Supreme Court Puts Citizen Group’s Petition on Hold

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Justice-in-Chambers at the Supreme Court, Cllr. Jamesetta Wolokollie, on Wednesday, February 26, told the complainants against the controversial amendment to the Central Bank of Liberia Act to wait until the bill meets all of the requirements of law.

Just days after the bill was passed by the House of Representatives, the Citizens' Solidarity Council of Liberia, represented by Cllrs. Theophilus Gould and Lavala Supuwood, brought the amendment before the Supreme Court of Liberia, seeking to nullify the bill and declare it void in line with Article 2 of the Constitution.

In order for a bill to become law in Liberia, the legislature must have passed it; after the legislature has passed said bill, it must be signed by the President and printed into handbills.

The Daily Observer has reliably learned that the recently amended CBL Act has not yet been signed by the President since the two houses of the legislature unanimously voted in favor of it — the Senate on February 13 (fifteen calnedar days ago) and the House of Representatives February 18 (ten calendar days ago).

Constitutional experts believe that the Justice-in-Chambers’ decision requesting the Citizens' Solidarity Council to wait for the President’s action on the bill is an indication that the case has merit, which creates a political dilemma for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The President, political analysts on Capitol Hill observed, is currently judging for herself whether she should sign the bill or not.

According to our Executive Mansion sources, the Liberian leader considers the bill a bad law, but fears that vetoing it would further strain the already testy relationship between the Executive and the Legislative branches of government.

A majority of the lawmakers, this paper is told, are meanwhile poised to override her veto.

On the other hand, silence means consent: if the President does not act on the bill within 20 working days while she is in the country, the bill would automatically become law. It has been 8 working days (excluding weekends) since the House voted for the bill, concurring with the Senate. Wednesday, March 19, would mark the twentieth working day (weekends and holidays excluded) before the bill passes into law by default. However, President Sirleaf left the country Wednesday on 'official visits' to Nigeria and Chad. Her absence freezes time at only six (6) days since the Legislature passed the bill. She is expected to return over the weekend.

An insider from the President’s office said Thursday that President Sirleaf is currently consulting stakeholders on what to do.

The Liberian leader’s Annual Message in January is still fresh on the minds of the public.

In her Annual Message, the President announced that the government of Liberia (GOL) would take stringent measures against state-owned enterprises from exercising discretionary disbursements approved by their boards.

“We will implement stringent guidelines relating to state-owned enterprises which will no longer be allowed to make discretionary disbursements, approved by self-serving Boards that are not in conformity with our priorities and goals,” the President said.

While it is not clear that this legislation is in line with that statement, the decision by the Liberian legislature to amend certain portions of the 1999 Financial Institution Act (FIA) establishing the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) to ban the governor, his deputies and members of the board of governors from contesting political office for three successive years after the expiration of their respective tenures, has left many Liberians wondering about the actual reason behind the lawmakers’ action.

Some political pundits who perceive CBL officials, mainly the governor, as harboring political interests to contest the presidency of Liberia come 2017, accused the CBL boss of engaging in political campaigning using state resources. But the governor’s supporters, who are mostly small and medium-size business owners as well as youths and students, have denied these suggestions.

They clarified that the CBL’s loan scheme with the banks and non-bank financial institutions is critical to economic growth and development and poverty alleviation. Those against the bill have described it as a witch hunt since, in fact, it does not cover all public officials occupying senior government positions, including the lawmakers themselves.

As proponents of the bill try to explain that it is only intended to guarantee and protect the coffers of the CBL, others are equally pointing out that the bill, as it is, does not provide any protection for the national reserves.

As the two groups debate the issue, the Citizens' Solidarity Council of Liberia, which rushed to the Supreme Court of Liberia seeking to nullify the bill and declare it void in line with Article 2 of the Constitution, .

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