Legislative Deficiencies: Would the 53rd Legislature Overcome Them?
Some members of the National Legislature do well in their efforts to explain to Liberians the collaborative and governing processes of Liberia on talk shows and in newspaper articles. The knowledge and understanding with which they approach sensitive governing issues captivate their audiences. Radio interactive forum helps Liberians know the functions of the Legislature and that the Executive Branch of Government is not the lone developer of the nation.
Senator Abel Massalay’s last presentation emphasized three pillars upon which the Legislature stands: (a) Representation, (b) Lawmaking and (c) Oversight. Those conversant with legislative politics over the years do not hesitate to outline existing deficiencies within these three pillars; especially oversight committees. According to some analysts, there are weaknesses in representation and this account for the unchanging state of constituencies after electoral terms of legislators. Others point out weaknesses in lawmaking which accounts for dependability on Executive submissions and failures to capture needed reforms and laws to transform constituencies. Most regrettably, extreme weaknesses are discovered in oversight responsibilities which jeopardize the people’s interests and subordinate the Legislature to the Executive to the detriment of the nation.
Generally, the public do not see the Legislature as an impact constitutional institution anymore. This is not because it is not; but perhaps some, if not most, Legislators have not understood the enormous powers and responsibilities constitutionally thrust upon them to be the progenitors of transformation and development. While some legislators are grasping speedily the true meaning of representation, there are others who bring to the table self-aggrandizement and throw themselves to Executive privileges and in that process, diminished constituents’ opportunities, expectations and respectability.
It is interesting that both the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honorable Alex Tyler and former President Pro-Tempore of the Senate Honorable Cletus Wortorson stressed in their joint statement on the five year Legislative Modernization Plan, the need for the Legislature to put citizens first in their legislative duties. Though they admittantly agreed that the Plan did not capture all concerns, interests and programs, but promised that revisions would include those.
While Moustapha Soumare of UNMIL, Pemela White of USAID, and Frannie Leautier of ACBF agreed that the Modernization Plan outlined the parameters for improving representation, lawmaking and oversight, it is my view that the plan itself lack crucial motivators that would strengthen these three important areas; or perhaps the modernization plan only provides the lead way for legislative leaderships to put in place budgetary support systems. For example, the plan identifies lack of mechanisms in the constituencies to ensure legislative consultation or reporting and lack of system for lawmakers to have regular contacts with their constituencies during recesses and breaks. Legislative interpreters and analysts agreed that those are true but what Legislators need to do now to make the plan practical and implementable is to submit to the Legislative Budget Office (LBO) budgetary proposals.
Crucial to effective oversight is the need for both statutory and standing committees to have annual budgetary allotments for research, hearing, logistics, consultancies, and data processing purposes among others. The lack of budgetary allocation renders oversight ineffective and un-implementable to acceptable standards. This leaves the representation of the people to disadvantageous levels and opens the national economy to unchecked trails of management problems.
Sources close to the legislative budget office and both Houses of the National Legislature have said that such proposals are now on the paper. If this is true, the JLMC (Joint Legislative Modernization Committee) approved plan would open a new chapter in Liberia’s legislative history. This new dimension would undo the ineffectiveness of oversight committees that have robbed the nation’s parliament of solid information gathering base and balancing of powers within our democracy.
Lack of information and implementation has produced unproductive and uninformed debates with all parties believing they are in the right. There are times when one has to wonder aloud at contradictions committed by lawmakers. For an example, legislators find themselves approving instruments such as concession agreement; or the senate confirming a nominee before accessing vital information and subsequently questioning such agreement and/or endorsements that were originally given acquiescence. This, according to professional sources, is the result of deficiencies deriving from poor oversight, lack of information and funds strangulation to acquire, verify and process information.
A senior staff of at the Legislature says the JLMC also has a greater responsibility of assuring staff training, improved working conditions, good pay packages, incentives, and job security. According to him, the implementation of the JLMC Plan goes far beyond mere documentation. He believes the amendment of the notorious labor practice of section 1508 has to also apply to the very lawmakers who passed the amendment to ensure that the JLMC training of staff would benefit the entire institution against willful and pleasurable dismissals without just causes and compensations. He says further that each Representative and Senator has unchecked powers to wake up in the morning and dismissed without justification and compensation- an act which violates the amended section 1508 of our labor law.
However, there are indications from Senators and Representatives that the Legislature modernization is being put into full swing by the 53rd Legislature. Though the process is challenging and may be misinterpreted by diverse school of thoughts, both Senators Edwin B. Dagoseh of Grand Cape Mount County (Senate Co-Chairman of Ways, Means, Finance and Budget) and Matthew Jaye of River Gee County (Senate Chairman of Labor) are supportive of the need to strengthen standing and statutory committees financially and logistically to perform their constitutional roles. They believe it is morally and constitutionally right that representation goes beyond pay checks to that of annual budgetary allocations to each constituency office of representatives and senators for effective representation, coordination and constituency legislative programs. This would create the mechanisms as contained in the JLMC documentation. Sources close to the Office of the Honorable Speaker, Alex Tyler confirmed that a committee is currently handling committees’ empowerment for effective oversight. Our sources disclosed that Honorable Alex Chelsia Grant of Grand Gedeh County had earlier presented a comprehensive plan to strengthen oversight committees in Gbarnga.
With these developments, it is expected that the 53rd Legislature oversight performances would be improved by logistical and financial supports. To achieve this, the Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Chairman, Senator Kupee of Lofa County and the Rules, Order, and Administration Chairman, Senator Lahai of Bomi County must move with resolve that the budget captures recommendation to the effect. As the oil industry of Liberia is becoming a future dependable and prosperous pillar of the Liberian economy, all controversies and conflicts would be understood and dealt with by Legislators from well informed positions to ensure that important national decisions on concessions, performances of ministries, corporations, and enforcement of laws passed by the national Legislature among others are accurately oversighted.