Ahead of Friday’s deadline of the 72 hours for Legislature to act by a Joint Session, to either approve or revoke the proclamation of a State of Emergency (SOE) and the Stimulus Program, therein; members of the House of Representatives and Senate have already begun affixing their signatures as of Wednesday, April 15.
Each House, the House of Representatives and the Senate, acknowledged receipt of the President’s proclamation of the State of Emergency on Tuesday, having placed it on their respective agendas, but discussions, began on Wednesday, April 15, which begins the constitutional 72 hours.
Half-way into the Wednesday’s discussion, of which lawmakers were given five minutes each, at least 14 members of the House of Representatives unstintingly affixed their signatures, which resulted in some commotion, and some members of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) and the Independent Legislative Caucus (ILC) disrupted the ‘lobbying exercises’ with the argument that it was early.
Reps. Hanson Kiazolu, Robert Womba, Francis Dopoh, Beyan Howard, Vicent Willie and Thomas Goshua were the ring leaders opposing the “early signings.”
But the trio, Reps. J. Fonati Koffa – the House’s Chairman on Judiciary (drafter of the Joint Resolution), Rep. Thomas Fallah and Rep. Acarous Gray said “lobbying is legal”.
Rep. Koffa said: “Lobby is an inherent part of participatory democracy with undue influences, and one has the constitutional right to sign or not.”
During the Wednesday’s debate, all members the CPP and ILC argued that the President’s communication does not give analysis of how much is remaining in the 2019/2020 National Budget to enable the lawmakers to reallocate US$25 million, the source of the US$4 million payment to the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) isn’t known and that the Market Women and Small Informal Petty Traders payment should be abolished.
Others argued that the free food, water and electricity shouldn’t be done only in affected households but all the counties.
“The people’s taxpayers’ money should benefit every county,” Rep. Dopoh said.
There are reports that additional 15 Representatives also affixed their signatures on Thursday, April 16, meaning there are remaining 10 signatures remaining to make two-thirds (49 signatures).
For the Senate, on Wednesday, April 15, 10 of the 30 senators have openly agreed to support the State of Emergency but expressed their indifference.
They include: Sen. Saah Joseph, Sen. J. Milton Teahjay, Sen. Prince Y. Johnson, Sen. Henry Jallah, Sen. Victor Watson, Sen. George Tengbeh, Sen. Alphonso Gaye, Sen. Glehbo Brown, Sen. Morris Saytumah, Sen. Jonathan Kaipay.
There are unconfirmed reports that they began signing on Thursday, April 16. The Senate did not have session on Thursday as announced by Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, presiding officer and President of the Senate, on Wednesday.
At least 20 Senators will make two-thirds to authorize the State of Emergency.
The Senate will resume session on Friday, April 17; while the House of Representatives will continue.
The House’s SOE Committee is headed by Rep. J. Fonati Koffa, while the Senate’s SOE Committee is chaired by Dr. Peter S. Coleman.
Meanwhile in the Wednesday’s arguments in the Senate, Sen. Prince Y. Johnson said nobody should personalize the fight against COVID 19, as their project, but should consider it a national endeavor and fight.
Sen. J. Milton Teahjay agreed publicly but buttressed Sen. Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence against the Loans owed Banks by Women and Petty Traders.
Sen. Lawrence said the President’s proposal does not exactly specify the number of persons to benefit, the total amount of loans to be defrayed or who the creditors are, leaving this burden to the Legislature.
“This indicates a lack of due diligence on the actual amount required to fund this intervention and could open the doors to serious fraud and abuse.”
For his part, Sen. Teahjay said: “The proposal opens room for some to become thousandaires and millionaires to the detriment of Liberians.”
Sen. Darius Dillon said President’s proposal does not address “public health.” He intoned that the President only focuses on his stimulus program without dealing with the “health crisis.”
He recommended the President should increase the salaries of health workers and contact tracers and increase vigorous mechanism to end the spread of COVID 19 in the country, among others.
Meanwhile, according to a copy of the Resolution, authorizing the State of Emergency, the Legislature has approved the following: the S$25 million, for the Food Support Program; Electricity and Water Support Program; Market Women and Small Informal Petty Traders Bank Loan Program; agreed to re-appropriate US$15 million for Government Domestic Debt; and Tax Policy and Administration Stimulus Program.”
The Joint Resolution said the Joint Select Emergency Oversight Committee should be appointed by the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate and must exercise oversight over all of the programs approved in the resolution and report to both chambers.
“That no goods and services shall be procured, or payments contemplated by this Resolution and specifically approved herein shall be made without the express approval of the Joint Select Emergency Oversight Committee,” the resolution said.
It added: “That the Legislature shall remain in session in accordance with Article xx and remains seized of the matters contain herein. ANY LAW TO THE CONTRARY NOTWITHSTANDING.”
It may be recalled, on Wednesday, April 10, the President declared a State of Emergency throughout the country, of which he announced was done in consultation of House Speaker Dr. Bhofal Chambers and Senate President Pro Tempore Albert Chie in accordance with Article 86 of the Constitution.
“The President may, in consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, proclaim and declare and the existence of a state of emergency in the Republic or any part thereof. Acting pursuant thereto, the President may suspend or affect certain rights, freedoms and guarantees contained in this Constitution and exercise such other emergency powers as may be necessary and appropriate to take care of the emergency, subject, however, to the limitations contained in this Chapter.”
The President has also issued stringent measures by ordering residents in four counties, namely: Montserrado, Margibi, Nimba and Grand Kru, to stay at home and has ordered the deployment of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to enforce the regulations.