Liberia: Lawmakers Put Up Lackadaisical Posture Towards Sessions – Deputy Speaker Sounds Caveat

Monrovia — The House of Representatives of the 54th Legislature continues to be haunted by what has been viewed as one of its lapses since its inception in January 2018 – lateness that often results to poor turnout or cancellation of session due to lack of quorum.

This came to light on Thursday, the second-Day-Sitting of the just-opened 5th session when only a handful of lawmakers were available when session was called to order by the House’s Sargent-at arms, Brigadier General Martin Johnson.

Only House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, Deputy Speaker Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, Representatives Samuel Enders (District #6, Montserrado County), Frank Saah Foko, (District #9, Montserrado County), Joseph Somwarbi (District #3, Nimba), Byron Zahnwea (District #1, Rivercess County) and the newly elected lawmaker of Grand Gedeh County District #1 were present.

‘Disgraceful and Embarrassing’

This prompted Deputy Speaker Koffa, serving as the presiding officer in the absence of the Speaker to issue a stern warning to few who had assembled after they were being fetched from their respective officers by the Sargent-at-arms at the Speaker’s request.

Said the Deputy Speaker: “Our rules are equivalent to Statues. We said in our rules that we will begin session at 10am on session days. A violation of our rules is almost a violation of Statues. It is disgraceful for the Speaker and few members to be sitting in session waiting for their colleagues. It is embarrassing to your colleagues and it is embarrassing to this body… This will be the last time that you should fail to show up at 10am.”

Rule 2 of the House’s Rules and Procedures adopted by the 52nd Legislature states: “Daily Sessions of the House of Representatives shall be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays of each week from the hours of 10:00am to 12:00pm and from 2:00pm to 4:00pm, at which time roll call and votes are taken, while Mondays and Wednesdays are set aside for Committees meetings and Fridays to be observed for constituency business.”

But Deputy Speaker Koffa said the House has agreed to conduct session at 10am (not mentioning if the rule has been amended or updated), and as such, it was incumbent for all members to live by it.

The deliberate refusal of the House to conduct session in time- as per its rules and the Constitution since 2018 continues to cause all sorts of problems for the members themselves, the public and even journalists covering the Lower House.

In most instances, when the agenda is heavily loaded, plenary often deferred most of the items to the next sitting. Sometimes, due to the nature of the items, the lawmakers will stay up to late hours. Members of the Press will be compelled to stay to get the news for the public.

Rep. Moima Briggs-Mensah (District #6, Bong County) during the opening of the 5th Session on Monday, cautioned Plenary to conduct the “Liberian people’s business on time”.

The opening ceremony was marred by huge turnout. It began with a “Grand March” from the entrance of the Capitol Building by members of both Houses to their respective chambers. But Rep. Briggs-Mensah, sensing the huge turnout of the lawmakers and the timely and orderly manner the opening ceremony was held, called on her colleagues to continue going to session on time, and not business as usual.

She said the continued holding of session outside of the House’s Rule was a dis-service to the Liberian people.

“I hope this timeliness exhibited here today will be a continued process and not only for the opening of this 5th Session,” she said.

While her statement was not recorded because it was made when session was over, Speaker Chambers, as always, turned out by 10am the next day, just to meet an empty chamber.

Since the dawn of the 54th Legislature, other lawmakers including Representatives P. Mike Jurry (District #2, Maryland County) and Larry Younquoi (District #8, Nimba County) have been calling on the leadership to exert more effort in ensuring that members of the House are time-conscious.

When Speaker Chambers came under fire from a segment of his colleagues in the first two years of his leadership, his ‘inability to preside over session on time’ was one of the counts made against him for which they wanted him impeached.

A regular visitor of the House, James Gardea, who claimed to have been following sessions since the 1980s summed the ‘Speaker’s lapses’ up during an interview with FPA in 2020: “Under his leadership, the House breaks most of their rules. It is now the House of late comers because they start sessions late almost every day. They have turned plenary into a cafeteria where lawmakers eat openly and the Speaker says nothing about it.”

Gardea continued: “The leadership is being very lackadaisical in its approach. That is why these lapses are continuing. Good leaders are effective and set good examples for people to follow. And I think the Speaker and members of the House should be national role models for the public to follow.”

While Speaker Chambers is being blamed by some of his colleagues and a segment of the public including people like Gardea for the ‘lackadaisical-ness’ of the House in terms of conducting its affairs on time, FPA has observed that the Speaker hardly attends session late. On most occasion, he shows up early but is often greeted by an empty chamber. He would then sent the House’s Sargent-at-Arms to check in the various offices of the lawmakers and call them to session just as he did on Thursday.

And while this has been a ‘business as usual’ for the past four years, the Speaker, unsurprisingly has been unable to take any punitive measure against a powerful majority that can decide his fate at any time. However, with Deputy Speaker Koffa’s stern warning against the habitual behavior of members of the House of Representatives (although he apologized for any incendiary comments he made have uttered during his outburst), it is yet to be seen whether members of the Lower House will take heed and change to conduct the Liberian people’s business on time, or they will keep ‘basking in their lackadaisical-ness’. Only tim

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