‘Place Moratorium on New Districts, Cities, Townships, Boroughs’

Rep. Koffa: "The House should put moratorium on the creation of new Districts, Cities, Townships and Boroughs."

-House’s Judiciary, Executive Recommend, But…

In an effort to stop the short-change of democracy by rushing through legislation, especially on the creation of new districts, cities, townships, and boroughs, the Joint Committee on Judiciary and Executive of the House of Representatives has recommended a “moratorium” until the implementation of the Local Government Act.

The Joint Committee said the Legislature “simply” cannot continue to create districts, because it will create a temporary exuberance for the proponents of the bill and beneficiaries of its enactment, which will shortly be dissolved when the Local Government Act comes into force.

Propounding on the report in Plenary on Tuesday, January 29, 2019, during the 6th day sitting, the chairman of the Committee on Judiciary J. Fonati Koffa (Representative Grand Kru County District #2), a lawyer by profession, stated that though the Joint  Committee disagrees with the President’s Article 34 posture, the President’s reasoning as to why he cannot concord with the Legislature was somehow genuine.

The Joint Committee in its Report and Recommendation against the Presidential Veto of an Act Creating Zeyeama District, Lofa County, further said the House should seize the Act, summon the Minister of Internal Affairs to a brief Plenary on the assessment process towards the implementation of the Local Government Act, and the Committee on the Executive should communicate the position of the House to the President.

The signatories of the Joint Committee’s report include chairman J. Fonati Koffa; co-chairman Representatives A. Kane Wesso (Gbarpolu County District #2); Beyan D. Howard (Lofa County District 35); Larry Younquoi (Nimba County District #8); Ellen A. Attoh (Margibi County District #3); Joseph Nyan Sumwarbi (Nimba County District #3) and Jimmy Smith (Montserrado County District #2). All are from the Judiciary Committee.

For the Executive Committee, the signatories were co-chairman Rep. Acarous M. Gray (Montserrado County District #8); Representatives Dixon Seboe (Montserrado County District #16); Mary Karwor (Grand Bassa County District #2); Lawrence Morris (Montserrado County District #1) and Haja F. Siryon (Bomi County District #3).

“The creation of new districts add to the already stretched financial envelope and should be done so only where politically necessary and financially prudent,” the Committee noted in the report read in Plenary by Deputy Chief Clerk Sayfur Geplay.

The report said: “In accordance with Section 3.8 of the Local Government Act of 2015, which was enacted into law in 2018, all statutes creating statutory districts, cities, townships and boroughs are nullified except for the statute creating the Borough of New Kru Town, upon the full implementation of the Local Government Act.”

It added: “Of equal importance in the President’s veto message is the concern that the Legislature should do more in ascertaining the fiscal impact of the creation of these districts. Liberia currently operates in a tight fiscal space, with salaries and benefits for employees constituting a large portion of the annual budget. The creation of new districts adds to the already stretched financial envelope and should be done so only where politically necessary and financially prudent.”

Despite the Joint Committee’s advice or recommendation, members of the House of Representatives voted to override President George Weah’s veto of the Act creating Zeyeama District in Lofa County.

Regarding the debates of the Joint Committee’s report against the passage of the bill, the proponent of the bill, Representatives Mariamu B. Fofana (Lofa, District #4), Samuel Kogar (Nimba District #5) and Larry Younquoi, (Nimba District #8) called for negotiations with the Executive.

Rep. Fofana, in her argument, asserted that the creation of Zeyeama District in Lofa County will contribute to fostering peace and reconciliation as the local authorities will be empowered to settle conflicts, including land disputes.

But Speaker Chambers and Rep. Wesso, co-chairman on Judiciary, interjected that the process has gone beyond dialogue and can only be addressed through an overriding or concession by the Legislature.

Other lawmakers, including Representatives Dorwohn T. Gleekia (Nimba District #6), Ben Fofana (Margibi District #4) and Dixon Wlawee Seibo (Montserrado, District #16), cited article 35 of the Constitution of Liberia for the override.

“I want this House to exercise its constitutional power to override the President’s veto. If you can’t do it then concede,” Rep. Fofana urged his colleagues.

Despite Representative Johnson Gwaikolo’s (Nimba District #9) call for the House to abandon the process and let “sleeping dog lies” while Rep. Seebo called for a motion to override the President’s veto, it was endorsed by plenary.

The decision now sets the stage for a resolution for an override vote, which requires a two-thirds majority from both the Senate and House of Representatives in order to be successful.

It may be recalled that the President, invoking article 34 of the Liberian Constitution, recently vetoed the act creating a new district in Lofa County.

In his veto message to the Legislature, read in plenary on January 15, the President said the creation of a new district will have adverse fiscal impact owing to the government’s meager budget.

The President added that the Local Government Act, which was passed by the Legislature and approved by him in 2018 but is still under assessment for implementation, includes a system and manner of local governance with which the law was an unnecessary preemption.

His assertions were reiterated in his annual message to the Legislature on Monday, January 28, when he cautioned lawmakers that any act establishing new districts should promote economic viability and should not be solely politically motivated.

Based on the president’s decision, the plenary, on January 17, mandated its Joint Committee on Judiciary and Executive to review the content of the president’s communication.


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