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-As Senators Demand Input from Law Reform
For the fifth time in role the heavily publicized controversial Local Government Bill, a piece of legislation aiming to decentralize administrative governance across Liberia received major setback in guaranteeing its passage into law.
Submitted to the Liberian legislature since 2014, the hugely contended Bill has appeared at least six times before the Senate’s plenary for deliberations, hopping that progress would have been made on its enactment.
Contending issues in ratifying the Bill include debate over whether or not to allow local officials (Paramount Chiefs, County superintendents, district commissioners, city mayors, etc.) to be elected by people of their localities. The idea behind such move, according to the proponents of the highly sensitive Bill, is to give power to the people and make their leaders accountable to them, also envisioning that such move would spring up developmental activities in said regions.
Other contentious issues stalling the passage of the Bill include arguments on the possible dissolution of districts within the various counties following its potential enactment; redefining city status; compelling other cities across the country reapply for city status, whose benchmark, according to the Senate’s committees on Internal Affairs and judiciary, would be based on population growth(10,000 people to be declared a city), but some lawmakers vigorously contended the new regulation, arguing that the benchmark is too low.
“By allowing our people to elect county officials including Superintendents, commissioners, mayors, paramount chiefs, does not in any way suggest that we are limiting the powers of the President as some of my colleagues are arguing,” Grand Cape Mount Senator Varney G. Sherman, chairman of the Senate standing committee on judiciary, justified to fellow senators why he thought the Bill should be passed into law.
Cllr. Sherman, one of Liberia’s acclaimed lawyers, further emphasized that: “Article 56(b) of the Liberian constitution provides that chiefs and other local officials be elected. The same constitution calls for the President to appoint superintendents, commissioners, and so forth. Don’t you see the inherent contradiction in this constitution that we need to ratify so that our people can be a part of the governance system? I plead with you, fellow colleagues that we do the just thing to act on this law so that our people can elect their officials that will be accountable to them.”
Senator Sherman also revealed, astonishingly, why he thinks the Bill is being recreantly stalled at the Liberian legislature, saying, “the real issue here is that some of my colleagues think that when we elect superintendents and other local people their powers would be diminished, but I can assure that this has nothing to do with your power base, and therefore urge you all to join me and act accordingly on this law.”
Nevertheless, in spite of Senator Sherman’s apparent convincing points to fellow legislators, the debate appeared to have widened, after Maryland Senator Dan Marias claimed that the new bill is in conflict with chapter (50) of the Liberian Constitution, a constitutional provision which give the Liberian President the exclusive power to appoint county superintendents and other local officials of government.
Senator Marias: “This law is in violation of chapter 50 of the Liberian constitution because this provision gives the President the exclusive right to appoint superintendents and other officials and no one has the right to temper with this sacred right of the President.”
Legislative sources speaking to also claimed that the ruling establishment wants to use the appointment of county officials as a means of recruitment of die-hard CDC(Coalition for Democratic Change) partisans in key local positions ahead of the 2023 Presidential and general elections, but this news outlet has not independently verified those pieces of information.
The differing opinions between the two lawmakers appeared to have split Senate plenary on most of the contending issues, which, apparently, led to the body’s holdback on taking any immediate progressive action toward its enactment.
“Fellow Senators, Honorable Presiding, we brought this bill back to you so that we can find a way out on most of the outstanding issues that have been raised, and it is my hope that at the end of the day, we will find a common ground,” Senator Gbleh bo Brown, chairman of the Senate’s committee on Internal Affairs, said during his opening remarks accompanying his presentation of the committee’s findings on the bill thus far.
Meanwhile, following a lengthy debate over the passage of the Local Government Bill, plenary of the Liberian Senate unanimously voted to invite the Law Reform Commission for its expert advice on the new local government Bill, a move which analysts say “renders any hope that the Bill would be passed into law anytime soon.”
“This is really another setback for this act because, since its submission in 2014, we have had a lot of rigmaroles on the way forward, and today, I expected that significant progress would have been made but, unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case” one political commentator said.