The Senate was plunged into near uproar on Tuesday, January 23, 2019, minutes after the reading of a letter from President George Weah, appointing George S. W. Patten, Sr. Ambassador to the United States of America.
President Weah’s letter, dated December 26, 2018, read: “In accordance with Article 54 of the Constitution of Liberia, and the Senate Standing Rule; Rule 55 Section 6, I have appointed the following position in government: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, George S. W. Patten, Sr., Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Liberia to the United States of America…”
Hardly did the secretary of the Senate complete reading the letter almost a dozen Senate hands went up for comments.
It was Grand Bassa County Senator Jonathan L. Kaipay who received the green light to proffer a motion and, in doing so, he moved that the President’s letter “be received by plenary and sent to the Committees on Foreign Affairs and Judiciary and report to plenary in two weeks.”
However, Senator H. Varney Sherman, who chairs the Judiciary committee, requested that his committee be omitted from the Kaipay motion after he had read Senate Rule 55, section 6, which gives the President the power to appoint when the Senate is on break.
Maryland County Senator and chair on Foreign Affairs committee, H. Dan Morais, said his committee has the sole responsibility to handle such a matter in accordance with the Senate Rules.
The argument that ensued placed senators in at least two groups, with some senators suggesting that the letter must be returned to the President, because the Senate only receives letters of nomination, not of appointment; especially when an appointee had already been commissioned by the President.
Another group argued that the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees take possession of the letter and advise plenary on the Constitutional implications, especially as the Senate is yet to receive such a letter in recent time.
Still, other Senators like J. Milton Teahjay of Sinoe County maintained the need to keep the Judiciary on the joint committee, reminding his colleagues that the Senate Rule “gives the President the right to do this appointment during our recess. Now what the Rule is saying is that the President should do what the Constitution is silent on, so we want the Judiciary to join the advisory team to get a piece of legal advice so that we don’t have to come back to where we are.”
Maryland County Senator and chairman of committee on Internal Affairs, J. Gbleh-bo Brown, sent a stern warning that; “the issue at bar hinges on the credibility of this Senate, and it is appalling that some of our colleagues will equate the Senate Rule to that of the Constitution of Liberia.”
“We should not fool ourselves that we do not know what that letter is saying, so to protect the integrity of the Senate, I am suggesting that this letter which was written to this Senate informing us of an appointment and not the nomination, be returned,” Sen. Brown said.
Nimba County Senator Thomas Grupee, like the others, suggested that the letter of appointment from the President be immediately discussed and disposed of in a decision. The letter, however, amid a ‘yea and nay’ vote, was sent to the Foreign Affairs committee.
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules, Order and Administration, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, last week sent a letter to the Senate plenary requesting the appearance of Foreign Minister Gbehzongar Findley, and George S. W. Patten, Liberia’s Ambassador-designate to the United States for” their blatant violation of Article 54b of the Constitution of Liberia.”
“The Constitution, which is the organic law of the state is very clear and for the sake of understanding and observance, depicts in Article 54b: “The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Senate, appoint and commission ambassadors, ministers, consuls…,” Senator Lawrence’s letter, dated January 14, 2019, and read before plenary on Tuesday, noted.
The Grand Bassa County Senator wondered: “How then the President nominated, but without the consent of the Liberian Senate, appointed and commissioned Mr. Patten? This action by the Executive is a sheer violation of the Liberian Constitution.”
Sen. Lawrence further requested the Senate for its constitutional indulgence to “invite the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mr. Patten to explain their actions and reasons which necessitated the constitutional violation.”
That letter is presently before the Committee on Foreign Affairs.