Liberians Shudder Over U.S. Warning…Fear International Isolation

By: D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh

US President Barak Obama
US President Barak Obama

Many Liberians have expressed fear for the

Liberia And Africa's first female president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Liberia And Africa's first female president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

country’s short-term following a strong warning from the world’s super power, the U.S., that the international community will turn its back on Liberia.

They fear that any attempt by the U.S. and the rest of the international community to turn away from their country would doubtlessly plunge the post war West African state into another round of brutal chaos and destruction as witnessed between the dark period of 1989 and 2004.

The apprehensive Liberians expressed their views on calls monitored on local radio programs and during random interviews conducted by this paper in several parts of the city yesterday.

They called on the National Legislature to abandon self-inertest and political gimmicks and sign the controversial threshold bill submitted to them since last year by the National Election Commission (NEC).

The Embassy of the Untied States of America in an April 24, 2009 letter addresses to the National Legislature called on the august body to sign the Threshold Bill before it or the international community will react negatively to any delay of the 2011 elections.

In separate letters to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honorable Alex Tyler and the Senate’s President Pro tempore, Senator Cletus Wotorson, the Embassy urged the Legislature to enact an Electoral Threshold Bill consistent with the Liberian Constitution, in a timely fashion. Article 80 (d) of the Liberian Constitution mandates the Legislature to set a population threshold right after the conduct of the national housing and population census.

The population 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 the 2011 electoral process; NEC, and other experts, have warned that the situation could lead to a constitutional or political crisis.

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.

But, the Information Ministry last week told the Legislature to go ahead and use preliminary census results to decide the threshold.

Deputy Information Minister Cletus Sieh said there would be no significant change in the final census result, similar information that LISGIS has provided.

The U.S. Embassy says it remains concerned that further delay in enacting a bill will jeopardize the timetable for elections.

The Embassy in the letter signed by the U.S. Charge d’Affaires, Brooks Robinson, states further: “We respect that the final determination of the district threshold is a sovereign decision and the Embassy has no opinion on the eventual number…, a decision should be based on Liberia’s constitutional provisions and on the costs Liberian must bear for any increase in the size of the House of Representatives.

The Embassy encouraged members of the National Legislature to decide on a threshold, and not turn to a solution that would weaken the country as a whole.

It noted that Liberia is founded on democratic principles and the rule of law, and a decision to suspend a part of the constitution for political convenience would be counter to all that has been achieved.

“The rule of law is essential for the success of a democratic Liberia, and we urge all those who hold the public trust to carry forward these democratic principles,” the letter to the two most senior members of both Houses concluded.

The letters from the US Embassy to the National Legislature comes in the wake of their refusal to pass the threshold bill submitted to them by the National Election Commission (NEC) nearly 10 months ago.

Some Liberians who spoke on the issue yesterday said they can’t understand why the lawmakers want to be pulled by their noses or pressured to do what the Liberian people have elected them to do.

“Since they can’t listen to us, we who elected them, since they can’t execute their own constitutional mandate until they put fire on their backs like turtles, let the international community put fire on their back,” Samuel Kollie commented on Johnson Street and expressed his fear: “God forbid! If these people turn their backs on us we’re finish; we could face another serious trouble.”

For Mrs. Angeline Johnson who trades in dry goods, “the lawmakers are just noise makers. They want another trouble in Liberia and they will not succeed in Jesus name. They better now go and pass the bill.”

There have been many calls from the public including politicians as well as some lawmakers for the passage of the threshold bill, but these appeals have fallen on death ears.

Recently, representatives of four counties in south-eastern region that could possibly be seriously affected by the threshold bill called on their Legislators to pass the bill and the other related electoral bills immediately.

According to NEC, the four counties made the call in a joint resolution signed at the end of a two-day regional consultative meeting held in Fish Town, River Gee County from April 17 to 18, 2009 under the theme: “Understanding the Electoral Process Leading to 2011”.

The NEC quotes participants at the regional meeting as saying “affirmative to the vote declared, they are calling on the Legislature to diligently pass into law without further delay the above mentioned bills.

Meanwhile the Legislature has sharply reacted to the U.S. call and warning, terming it as interfering into the internal affairs of the Liberian government, the legislature in particular.

The Senate says it will not execute its duties to the whims and caprices of the U.S. Government, and warned the Charge d’Affaires, Brooks Robinson, from writing such communications.

The plenary of the Senate Tuesday vowed it would not honour the letter on grounds that it was not addressed to the august body but the senate Pro Temp, Cletus Wotorson. Contact: (231) 6 586 631; editoratinformer@yahoo.com

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Author: D K Sengbeh

Danicius Kaihenneh Sengbeh (author of Sengbeh's Weblog) is a respected and renowned Liberian journalist, poet and writer with with journalism experience since 2001, of working both as a mainstream journalist and a communication/media consultant in Liberia. He is Secretary General of the Press Union of Liberia (elected Dec 2013). He was Assistant Secretary General of the Union Dec 2011 to Dec 2013. He is also Editor-In-Chief of The Informer Newspaper—one of Liberia’s credible dailies. Before joining the Informer, Danicius had served as reporter, chief reporter, sub-editor and News Editor at The Independent Newspaper between 2002 and 2006. Before then, he was reporter at the defunct Patriot Newspaper and Kiss FM 2001-2002. Danicius is a UN Media Fellow and Liberia’s first UN Medal Award-winning journalist for his contribution to journalism and for being the second Liberian journalist in 15 years to qualify for and successfully attended the United Nations’ Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalist Fellowship Program in New York and Geneva, Switzerland in 2012. He earned a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Mass Communication and Sociology from the University of Liberia and a Diploma in Journalism from the International School of Journalism. He holds several awards and recognitions both in and outside of journalism, and carries dozens of certificates in journalism and communication from studies in Ghana, China, United States and Switzerland, among others. He volunteers as Chair of the Information and Communication Committee of his local Bardnersville community. He can be quickly reached via (+231) 886586531/777586531/777464018/ dakasen1978@yahoo.com

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