Pres. Weah Hunts for Votes in AML US$800M Deal

President George Manneh Weah

… As legislature reconvenes

Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to reconvene for a Special Session to debate President Weah’s signature project -- the amended US$800 ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) deal -- and other priority legislations.

The reconvening, which takes place on October 18, 2021, comes as a barrage of criticisms emerged from affected communities in the AML operational area concerning the US$800 million amended concession agreement, which paves the way for the expansion of the company’s mining and logistics operations and ramping up production of premium iron ore.

But the lawmakers are resuming work without a clear path as to whether they will expedite the ambitious agreement and other priority legislations for the President, including the 2022 fiscal year budget. Also on the radar are the privatization of Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LIBTELCO), to enter the mobile market, though its potential as a competitor to MTN and Orange is doubtful.

And while passages of the President’s priority legislations would be a critical step for his Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, the fate of the AML deal might be a test for lawmakers of the opposition Collaborating Political Parties – many who are under pressure to checkmate the Weah administration.

At the same time, the fate of the AML deal, the details of which remain unknown to the public, is yet uncertain as the Nimba County legislative caucus has come under immense pressure to reject the US$800 million agreement. The County Caucus has even joined affected communities in criticism against the steel giant for its alleged failure to make any significant impact in the lives of the people and develop the concession area.

However, as the legislature reconvenes for two months, October 18 - December 18, 2021, there still lies the possibility of all the President's priority bills sailing through, as the Executive Branch has proven over time that closed-door negotiations give it a better advantage to pass priority bills in the bipartisan compromise.

But at times, the Executive has failed to have priority legislations fast-tracked, despite considerable closed-door negotiations and frenzied phone calls. 

In a narrowly divided legislature, with the opposition virtually controlling the Senate, while ruling Coalition for Democracy change controls the House of Representatives, the President cannot afford to have unanimous opposition to any of his signature bills submitted for fast-tracking.

Meanwhile, the reconvening of the 54th Legislature is also aimed to receive the 2022 fiscal year budget per the new Public Financial Management (PFM) law, which now sets the budget year from January 1 to December 31 (replacing  July 1 to June 30).

The law also called on the President to submit the proposed budget and accompanying documents to the Legislature not later than two months before the start of the fiscal year, thereby requiring the Legislature to be in session in October.

Meanwhile, it may be recalled, about the alteration of the new Budget Law, the Senate proposed a bill to change the adjournment and recess periods of the Legislature to coincide with the changes of the Fiscal Year to a Calendar Year of the Government of Liberia.

But, there is a problem. The House of Representatives is yet to concur with the Senate to repeal the “Act to establish in lieu thereof “An Act Setting the Calendar of Adjournment for the Legislature.”

The proposed bill set aside three adjournment and recess periods (also known as constituency breaks), commencing on the third Friday of March of each year and ending on the second Friday of May of each year.

“The second constituency break shall commence on the third Friday of July of each year and end on the third Friday of October of each year; while the third constituency break shall commence on the second Friday of December of each year and end on Friday immediately preceding the second working Monday of January of each year to satisfy Article 32 (a) of the Constitution of Liberia,” the Senate wrote in the bill.

However, when the bill was transmitted to the House, they voted unanimously for the Senate’s proposal to be sent to the Committees on Judiciary and Rules, Order & Administration to report in a week, which was before the break-in August break but that did not happen.

The certificate of reconvening of the 54th Legislature aligns with Article 32 of the Constitution, which states in section B  that “The President shall, on his initiative or upon receipt of a certificate signed by at least one-fourth of the total membership of each House, and by proclamation, extend a regular session of the Legislature beyond the date for adjournment or call a special extraordinary session of that body to discuss or act upon matters of national emergency and concern.”

The article further said: “When the extension or call is at the request of the Legislature, the proclamation shall be issued not later than forty-eight hours after receipt of the certificate by the President.”

On the Certificate of the Reconvening of the Liberian Senate, 14 Senators affixed their signatures, comprising more than one-fourth; while 22 lawmakers signed the Certificate of Reconvening of the House of Representatives indicating more than one-fourth.