By D Kaihenneh Sengbeh
A former Liberian lawmaker has added his voice to early warnings that the country could bump into another political crisis a head of the 2011 elections.
Mr. Isaac Mannah says the unbroken delay by the National Legislature to pass into law the threshold and other electoral bills currently before it is tantamount to leading the country into a serious political and constitutional crisis, something he said Liberians are tired of.
Mr. Mannah told me Sunday that now was the best time for Liberians and their international partners to exert every effort to ward off the looming danger if the country must not revert to where it is coming from: 14 years of bloodied civil war and massive destructions.
Mr. Mannah, who is chairman of the Liberia Unification Party — one of the two that recently announced a merger with the ruling Unity Party –, is one of Liberia’s esteemed former lawmakers.
He represented LUP and his county, Gbarpolu, in the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) of the two-year (2003-2005) Charles Gyude Bryant-led National Transitional Government of Liberia that shepherded the country to its first post war historic democratic elections in 2005 that ushered in the current Liberian government, headed by Africa’s first female President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Mr. Mannah took local and international headlines when he headed a special 7-member corruption investigative committee that found the transitional speaker (George Dweh) and his Deputy (Cllr. Eddington Varmah) among top other officials of the NTLA of ‘financial and administrative malpractices’.
Now, with one of his legs in the private sector and the other in politics, Mr. Mannah smells looming danger ahead of 2011 and has voiced out his fear about the delay of the threshold bill, progress the government is making, the recent merger pronouncement, the sustenance of the peace he helped to bring as well as the government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Constitution must reign
Mr. Mannah said the threshold bill, at all cost needs to be passed, and the continuous delay by the House was uncalled for.
He said despite the debate that has surrounded the issue, the Constitution is the best judge.
He said as the supreme law of the state, the constitution must be upheld by all three branches of government in running the affairs of the country. Article 80 (d) of the Liberian Constitution mandates the legislature to set a threshold right after the conduct of the national housing and population census.
The threshold determines the number of Legislative seat(s) each county will carry in accordance with the country’s population as in each county, provided that the number of seats in the Legislature is not more than 100.
The threshold and three other bills currently hitched at the National Legislature are very critical to the 2011 elections.
The NEC has alarmed that time is running out and persistent “failure” of the Legislature to pass the bills which are already behind time serves as an upsetting block in the path of 2011.
The four Acts in question are: An Act to set the Threshold Bill to Reapportion Constituencies Throughout the Republic of Liberia; A Proposal by Two-Thirds of the Membership of both Houses of the Legislature of the Republic of Liberia to Amend Certain Provisions of the 1986 Liberian Constitution; An Act to amend Provisions of the Electoral Reform Law of 2004 and the New Elections Law of 1986 to be called and cited as the Electoral Reform Law of 2008; and an Acts to repeal Acts which created certain cities, districts, chiefdoms, clans and townships in the Republic of Liberia.
The Lawmakers have the constitutional mandate to set the threshold, but are yet to do so, on grounds that some counties would be underrepresented in the 53rd Legislature while others argue that the official national population census result has not been released by the country’s statistics house, LIGIS.
Mr. Mannah said the issue was not about whether the lawmakers want to pass the bill of not; “It is a constitutional mandate ‘SHALL’.
“So, I believe that the legislators, levelheaded and well educated people understand what is meant by SHALL.”
He said the bill has entertained two motions for reconsideration since it was introduced on the floor and he thinks that the lawmakers should look at the two motions, reconcile them and come out with a decision, adding, “But, basically, the Liberian people want the threshold bill passed.”
“That is their [Legislature] constitutional mandate and they have to do it. We don’t want any more constitutional or political crisis to come in this country 2011. If we have any such problem we will not have elections…it will be too late to solve at that point, it is better we solve it now and go ahead,” the former lawmaker advised.
He said if the lawmakers are not satisfied with the preliminary results from LISGIS, they have the constitutional power to send for the institution’s head to explain to them issues they have not understood or request the official result as a way forward.
The LUP Boss said his party and others were invited for hearing on the bill and they gave their opinion, urging the House to pass the bill, “but we are just surprised up to date that the threshold bill is still around the House of Representatives.”
Merger ahead of 2011
Mr. Mannah’s party along with the Liberia Action Party (LAP) on April 1, 2009 announced a merger with the ruling Unity Party (UP).
There are rising intra-party struggles on going with some members of LUP and UP especially crying out for not being consulted, thereby opposing the merger plan.
In LUP, Mr. Mannah said, some of those claiming partisanship were not legitimate members of the party, but somewhat admitted that the decision was taken on an executive level basis.
“Every partisan will have an input on the merger at the party’s national convention in months to come, he assured. The merger, he boasted, is great and serves as a formidable force to opposing parties in the 2011 democratic duel.
The UP-LAP-LUP relationship has been in existence since 1985, and Mannah says they were just coming together under a new arrangement to be called Unity Party with the combined emblems of LAP (rooster) and LUP (unity handshake) as symbol.
“This merger will be very big, strong and significant and we are also calling on other political parties to form mergers, collaborations or coalitions so that we will have a force to contend with,” the defunct NTLA lawmaker said confidently.
The idea of parties merging, in Mannah’s mind, is in the best interest of the country and will help the Liberian people to make better choices and informed decisions in 2011 as compared to having a crowded political field that would confuse the people.
Country Moving Progressively
Speaking on the country’s progress after more than three years when NTGL turned over power, Mr. Mannah says as an opposition politician he sees much progress despite the challenges.
Mannah said he was first grateful to God and the international community for intervening in Liberia, then, the UN peacekeepers and the Liberian security apparatus that are providing security and protecting lives and properties in the country.
As a result of the peace, businesses and investments are on the increase in the post war country; road rehabilitations and other infrastructural developments are on course, suggesting that the country is moving progressively from recovery to genuine development.
“Yes, there are challenges like armed robbery and other social problems, but there are more positive progress based on the fact of where we’ve come from, war. It could have been any other government; no other government would have performed better than this, he admitted.
He said it was unfair for “us opposition politicians to always paint black positive strides made by the government only because we are opposition.” “No, opposition does not mean antagonism. It means putting the right where it belongs; that is, when government does well, we should say it and when it does wrong we should sate it as well and correct it. This is constructive or balanced criticism.”
He said it was unjust for critics of the government to state that World Bank and other UN sponsored-projects were not achievements of the government. “These projects are identified by the government and its international partners implement them, they are government’s projects,” he lashed out.
PRS is everybody’s business
Mr. Mannah graded the Liberian government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) as an excellent roadmap for national development and inclusion, but said the implementation of the ambitious program was not isolated from impediments.
For instance, Mannah described the establishment of the county development fund as unique opportunity to get the people involved in the development initiatives of their counties.
This, he said, is also a good governance practice of decentralization and indicated that Liberia today is quite different from the past in terms of governance.
The former lawmaker however noted that those administering the CDFs need to do so properly for the massive to benefit appropriately and suggested that there should be no compromise in bringing to justice those who squander CDF.
The PRS, the LUP executive noted, is everybody’s business, saying, “We all need to work around and support the government to achieve the goals of the PRS. It is in the best interest of the country.”
The former legislator then called on the Legislature to speed up the passage of investment contracts before it to allow these companies begin operations in rural areas for Liberians there to get jobs to do and live dignified lives.
“This, too, I believe will help make the PRS successful because these logging and mining activities will economically empower our people.”
Mr. Mannah was referring to the China Union US$2.6bn agreement pending concurrence of the Senate and the Community Forestry Law still lodged at the Legislature.
The community forestry law gives right to locals to do logging activities in their own areas.
The PRS is not government’s alone responsibility, it success depends both on the public and private sectors, and the legislature has a very major role to play by not wasting time with laws that mean well for the public such as the community forestry law, Mr. Mannah, who heads the Bopolu Development Corporation prequalified by the Forestry Development Authority to do logging in the country, said.
Liberia’s PRS articulates the Government’s overall vision and major strategies for moving toward rapid, inclusive and sustainable growth and development during the period 2008-2011.
The PRS is being implemented between April 1, 2008 and June 30, 2011 (the end of the 2010/2011 fiscal year).
The government sees this period critically important as Liberia shifts from post-conflict stabilization to laying the foundation for inclusive and sustainable growth, poverty reduction, and progressing toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the PRS paper states.
The donor-dependent US$1.6bn program is crafted with four major pillars including enhancing peace and national security, governance and the rule of law, economic revitalization and rehabilitation of infrastructures and delivery of basic social services.
The current poverty rate in Liberian is about 64 percent, 64 out of every 100 people live below the poverty line, says the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Mr. Amara Konneh.
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