Is the Liberian Senate Still the House of Elders?

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By Kadiker Rex Dahn, MA, M.Ed, PhD

Background

The Upper House of the Liberian Legislature periodically has been labeled incompetent, inept, and sycophantic under certain regimes. One such regime was Samuel Kayon Doe where Cllr Chea Cheapoo without regard to the Constitution was impeached as a Chief Justice even though he tendered in his letter of resignation. Similar unconstitutional behavior exhibited during the reign of Samuel Doe was also demonstrated in this current government of George Oppong Weah. The impeachment of former Justice Kabineh Ja’neh speaks of flagrant violation of the Liberian constitution. In both incidences, the key actors were President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. The House of the Liberian Senate has often been referred to as the House of Elders. We wonder, with the present leadership under the watch of the Senate Pro Temp, Albert Chie that Body still has the mantle and enjoys the tile House of Elders? From what we know thus far by the less than three years of Albert Chie as President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate, with a heavy heart and apprehension, we maintain that that Body is still the House of Elders but with a deficient, partisan, tribalistic and self-centered leadership. We made this claim of the Senate’s eldership because of a few critical voices that relentlessly speak truth to power.

Discussions

An Elder is defined as prior or superior in rank, office, or validity. When we speak of the House of Elders, we are not just interested in gray hair politicians whose utterances are politically immature, divisive, mean-spirited, and egocentric. Equally important, a member of the House of Elders does not undermine the rule of law. Instead, House of Elders, are those who politically, are mature, have wisdom and the common good of the nation is of priority over against party and regional politics. In other words, someone may be young but if that person has wisdom and is politically mature in thoughts and actions, that person is equally considered as an elder against an individual who in reality is old in age but whose actions and inactions are abnormal to that of an elder. As it stands, this is the case with the Liberian Senate. There are too many old people with gray hairs but considering the definition of an elder as contained in this article, the majority of the Liberian senators do not meet such criteria. At first, we wanted to argue that the House of Senate has lost relevance and the mantle to be called the House of Elders because of major deficiencies in the leadership of the Upper House and how some members routinely vote on some key issues. We changed our minds because of a biblical chronicle recorded in the Book of Genesis Chapter Genesis 18 where Abraham pleaded with God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham asked of God, “Would you also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” He pleaded with God if God would still destroy those two cities if fifty, forty-five, thirty, or ten righteous people were found? Of course, those numbers were not found, and eventually, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. In the same way, unlike the story with Abraham and God, we cannot outrightly tie righteous and progressive senators to those who work in “the dark” and label the entire Liberian Senate not the House of Elders. The righteous senators are those with critical voices that relentlessly speak truth to power, work, and present themselves as true representatives of the people. Some of those senators, based on their public records that we know and for whose sake the Liberian Senate still maintains the semblance of elders, are the Legend Commany Wesseh, Milton Teahjay, Nyonblee Kangar- Lawrence, Oscar Cooper, Armah Jallah, Steve Zargo, Daniel Nathan, Sando Johnson, and newest and fearless, Darius Dillon. In the absence of these progressive Senators, one can safely conclude that the Liberian Senate is not the House of Elders but partisans and regional politicians where the rule of law, transparency and the respect of the constitution are under threat; equally, it is the senate where transactional politics and the shielding of corrupt individuals to face justice are the order of the day.

Senate Leadership

Albert Chie’s performances as a Pro Temp since coming to power have been questionable, deficient with tribalistic and undemocratic tones. The unconstitutional impeachment of former Justice Ja’neh under the leadership of Albert Chie is one of the unconstitutional violations Liberians have ever seen. Utterances by Albert Chie during these proceedings clearly demonstrated that though old with gray hairs, Senator Chie is not an elder in the context of being an elder in the Senate. His behavior during the impeachment was if the people of Nimba County, where former Justice Ja’neh hails and the Mandingo ethnic group of which he belongs were at war with the Southeast. Those records are there and in the fullness of time, those records politically will hunt him and his master. Furthermore, according to the Daily Observer August 16, 2019 edition, in an immature statement to scare Senator Dillon, Albert Chie warned Darius Dillon that he would be removed by colleagues, not by the people who elected him. Pro-Temp Chie stated, “this is a political house, and here, we do politics: you were elected by the people of Montserrado County, but from today’s date, you belong to the Senate. That’s why the framers of the Liberian constitution stipulates that the power to remove you is from here not with the people, it is with those of us who are here. Only we alone have that power.” Here, the same reactionary thinking and mindset engineered during the impeachment of Ja’neh are at play. The statement under review shows that Albert Chie is not a serious senator in the traditional sense of the word. Certainly, from the same county, former Senator, Cletus Wotorson was a better senator, Pro Temp, and statesman than Albert Chie. It was Wotorston’s visit and influence in the Liberian Senate that prompted Senator Chie to call for a dialogue with members of the Council of Patriots. One can deduce the level of political superiority, maturity, and sophistication of Senator Wotorson than Albert Chie. It is this Albert Chie, whose performances are questionable wants to play a game with the people’s Senator. Consider this: Albert Tugbeh Chie was elected with 5,619 votes in Grand Kru County while Senator Dillon was elected with 102,549 votes in the Great County of Montserrado, a very commanding difference of 96,930. We say to Albert Chie Chie, George Tengbeh, and other “conspirators” to make no mistake to unconstitutionally attempt on Senator Dillon and other progressive senators whose sake enables the Liberian Senate to still have a semblance of an elder. Should Albert Chie’s leadership undermines any of those progressives, we the people, in a peaceful manner, will descend at the Capitol Building where our voices will be heard- our voices that will demand Albert Chie’s resignation. That protest will be a serious test for George Weah and his government. We will also lobby the international community for a targeted sanction on Albert Chie, George Tengbeh, and all who will affix their signatures to removing Senator Dillon. Here, we say to the Council of Patriots, Collaborating Political Parties, the 102,549 who elected Dillon and citizens who stand for justice, honesty, integrity, transparency and the rule of law in the National Legislature and the entire governance structure of Liberia to prepare for a massive peaceful protest if Dillon is illegally removed by Albert Chie and his lieutenants.

Disturbingly, on September 23, 2019, Daily Observer carried the headline, “Senate Pro Tempore ‘insulted’ the Court’s jurisdiction.” Here, the Secretary of the Liberia Senate, Namborlor Singbeh was indicted and was to appear in a Magisterial Court for an alleged corrupt behavior. Rather than appearing in the Court, he became a fugitive and took refuge in the Pro-Tempore’s office to avoid arrest. Shockingly, Albert Chie who is a lawmaker refused to turn over Singbeh. Instead, he wrote the Magistrate that the Fugitive will appear in due course. The nebulous communication from the Senate’s big man did not say when the Fugitive will appear. Albert Chie wrote, “Your Honor, Victoria Duncan, I confirm that the Secretary of the Liberian Senate has been served the writ and will appear.” Here again, a Pro-Temp, third in a line of presidential succession blatantly undermined the rule of law by shielding Singbeh from being arrested. Albert Chie should have sent the Secretary with a lawyer to the Magistrate but shielding and refusing for him to appear undermines the rule of law. This again, it should be a lesson for Chief Justice Korkpor who helped in the unconstitutional removal engineered by people who do not honor the Court’s jurisdiction. By every indication, the intrusion of the Executive and Legislative Branches in Judicial matters is worrisome and equally a lesson for the Chief Justice.

Conclusion

We maintain that the Liberian Senate is still the House of Elders because of few progressive senators who without fear relentlessly speak truth to power. We salute them. It is because of these few senators the current Liberian Senate under the watch of Albert Chie has not been labeled inept as it relates to upholding the Liberian Constitution. Certainly, under Chie, the leadership of the Liberian Senate is the House of partisans and regional politicians wherein the conception of most Liberians, not worthy and suited to be called the House of Elders. The total lack of transparency where issues are not fully and publicly debated in the Senate but under some form of darkness, documents are allegedly approved overnight as if the Liberian Senate is a Zoe Bush is a disgrace to constitutional democracy embedded in good governance. Emphatically, in the eyes of most Liberians, the alleged partisan and transactional confirmation of presidential nominees of inexperienced, uneducated and incompetent individuals in the Liberian Senate has diluted the respect, honor, and integrity due to that Body. The alleged transactional politics where cash is dished out as a cover-up to entice if true is a shame. We say such behavior is a disgrace and plays on the characters of both the Liberian Senate and the Liberian Nation. The people are watching and the political verdict is at hand when the midterm elections begin. From our analysis, it is a forgone conclusion that George Tengbeh and Jonathan Kaipay are outgoing senators. The people will weed out weak, inept, sycophants, and unqualified senators for their inability to ably represent the people. Be as it may, we grudgingly maintain that the Liberian Senate is still the House of Elders because of those few progressive senators who continuously speak truth to power. In the Cause of the People, the Struggle Continues!!!

About the Author: Kadiker Rex Dahn holds a Ph.D. in Historical, Philosophical, and Social Foundations of Education. He formerly served as a Deputy Minister of Education and Deputy Director-General, National Commission on Higher Education. He is a member of the North America Scholar Consortium, membership with the Highest Honor. Contact: [email protected].

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