentary procedures coupled with a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Senate standing rules and the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.
On many occasions, Cooper has been interrupted by his colleagues because he failed to support his arguments with references from the required instruments.
He can be hailed for pushing the Decent Work Bill through the Senate, but again, ignorant of the body politics of the Capitol Building, he was beaten by his colleagues in the House of Representatives; thereby stalling the full passage of the draft legislation.
His medical condition does not allow him to shout so most often when debates became intense, he tried to stay clear. As a prostate cancer patient, Cooper spent almost seven months on the sideline after going through a major operation in the U.S. last year.
Gbarpolu County Senator Armah Z. Jallah
Jallah replaced Cllr. Eddington Varmah as Senator for Lofa County in a By-election in 1998. The creation of Gbarpolu in 1999 was the result of a pledge he made to his people.
He is currently the largest private investor in Gbarpolu County with the construction of a 25 bedroom guest house in Bopolu City, a major gas station at Bomi and Gbarpolu counties North Western border.
He contested the October 2005 presidential elections but failed. He was elected to the Senate in 2011 by his kinsmen.
Sen. Jallah chairs the committee on Internal Affairs and, like Sen. Cooper, has never made any report to plenary besides confirmations. All committees are required to make annual reports to plenary about their oversight, but to date only Banking and Currency and Judiciary have reports in the secretariat.
On two occasions, Senator Jallah declined to preside over session when the opportunities came his way; something his colleagues blamed on his ‘poor brain condition’.
His committee is the only one that has brought the Senate to disrepute of late.
When President Johnson Sirleaf nominated chiefs, district commissioners and superintendents to Gbarpolu early last year, Jallah misinformed the Secretary of the Senate that the nominees were denied, forcing Madam Sirleaf to re-nominate the local officials. Later it was realized that his committee did not report to plenary for action. He apologized and the matter was discarded.
On another front, he misinformed the Senate about a situation involving him and Police Director Chris Massaquoi.
According to him, Massaquoi obstructed his movement while on his way to session, an action that warrants Contempt.
That again brought the Senate to disrepute when it was established in a meeting with President Sirleaf and Vice President Joseph N. Boakai at a local hotel that Senator Jallah was not on board his official vehicle but rather his concubine. In order to protect the image of the Senate, Madam Sirleaf then asked Chris Massaquoi to apologize and suspended him (Massaquoi) for one day.
Sinoe County Joseph Nagbe
He is by the far the most experienced senator, with 22 years at Capitol Building. He started as a Researcher and was later promoted to Senior Researcher. He can boast of being the only lawmaker in the Capitol Building trained by the U.S. Congress, having studied Law Drafting. He served as a member of the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) and got elected as senator of Sinoe in 2005 with a second chance in 2011. As co-chair and chairman of the Judiciary Committee respectively, Nagbe has his signature on almost all of the 68 concession agreements signed under this administration of which only two met international best practice. In so doing, the blood of the suffering masses is also on his hands.
Nagbe, a seasoned lawyer is struggling with Diabetes which most times affects his attendance.
On the issue of presiding over session, Nagbe acted many times in the absence of the Vice President, President Pro-Tempore and Chairmen on Executive and Foreign Relations, respectively.
Under former pro-tempore Isaac W. Nyenabo, Nagbe presided several times when Nyenabo was away and even led the Senate under former pro-tempores such as Cletus Wotorson and Gbezohngar Findley.