The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler, last Thursday stepped aside as Speaker, paving the way for the plenary of the House to be resumed, in order to get on with the nation’s urgent business.
For several weeks now the House has been bitterly divided into two factions, each holding a separate session, a situation that is patently unconstitutional. One faction, headed by House Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue of Grand Bassa County, demanded that Speaker Tyler, in the wake of Global Witness report alleging that he had received US$75,000 in connection with the Sable Mining bribery scandal, should recuse himself from presiding over the House until his name was cleared.
But the Speaker said the allegations were false and insisted he had done nothing wrong that would warrant his recusal. The Barchue faction, on the other hand, decided that so long as Tyler did not recuse himself, Barchue and his colleagues would not sit under Tyler’s gavel and proceeded to form their own body, with Barchue as chair.
The Daily Observer is on record in stating that it would have been more prudent for the Speaker, as well as Grand Cape Mount Senator Varney Sherman, who was also indicted in the Global Witness bribery allegation, to both step aside until their names are cleared. Both, however, declined to do that. Senator Sherman’s Senate colleagues were not so insistent on their Judicial Committee Chairman stepping aside; and so Sherman has remained in office undisturbed.
On the other hand, it was Speaker Tyler who has been under tremendous pressure to step aside and his refusal, until last Friday, and the intransigence of the Barchue faction, which insisted on holding their “separate session” because it was unconstitutional and even treasonable, brought the Legislature to a standstill. This came for the entire country at a critical time, when the National Budget for 2016/2017 languished in the divided House because it could not meet as one to act on the budget for submission to the Senate for concurrence.
Political observers believe that Speaker Tyler became emboldened to do what he did—step aside—because several members of the Senate late last week threw their full weight behind him, contending that he was the legitimate Speaker of the House and that the Hans Barchue faction was illegal.
There is speculation that having reached out to him in his predicament, the Senators developed the political metal to approach the Speaker and plead with him to demonstrate statesmanship to help resolve the impasse in the House.
It was at that point that Speaker Tyler came forward and declared that it would be what the Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff called “foolish pride” for him (Tyler) to sit and see the nation “disintegrate into anarchy.” He was, therefore, stepping aside as Speaker.
Insisting, however, that a mere indictment is not a guilty verdict, Speaker Tyler said in his statement that his recusal should not be a “sign of weakness.”
He accused the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, of having played what he called “an incendiary” (combustible, fire-starting) role in fueling the conflict in the House. Whether or not this is true, the public perception is that her hand was detected in it, given a letter which her Information Minister Eugene Nagbe, who is also the ruling Unity Party’s Secretary General, wrote backing the Hans Barchue faction in the House.
Moreover, even some leading members of the Senate have accused their leader, Senate President Pro-Tempore Armah Jallah, of having engaged in what they called “clandestine” dealings with the Executive. These Senators did not stop there. They, too, want their Pro-Temp removed from office.
As this Editorial’s heading indicates, the public is wondering ‘what next?’ now that Speaker Tyler has recused himself. Is it automatic that Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue should ascend to the lofty position?
Not so quickly, many are saying. Hans Barchue may have his own bogeyman (monster) waiting in the closet to haunt him.