The Liberian Senate at the first sitting of the First Session of the 54th Legislature yesterday elected Grand Kru County Senator Albert Tugbe Chie President Pro Tempore and the 10 Statutory Committee members through a resolution signed by over 27 Senators.
According to the Secretariat of the Senate, the resolution became necessary following an announcement by Lofa County Senator Stephen Zargo late Sunday evening of his withdrawal from the race to keep the Senate united.
The motion of the resolution proffered by Grand Bassa Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence also called for the elevation and upgrading of the Committees on Public Works and that of Education to leadership status. This followed after the passage of another resolution electing reshuffled members of the eight-member leadership committee.
Outgoing Pro Temp Armah Zolu Jallah now chairs the new statutory committee on Public Works, while River Cess Senator Dallas Gueh chairs the Committee on Education.
Other statutory committee members include Senators Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, now Rules, Order & Administration; Geraldine Doe-Sherif, Executive (retained); H. Varney Sherman, Judiciary; Peter Sonpon Coleman, retained on Gender, Health, Social Welfare, Women & Children Affairs; H. Dan Morais, retained on Foreign Affairs; Morris G. Saytumah, Ways, Means & Finance; Thomas Grupee, Defense, Security, Intelligence, and Veterans Affairs; J. Gbleh-Bo Brown, Internal Affairs, Reconciliation & Good Governance.
Meanwhile, Nimba County Senator Prince Johnson retained his post on the ECOWAS Parliament, with Senator Stephen Zargo.
Earlier, in the presence of the incoming President of the Senate, Vice President-elect Jewel Howard Taylor, the outgoing Senate President, Joseph Boakai, in a moving statement accompanied by standing ovations, bade farewell to the 53rd Senate he chaired for 12 years, and welcomed the 54th.
“For me, as President of the Liberian Senate and, I am sure for you as honorable members of the Upper House, it is certainly a positive development that the nation’s new President, Senator George Weah, and Vice President Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, will be none other than colleagues and compatriots who have worked with us in these very chambers for some years now,” VP Boakai reflected.
Vice President Boakai recalled warning his colleagues last January that it should “never be a must win or perish situation which would engender unsavory acts aimed at reaping undeserved rewards. Today, we leave it to history to judge whether we have demonstrated the inclination to live by what we preach; what I feel, however, is great pride and fulfillment for the love and loyalty I hold for this country,” VP Boakai said.
In his acceptance speech, Pro Temp Chie told the gathering that the Senate’s legislative agenda, in the interim, will include some bills that are being worked on in committee room, such as the Land Rights Act and the Local Government Act, adding: “These two bills are almost in their final stages of processing and will be enacted promptly.”
Also on the interim agenda are the new Immigration and Naturalization Act and the new Maritime Law, which will need prompt attention.
Pro Temp Chie, who chaired the committee on Lands, Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, said under the 54th Legislature, the Senate will urge the Executive to review most of the concession agreements that have been passed over many years to assess the performance of concessionaires and to accommodate any profound change in circumstances.
“We will tackle the provisions of the Constitution that were sent to us for review to begin the process for a national referendum. We will review the arguments for dual citizenship, mineral rights, reduction in the terms for the President, Vice President and members of the Legislature, open citizenship for all despite race, etc.,” Chie assured.
The Albert Chie-led Senate promised to introduce new elements for national referendum consideration such as the argument that the President of the Senate should be a Senator and not the Vice President of Liberia.
He reminded his colleagues that the 54th Legislature will be a part of the government that is inheriting an economy that is not performing well, with export earnings down due to the adverse global market prices for the country’s major commodities.
“The Senate stands prepared to work with the Executive to address the current economic challenges in both the short and medium terms and our actions will include but not limited to the passing of a realistic National Budget to avoid budget shortfalls; revisiting policies to strengthen the economy in sectors such as forestry, taxation, investment incentives; strengthening of institutions assisting in the creation of an enabling environment for the growth of the private sector,” he said.
Another area of concern for the 54th Senate, according to Chie, will be Liberia’s debt profile, massive foreign investment, value addition to locally-produced commodities, and electricity/power issues, among others.
With respect to the Senate’s housekeeping, Chie promised to continue from where his predecessor stopped: Assessing the human resource capacity of the Senate to make all departments functional; review the rules of the Senate and amend where necessary; augment the strength of the legal department of the Senate; review the welfare of Senate staff and employees; reconciling the administrative function of the Senate Secretariat and the relevant committees of the Senate; building the capacity of employees and staff; improving the security of the Capitol; and enhancing the public relations capacity by the procurement and operation of an FM station and television facility for the legislature.
Meanwhile, former Pro Temp Jallah yesterday disclosed that during his stewardship, the Senate acted on 150 bills. In 2015 during the 4th session of the Senate, 16 bills were enacted and two bills amended; during the 5th session in 2016, the Senate ratified 43 bills while 22 were enacted and 15 amended; in 2017 the Senate ratified 12 bills and enacted 24, while 11 were amended.