Yesterday witnessed a dramatic twist in the long political standoff in the Lower House of the National Legislature with Speaker J. Alex Tyler finally resolving to recuse himself as presiding officer of the House. Tyler, who has resisted immense pressure to force him to bow out, said he only decided to step aside in the interest of the Liberian people and nothing else.
Tyler’s decision comes barely 24 hours after human rights lawyer Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe said the ongoing saga at the legislature has nothing to do with whether or not the right thing for Speaker Tyler to do was to recuse himself. Many persons, Tiawan said, hold the view that whenever there is a cloud over the integrity of a public figure such as Speaker Tyler, the most honorable thing to do is to recuse himself. He cited an example where he said it was not long ago, when the Prime Minister of Iceland resigned his post after his name appeared in the Panama Papers for alleged corruption. He did not wait for a conclusion of the investigation to say whether he was guilty or innocent.
“But, this high standard held by public office-holders in other parts of the world is, unfortunately, not a common practice in Liberia. The common practice is for a public official to provide justification for not resigning,” Tiawan said.
However, Tyler decided to step aside after nearly three months of tussle in the Lower House—a situation that paralyzed the entire government.
But let no one be fooled by Tyler’s decision yesterday, though it paves the way for smooth operation at the Legislature for the time being, especially for the hearing and the passage of the national budget and other key legislative instruments.
Yesterday’s decision renders the political rivalry in the Legislature far from being over.
Up to press time last night, it was not clear whether his decision will pave the way for members of the House to elect a new Speaker—although reports indicate that the so called majority bloc are clandestinely embarking upon his final exit as Speaker.
Tyler’s decision may in the minds of many suggest that peace has finally prevailed, but this seems to be far from the truth with some saying that the political saga is at the verge of being a teaser to what might come next. The recusal of the Speaker, some members of the renegade group have begun to say, has paved the way for his removal from the post.
The embattled Speaker said the crisis in the Lower House has split the country in almost every sphere of its national existence thus negatively affecting the economy.
Tyler said the National Budget hearings’ passage has been called off by the Executive. “Ministers and heads of government agencies have been instructed by the Executive not to appear for hearings.
“Civil servants’ salaries are delayed causing domestic upheavals; medical institutions and health delivery are experiencing difficulties; social structures are functioning at minimum capacities; infrastructural programs are on hold; major contracts cannot be implemented as they all depend on the passage of the budget,” said Tyler in his press statement.
He further acknowledged that Legislative projects which were being implemented around the country have been stalled due to the ongoing conflict in the House to the extent that those representatives who have refused to sign the resolution for recusal and have chosen to stand by the law and abide by the constitution are being threatened by the Executive with non-implementation of their constituencies’ projects.
“Given the incendiary role President Sirleaf played in fueling the conflict in the House, we ought to be mindful of what could happen in the up-coming elections,” he added.
Tyler: “We have the responsibility to resolve leadership crises by using the instrument endorsed by all, which is the Constitution. This, we swore to uphold, defend and protect the State.
“In a democracy, when citizens converge to the ballot boxes to exercise their political franchise by casting their ballots to elect a leader, they are expressly upholding the tenets of democracy which is a free choice and does not end there.”
He called for the leaders to abide by the Constitution and laws of the land they swore to defend, to protect and to uphold, adding, “Any attempt to do otherwise, would be detrimental to the state and people.”
But members of the House of Representatives in their heated argument recently called on Tyler to recuse himself as presiding officer, while he is in court for a criminal offense following his indictment for allegedly receiving US$75,000 as bribe to change the PPCC law to favor London based Sable Mining Company to get a mining concession for the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County.
Tyler, who has declared his intention to contest for the presidency in 2017, believes that the Executive bears the greatest responsibility to ensure the adherence to the Constitution and laws of Liberia.
He believes that in the current crisis, the Executive has shown disregard for the laws by refusing to adhere to the principle of the separation of powers.
Tyler added: “The decision we seek to make here today, should not be mistaken as a sign of weakness, as it will be a matter of foolish pride, to sit idly and see our nation and the institutions of governance disintegrate and descend into chaos and/or anarchy. There are no winners when the nation’s pride is at stake.”
He said as a God fearing man, he is constantly reminded of the Biblical teaching of King Solomon relating to the status of the baby in determining the true biological mother, with one preferring the splitting of the baby in half, while the other holds that the baby be spared. There, he said,
King Solomon came to the conclusion of knowing who the true mother of the baby was.
Therefore, “If my recusal is the ultimate sacrifice that will move our country forward and end this current quagmire, I am herewith recusing myself from presiding over the plenary of the House of Representatives so that the business of the Liberian people can be fully addressed.
“It must be noted that indictment is not a guilty verdict, and it is indeed unfortunate that some of our colleagues have chosen to effectively and glaringly exploit and politicize what is purely a legal matter.”
It may be recalled that Speaker Tyler and Senator Varney Sherman were indicted by Criminal Court ‘C’. The indictment of the two senior lawmakers grew out of a May 2016 Global Witness Report released on Liberia where the pair and several other senior government officials were accused of receiving bribes to award a concessional agreement in favor of Sable Mining to mine iron ore in the Wologizi Mountain.
With Speaker Tyler’s recusal, many Liberians interviewed yesterday after the announcement said his decision showed a tremendous sense of responsibility as a leader for him to finally recuse himself.
“Now we want to see from now on how the allegations against him would proceed,” said Emmanuel Dormah in a telephone interview from central Monrovia. He said Tyler’s decision has shown that he is a man of legality.
In random telephone interviews, many Liberians applauded Tyler’s decision to end the saga and ensure sanity, after a series of tussles that have held the country to ransom.
“Now we must go on and afford Liberia a chance to move ahead,” another Liberian, identified as Helena Weah, said.