Citizen Groups Take Legislature to Task

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More condemnations are emerging from different citizen groups across the country against a recent legislation passed by the Liberian Legislature intending to ban a number of individuals from vying for political posts now and for three years after their tenure.

Those to be affected if the Legislature succeeds include the board of governors of the Central Bank of Liberia, (CBL) as well as the governor and his deputies.

The latest group to condemn the bill is the ‘Peace Loving Concerned Liberian Owned Organizations and Communities’ whose spokesman has described the amended CBL bill as illegal and anti-progressive noting, that it violates the Liberian Constitution.

The Peace Loving Concerned Liberian Owned Organizations and Communities is a conglomeration of over 79 citizen groups from all 15 counties of Liberia. They are representing the interest of over a million Liberians who consider the lawmakers’ action a witch hunt and ill-fated.

Addressing a crowded news conference in Monrovia Tuesday, February 25, the group’s spokesman Samuel F. McGill said the bill violates Article 2 of Liberian Constitution, which basically states: “This Constitution is the supreme and fundamental law of Liberia and its provisions shall have binding force and effect on all authorities and persons throughout the Republic.

Any laws, treaties, statutes, decrees, customs and regulations found to be inconsistent with it shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no legal effect. The Supreme Court, pursuant to its power of judicial review, is empowered to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional.”

He also quoted Articles 11C of the Constitution which states “All persons are equal before the law and are therefore entitled to the equal protection of the law,” and Article 18, which states “All Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and all shall be entitled to equal pay for equal work.”

Mr. McGill also quoted Article 20-A which states “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law. Justice shall be done without sale, denial or delay; and in all cases not arising in courts not of record, under courts-martial and upon impeachment, the parties shall have the right to trial by jury.”

Mr. McGill noted that the citizens are very concern because the amended CBL Act impinges on the rights of other citizens. At the center of the bill is CBL Governor J. Mills Jones, who is currently in the United States.

The CBL boss’ accusers perceived him as having political intention to contest the presidency of Liberia come 2017. Though the CBL Executive Governor has not made any public declaration to contest the nation’s highest seat, his critics on Capitol Hill say he has political ambition.

As a result of this perception, the lawmakers believe that passing a law banning him and his deputies from contesting political seat for three consecutive years after the expiration of their respective tenures would help reduce the growing influence of the Central Bank Governor who has galvanized strong popularity among poor Liberians and businesses across Liberia for his inclusive economic policy.

But their action to give themselves the exclusive powers to issue banknotes and legal tender and coins, including the exclusive powers to determine whether or not an offense has been committed by the executive governor or a member of the board of governors of the CBL instead of the CBL Board and “to take necessary action of impeachment in keeping with relevant provision of the Constitution,” has been met with stiff resistance.

According to the 1999 Financial Institution Act, “a member of the board of governors can be removed from office upon a bill of impeachment by the House of Representatives upon finding by a majority of the board of governors and the recommendation of the President of Liberia for gross breach of duty; misconduct of office; conviction of a felony and being declared bankrupt.”

 Part II (4) (1) of the 1999 Act which gave the CBL the power to issue legal tender and banknotes and coins was also amended  to say that the CBL shall supply legal tender and banknotes and coins. The citizens have denounced the bill and vowed to resist it.

 Reading the joint statement on behalf of the citizens groups, Mr. McGill insisted that the bill lacks the basic elements of peace and reconciliation due to the fact that it excludes other Liberians from exercising their democratic franchises as enshrined in the constitution.

Mr. McGill, who is executive director of the Liberia National Empowerment Network, noted that the unproductive action of the national legislature should not be allowed as it contravenes international best practice, undermines the independence, credibility, powers and functions of the CBL to intervene in the Liberian economy and implement the monetary policy.

Functions of a central bank

According to international best practice, a central bank (reserve bank) or monetary authority is an institution that manages a state’s currency, money supply, and interest rates.

 Central banks also usually oversee the commercial banking system of their respective countries and are institutionally designed to be independent from political interference, with limited control by the executive and legislative bodies.

  In contrast to a commercial bank, a central bank possesses a monopoly on increasing the amount of money in the nation, and usually prints the national currency, which usually serves as the nation's legal tender.

Lawmakers’ argument

  Members of the legislature are, however, contending that they have the constitutional authority to print and issue the national currency even though they (legislators) “mistakenly” delegated that authority to the CBL back in 1999.

LINSU, Others Condemn Bill

The Liberia National Student Union (LINSU) was the first to condemn the legislation. In a widely publicized statement issue last week, LINSU described the law as “a bad law aimed at fostering disunity and witch hunting.”

 LINSU’s president Varney Jarsey and secretary general Benedict Williams vowed to fight the law to death.

 The presidents of various universities’ student union including the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU), AME Zion University Student Union (AMEZUSU), United Methodist University Student Union (UMUSU), Cuttington University Student Union (CUSU), Smythe and Tubman University (TU) have also jointly affixed their signatures to a strong press statement condemning the bill.

The Citizens Solidarity Council has also condemned the bill and threatened legal action against the legislature.

 Also condemning the bill is Liberian lawyer and former Minister of Labor Clr. Tiawon Gongloe who argued that the bill violates Article 11 of the Liberian Constitution.

 Most of the callers on various phone-in talk shows have also condemned the bill and called on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (EJS) to veto it in the name of peace and good governance.

Some Lawmakers’ Condemnation of the Bill

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also declared their opposition to the law seeking to bar Liberians from contesting for political offices after the expiration of their tenures with the CBL.

Montserrado County Representative Thomas Fallah of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) wondered whether supporters of the bill took into consideration the constitutional rights of those affected by such a law.

Rep. Fallah frowned at the fast manner in which the Lower House concurred with the bill, which emanated from the Senate, without sending same to Committee room for advice to the plenary.

 Another CDC lawmaker who voted against the bill in the Lower House Julius Berrien described the law as bad and unconstitutional. Our Capitol Hill sources hinted to our reporter during the week that House Speaker Jenekai Alex Tyler of the ruling Unity Party (UP) requested plenary to suspend the House’s Standing Rules before voting on the bill to allow all motions for reconsideration to be tried on the floor on the same day.

 “This is because he realized that most of the lawmakers were in favor of passing the bill,” said this source on condition of anonymity.

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