The Senate yesterday, amidst hurried and rather strange and noisy proceedings, finally voted yea and nay to reject President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s recent request for extraordinary powers to carry on certain functions under the state of emergency declared on August 7, 2014 to fight the raging Ebola epidemic.
The Senators’ decision, delayed for weeks, was prompted by two separate letters sent to them by President Sirleaf early this month in which she informed that body of “measures being undertaken restricting/suspending certain fundamental rights of Liberian citizens,” and was seeking their (Senators’) approval.
The Senators, during earlier proceedings on the President’s two communications, failed to take decisions on those fundamental issues that are contained in Article 12 of the 1986 Constitution on Labor; Article 13 on the Free Movement of People; Article 14 of the Constitution of 1986 which deals with Religious Restriction which is one of several contentious issues that were debated by plenary.
Under Article 14, “The President may by proclamation, restrict certain religious practices, generally or specifically, if she finds that such practice further endangers the public health and contributes to the spread of the virus.”
In her communication, President Sirleaf noted that “In many of our counties, where certain religious and tribal practices, such as the bathing . . . bodies is religiously observed, the spread [and] transmission of the disease have been prevalent and the death tolls have been enormous. To prevent death and spread of this disease, these practices will be restricted whenever and wherever it becomes necessary.”
Other Articles that needed the Senate’s approval included Article 15 under which the President by proclamation or executive action, would prevent any citizen, groups of citizens or entity…from making public statements in person…otherwise causing a state of panic…. Article 17 and 24 that deal with Assembly of people, and Expropriation of Property, are also among demands contained in President Sirleaf’s communications.
Yesterday’s sitting, which was earlier presided over by the President of the Senate, Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, was concluded by the Chair of the Senate Committee on Executive, Senator Clarice Jah. Senator Jah hurriedly left the Chambers after she had conducted the yea and nay vote, amidst protests by a sizeable number of Senators led by Isaac Nyenabo.
Many of those in favor of the President’s request argued that the issues of the extra powers were in line with provisions available in the Constitution concerning the state of emergency, which had earlier been overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature.
The House of Representatives had already unanimously voted against the President’s request, and sent a copy to the Senate for concurrence.