Mass Protest Planned

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The Daily Observer has reliably learned of massive preparations underway that will involve tens of thousands of Liberians for a peaceful nation-wide demonstration.

According to the organizers of the march, the protestors will peacefully assemble on or before March 6, 2014 to register their opposition to the recent legislation passed by the Legislature prohibiting the board of governors of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) from contesting any political seat for three consecutive years after the expiration of their tenures.

The controversial legislation amends the 1999 Act of the CBL, which already prohibits the governor, his deputies, and board of governors from contesting political seats while serving their tenures. The lawmakers were said to believe that banning the board of governors of the CBL for three consecutive years after their tenures have expired, will help depoliticize the CBL.

 The heavily criticized legislation also gives lawmakers 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 and “to take necessary action of impeachment in keeping with relevant provisions of the Constitution.”

 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 a finding by a majority of the board of governors and the recommendation of the President 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 planners of the march have denounced the bill and vowed to resist it.

Organizers of the march are contending that by giving itself these powers, the legislature is scraping the CBL of its legal and international best practice mandate as a central bank. They disclosed that the march will take place on or before March 6, 2014 and will be held at the Capitol Building and the Foreign Ministry. “We are going to tell President Sirleaf not to sign that unconstitutional bill into law,” said one organizer.

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 gear towards 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 unions 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 renowned Liberian constitutional lawyer and former Labor Minister, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, who has argued that the bill violates Article 11 of the Liberian Constitution.

 Hundreds of callers on various phone-in talk shows have also condemned the Bill and called on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 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 haste with which the Lower House concurred with the Bill, which emanated from the Senate, without sending it to the 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.

Why was the Bill Passed?

Our sources declared that the CBL Act was amended in order to “clip the wings” of Executive Governor Dr. J. Mills Jones, whom the lawmakers perceived as gaining political capital in the country.

 The CBL boss has gained strong popularity across Liberia for his “inclusive economic” policy under which the CBL is providing economic stimuli to key sectors of the economy through bank and non-bank financial institutions.

With the high poverty level in Liberia especially in rural parts, many Liberians, mainly businesses—both small and large—consider Governor Jones as one who understands their plight and that of the Liberian economy.

 This paper has been told that politicians on Capitol Hill, who are eyeing the presidency come 2017, see Governor Jones as their greatest threat should he decide to contest.

 The CBL boss’ second and final tenure as Executive Governor of the CBL is expected to end in 2016.

President Sirleaf’s Dilemma

Political analysts believe that the passage of the controversial Amended CBL Act by the legislature puts President Sirleaf in a critical political position.

 Executive Mansion sources hinted to our reporter over the weekend that the President is disturbed by the decision of the Legislature to enact a law that directly contravenes international best practice. These sources, however, noted that the President is weighing in on the issue of the US$73 million district development bill recently submitted by House Speaker Alex Tyler.

The bill, which seeks to set aside US$73 million exclusively for district development across the country, lacks basic elements of financial management.

 Citing failure of the County Development Fund, these sources noted that the President seems unprepared to approve the US$73 million bill due to accountability issues. Though these sources didn’t say whether the President will sign the amended CBL Act to appease the Legislature, they told our reporter that doing so would put her credibility on the line.

 They also told our reporter that President Sirleaf is keenly watching the political interplay on Capitol Hill following rumors that Vice President Joseph Boakai and House Speaker Alex Tyler, all of the ruling UP, are considering contesting the 2017 presidential and general elections.

 Internal wrangling within the governing UP has been fueled by a power- struggle over who should replace President Sirleaf as standard bearer. The big question is: will President Sirleaf risk what political capital and credibility she has left and sign a law that violates the Constitution and ruins the CBL, to appease lawmakers on Capitol Hill?   

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