As is characteristic of Liberian legislators, they talk a lot, posture a lot and often make promises which they have no intention to honor.
They huff and puff over nothing, take huge brown envelopes from just about anyone seeking special favors, least to mention big brown envelopes from the executive, to pass or to approve agreements which benefit not the country but their pockets.
But can this 54th legislature prove to be any different from its predecessors? From the look of things and especially judging from the issues being raised about the state of the nation’s finances, there may just be a glimmer of hope, although it may yet be too early to tell.
For example, it can be recalled from the past that during the heated discussions on the proposed passage into law of the concession agreement granting iron ore exploration and mining rights to what was for all intent and purposes, an under-capitalized and broke scrap dealing entity, several calls from the public to their legislators to not affix their signatures to the deal generally went unheeded.
One legislator went as far as writing his colleagues to refrain from passing the agreement into law not before the conduct of sufficient due diligence by the body. But his plea went unheeded.
The legislator also wrote then President Sirleaf pleading with her not to pass the Elenilto bill into law because, from all indications, Eleniito, a company with no history of mining anywhere in the world, was nothing more than a scrap dealing company.
But despite all the huffing and puffing and sometimes bellicose exchanges with President Sirleaf, as soon as the brown envelopes appeared all the huffing, puffing and posturing stopped. And like a hot knife cutting through frozen butter, the brown envelopes did the trick sufficiently enough to send all their big talk scurrying to the dustbin as if they had meant nothing at all.
We recall that the “Mighty Congress for Democratic Change” by their numbers at the time held sway in the legislature especially in the House of Representatives. And then came the now controversial APM Terminals (APMT) 25-year concession agreement whose proposals, we were told, held great promise for Liberia.
Former National Port Authority (NPA) managing director, Matilda Parker is said to have expressed strong opposition to the proposed agreement to turn over the Freeport of Monrovia to the APMT for fear that the agreement as it was did not serve the best interests of the country.
Yet the bill was passed anyway and the Freeport of Monrovia, the “Gateway to Liberia” was ceded to the APMT for little or nothing in return. Whatever great promise that agreement was supposed to have held for Liberia has apparently vanished into thin air as ordinary Liberians now find themselves facing the nasty consequences of ill-intentioned and self-seeking legislative action-rising prices of commodities imported through the Free port of Monrovia.
But that was then and was when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was president of Liberia and George Weah was an opposition leader and then later senator. And lest we forget, there was no talk then of reviewing concession agreements, least to mention any talk of an audit of all government ministries.
Today, George Weah is now president, having previously served as senator for a period of three years. Although Liberians heard not a word from our legislators during that period about reviewing concession agreements or conducting audits of all government ministries and agencies, we are now beginning to hear of such, which in any case is well and fine.
Perhaps such talk is coming only from rookie legislators who may yet still be learning the ropes. Nevertheless we welcome such talk although it could be mere posturing at least until the brown envelopes begin to reappear from anywhere ever.
However we must caution that our legislators must be resolute because temptations may be strewn every step of the way. Just as the others fell, so they too may “fall into the water and turn into fishes” and Liberia may benefit nothing. Whether the country may stand to benefit as a result of their review of concession agreements (62 illegal agreements) is clear and obvious.
However whether legislators are conscious and aware of the full magnitude and implications of their intended actions is unclear. Lest we forget, we must remind ourselves that it takes two to tango. The legislature itself is complicit in the awarding of bogus and illegal concession agreements.
Is it now willing to subject itself to audits also as is now being hinted by President Weah for all government ministries and agencies? Charity begins at home and if President Weah is indeed serious about advancing the interests of pro poor governance, the review of all concession agreements should proceed at pace.
But perhaps as the late President C.D.B. King reminds us, “the fish begins to rot from the head”. And much too often this fish head is considered to be the Executive, although the Legislature is indeed the First Branch of government.
Whether they shall prove unwilling to submit to audits, as they have always done in the past is perhaps non debatable. But if they (legislators) profess commitment to supporting the cause of a Pro Poor government, then so too should they prove willing to submit to audits.
Finally we must remind our legislators that they do not stand above the law and just in case should they prove recalcitrant, we would urge President Weah to take his case directly to the people.
Should he fail otherwise, the Liberian people shall come to the conclusion that Pro Poor governance and Poverty Reduction Strategy are simply both sides of the same coin. In other words, “Same Taxi, Different Driver?