Did Senate Err in 72-Hour Ultimatum?

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The Liberian Senate recently issued a 72-hour mandate to the authority of the Ministry of Health & Social Welfare, to reinstate two dismissed officials of the National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NHWAL), but there are indications that the Upper House may have erred in taking that decision.

The two officials, Joseph Tamba, president, and George Williams, secretary general, were among 22 employees of NHWAL dismissed by Minister Walter Gwenigale for their role in the February 2014 nation-wide go slow by health workers.

The nation-wide go slow was halted following the intervention of the Senate, the Council of Churches and traditional leaders, among others, and after the Ministry agreed to reinstate all dismissed workers and officials as one of other demands.  

The Ministry’s decision to reinstate all, but the two officials prompted the Senate to summon Minister Gwenigale to the Capitol Building. But due to his absence from the country, acting Minister Matthew Flomo faced the Senate; and after hours of grilling, he was mandated to reinstate the two officials within 72 hours.

However, the 72-hour ultimatum has run into weeks and the two officials remain dismissed and jobless.

But speaking to this newspaper yesterday, an authority of the leadership of the Senate, who begged anonymity, disclosed that just as the Senate does not have the Constitutional right or mandate to dismiss an Executive appointee, it also lacks the mandate to request an appointee of the Executive to dismiss anyone under his/her employment, or call for his or her reinstatement.

The source told our reporter that Minister Gwenigale was correct when he stated that the dismissal of the officials had received the blessings of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

The Senate decision to mandate the Ministry to reinstate the two officials was necessitated by Lofa County Senator George Tengbeh who informed the plenary that there was again a rumor that health workers may again go on strike, if their leaders are not reinstated as promised in an MOU signed by authorities of the Ministyry of Health. “So I want to bring this to the attention of the plenary so that we can take action on this, so that it will not be too late for us.”

Montserrado County Senator Geraldine Doe-Sherif  during that debate cautioned her colleagues not to accept  Minister  Gwenigale’s statement about the executive endorsing his action; “because the Minister made it emphatically clear when I chaired a six-hour meeting at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center with him (Minister Gwenigale), that those health workers who were the champions of their struggle were not going to be affected and that nobody was going to be dismissed.  He gave us his word and I told him, ‘If anything should happen we would hold you responsible and we will bring you before plenary to show cause why we should not hold you in contempt.”

Grand Kru Senator Cletus Wotorson’s attempt to soften the tempo of the proceeding by taking a softer approach such as informing the executive that its agents are not cooperating with the Legislature, failed to hold water.

This is the second time that the Senate seems to be in conflict over decision concerning an appointee of the Executive branch of Government.

During its extended session in September 2013, the Senate plenary voted to call for the disrobement of the Director of Police Chris Massaquoi to face investigation for deploying over 200 armed police on the grounds of the Legislature on September 12, 2013.

But weeks later, the Senate Chairman on the Committee of Banking and currency, Isaac Nyenabo, speaking during a radio talk show in Paynesville City, ‘clarified that on the contrary to what was earlier reported, the Senate had instead requested President Sirleaf to take due note of the Director’s behavior and take appropriate action to serve as deterrent to the recurrence of such action.

The President in a communication to the Senate early this year, informed that body that she had taken the appropriate action of suspending Director Massaquoi for two days to enable him write a letter of apology to the Senators.

With the development, it is not clear what the Senate’s next course of action will be, as that body continues to commit what political commentators believe are errors in taking decisions that should be the sole responsibility of the Executive branch of government.

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