Members of the Liberian Legislature have overwhelmingly voted here extending President George Manneh Weah’s 21 days State of Emergency to 60 days or two months.
They reached the decision following 72 hours of debate on the State of Emergency and a stimulus package subsequently recommended by President Weah to ease economic burdens faced by citizens in the wake of a 14-day lockdown in four counties, including the President’s own home, Grand Kru County in the southeast.
Both the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate passed a Joint Resolution over the weekend, endorsing the stimulus package and extending the State of Emergency to 60 days.
The document, signed by more than two-third majorities of both houses, takes effect as of April 10, 2020.
However, the resolution states that President Weah, on advice of health experts, may impose an absolute quarantine in the affected counties or portions thereof at a time and for a duration based on expert advice.
The Joint Resolution reads in part, “That the initial request for US$25 million is hereby approved for the Food Support Program with the modification that all of the 15 counties within the Republic shall be covered as affected counties for food support and additional amounts needed shall be submitted for re-appropriation. Procurement under this program must first accommodate locally produced food. That the Food Distribution Program must prioritize the vulnerable population and the first responder population to wit: the disadvantaged youth, the homeless, orphanages, senior citizens, people with disabilities health workers and security personnel deployed in the frontline of the enforcement of the State of Emergency and that all restrictions imposed by the President pertaining to the movement of persons and hours applicable is hereby approved and modified only to the extent that all persons appearing in public streets and buildings must wear a protective device that covers at least the nose and mouth.”
The lawmakers also approved the President’s request for free electricity and water supply to homes during the State of Emergency and lockdown but modified that these services should extent to all cross-border counties currently being served by the West Africa Power Pool, a regional program.
“The Water support program shall cover the municipal water program in all counties where they are being currently implemented. That the Market Women and Small Informal Petty Traders Bank Loan Program is approved, with modification to add credit unions and related entities registered and doing business before January 1, 2020,” the Joint Resolution further reads.
The Legislators grant the request of the President to appropriate US$15 million for government domestic debt during the 2020/2021 Fiscal Year budget.
They call for creation of a COVID 19 Emergency Relief Fund that would solicit private donations from individuals, group of individuals, local and international private organizations, business enterprises and any other person interested in assisting the most vulnerable populations of the Republic against the scourge of COVID 19.
They agree that all health workers across the country shall receive monthly hazard pay, including regular and volunteer workers as provided for by international organizations.
Frontline security personnel shall receive monthly extended duty pay for the duration of the State of Emergency, and that appropriations of amounts under this program shall be subject to the recast budget.
Meanwhile, they want a Joint Select Emergency Oversight Committee to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate to exercise oversight over all of the programs approved in the Joint Resolution to report to both chambers after the crisis.
As part of additional restrictive measures in the COVID-19 fight, President Weah recently declared a 21-day State of Emergency that is renewable and lockdown of four counties (Montserrado, Margibi, Nimba and Grand Kru) for 14 days, among other precautionary actions.
The President’s declaration is in accordance with Articles 85, 86, 87 and 88, respectively of the Constitution of Liberia, and after due consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate, as required by law.
Editing by Jonathan Browne