“Pandemic Will Not Prevent Us from Scrutinizing Budget”

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The President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Albert T. Chie

— Senator says in response to 1-week suspension of sittings declared after Senate staffer tests positive for COVID-19

The Senate’s decision to suspend session for one week following information that Assistant Secretary of the Senate, Mrs. Jannave Verdier-Massaquoi, tested positive for the Coronavirus brings forth the startling reality that the Senate may not be able to fully resume until the 2020/2021 Budget is submitted, which should have been submitted to the Legislature since April 30, 2020.

“We had no choice,” a Senate member said, “If we were advised to stay home for one or two weeks, then we have to take that guidance.”

The House of Representatives has however clarified that it is not postponing and has not suspended its session due to information that the Assistant Secretary of the Senate tested positive for the Coronavirus.

As the 103 lawmakers envision the probable new norm in the House of Representatives, one top priority for both the House and the Senate is to allow their respective Ways, Means, Finance, Budget, and Public Account Committees to conduct oversight of the 2020/2021 budget which is expected soon.  Delay in the passage of the budget has the propensity to cause a disastrous economic impact to stifle growth and increase hardship across the country.

“Technology has enabled us to do things without being together in the same place. That is the best way to stop the spread of the infection and I hope we can achieve,” said a member of the Senate who asked not to be named. “The pandemic will not prevent us from scrutinizing the budget.”

Holding committee meetings and sessions via teleconference would require a change to House and Senate rules that now largely mandate that lawmakers be physically present for sessions.

The office of the Speaker says though the House is cognizant of the staffer who tested positive for COVID-19 in the Senate, the House of Representatives has not considered any decision to suspend sessions, but rather to increase the Coronavirus preventive measures during sessions.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bhofal Chambers

Speaker Bhofal Chambers did not explain in detail the increased measures; however, there are reports of reducing the number of staff including journalists; compulsory wearing of face mask covering both the nose and mouth; compulsory personal sanitizer; increase in washing of hands; and social distancing will now be intensified.

George Watkins, head of the Political and Communication Unit in the office of the Speaker, said: “The leadership of the House of Representatives has not reached any decision for closure.”

Responding to rumor that Grand Kru County District #2 Representative, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa has been tested positive for the Coronavirus, Mr. Watkins said: “The Speaker further said that the House of Representatives has had no official notice, confirmation or communication from any person of its membership of being affected by the virus.”

Matthew Wesseh, Resource Officer in the office of the Rep. Koffa, wrote: “The attention of the office of Hon. Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa is being drawn to rumors and speculations on social media that he is down with the deadly coronavirus.  For the record, let it be established that a staff of his household in the person of Amos Chea is infected. On the basis of medical advice, he is observing 14-day isolation in line with the necessary health protocols.”

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