Disquieting Impasse in the Liberian Senate

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Ever since early September 2013, when Police Commissioner Chris Massaquoi dispatched some 200 officers of the Liberia National Police to the Capitol Building while the National Legislature was in session, there has been a severe strain in relations between the Legislative and Executive Branches of government.

According to reports, Col. Massaquoi had been invited to the Capitol by the Senate to explain comments attributed to him concerning police's resolve to deal with violators of Liberian traffic laws, as well as answer to a complaint filed by Senator Armah Jallah of Gbarpolu County.

Immediately following the incident, the Senate, shocked by this unconstitutional intrusion by a contingent of the Executive Branch, sent a letter to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf demanding that she censure (reprimand) the Police Commissioner. The Senate even called on President to disrobe Commissioner Massaquoi.

But for reasons no one can understand, President Sirleaf took no action and Police Commissioner Massaquoi is still solidly in his position.

Immediately following the Police incident on the Legislative grounds, the Daily Observer wrote an editorial calling on the President to swiftly take note of the Senate's consternation (anger) over the Police Commissioner's behavior and do something to redress such behavior, which the newspaper deemed tacitly unconstitutional. The newspaper referred to the "Separation of powers" enshrined in the Constitution of 1986, just as it had been in the previous Constitution, that of 1847.

As previously mentioned, no one could understand why the President was slow to act on such a grave matter that clearly threatened the smooth relations between the government's first two branches, the Legislative and the Executive.

It was not until the eve of the day she was to appear before the Legislature to deliver her Annual Message that the President publicly reprimanded Police Commissioner Massaquoi and directed him to apologize to the Senate.

The Daily Observer wrote another editorial published in the weekend edition of the newspaper's web site, www.liberianobserver.com, questioning why it took the President so long–several weeks–to act.

As we said in an editorial shortly to be published on the debacle facing the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), all persons who accept political appointments from the President of Liberia must realize that there are limits to the power they wield (handle, exercise). Nor is ANY elected official exempt from this compelling (undebatable, incontestable) truism.

Our Senate Correspondent J. Burgess Carter was, as always, cautious and humble in his report last Friday about the failure of the Senate to sit in plenary, but rather in executive session, placing Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, President of the Senate, in a quandary (dilemma, sticky situation). Constitutionally, it is the Vice President who presides over the Senate, so long as he is available to do so. But here we are, with so many pressing matters from the Executive, especially following the Annual Message, and the Senate won't meet in plenary to give the V.P. a chance to preside. Mr. Carter's story took what he considered the safe route, by simply asking, "What is hurting the Liberian Senate?"

In the light of the foregoing, the background explained earlier, it is patently clear what is hurting the Senate. One of the things bothering that august body HAS to be that it feels it has been slighted, in at least three ways, by the Executive branch. First, the purely unconstitutional behavior of the President's Police Commissioner; second, the President's unexplained and puzzling slowness to act; and thirdly, the fact that no action has been taken against Commissioner Massaquoi, and that he goes about job in business as usual. Well, when the first branch of government–or any branch for that matter, feels slighted by another branch, it is NOT and can never be business as usual, as Vice President Boakai is finding out.

The way forward, we believe, is for the President of Liberia to do what she has to do: to find out and be absolutely certain of what, in Senate Correspondent Carter's words, is "hurting the Senate" and do what she can–and do so expeditiously–to heal the hurt.

This she has to do so that the Senate may get back to its business, including the urgent business of the Executive branch.

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