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The Liberian government: Understanding the Collaborative

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The writing of this article is in appreciation of the writings contained in the New Dawn Newspaper which provided civic education on the constitutional mandates of the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary Branches and their collaborations in achieving the levels of development in our nation today after years of devastation.. I do express compliments to Mr. D. Wa Hne, Jr. who I considered as one of Liberia’s brilliant writers and whose column I am privileged to make the below contributions.

Thoughts, Politics, and People is a column that should attract the participation of Liberians intellectuals and functional arms of Government. It is against the issues of national concerns that I sought permission to make a contribution and detail what Mr. Hne sought to provide. It is my conviction that others would follow suit.

I believe that there is a lack of understanding on the part of most of our compatriots and citizenry about the collaborations that exist between the Executive and Legislative branches of government. This assertion is informed by the loose statements people often make when given their evaluations of the overall performances of the three branches of Government.

Owing to this lack of understanding also, our people in most instances tend to exclusively give all the credits to the President alone for successes made by the Government of the day, thus leaving out the role played by the Legislature in the achievement of the successes made by Government.

Whether crediting the President exclusively for all the good works of the Government is done out of ignorance or for the sole purpose of blackmailing the lawmakers, the fact remains that many of our compatriots and constituents just do not understand the inner workings of the collaborations that characterized the works of the Executive and Legislative branches of Government.It therefore behooves us as Legislators to put in place the necessary framework to educate the public about our scope of work as provided for by the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.

By this means, our people would gradually come to understand and know that both the Legislative and Executive branches of Government have distinct roles to play in the processes of governance and, that until there is coordination between these two key branches of Government, the development of the Country becomes elusive.

The intent of this article is, therefore, to provide some basic insights for our people to know and understand the processes of coordination between the Legislature and the Executive, and how such coordination has accounted for the on-going development of this country.

By the operation of the 1986 constitution of the Republic of Liberia, there are three distinct, but coordinate branches of Government that make up what is referred to as the “Government of Liberia”

Of the three branches of Government, the Legislature which is considered the first branch and the Executive, the Second branch must closely work in Coordination with each other to fully constitute the Government of the Republic of Liberia.  By this Constitution, we mean, all of the laws that  brought into existence ministries, agencies, commissions, and all  Courts of record were made possible as a result of the process of coordination between the Legislative and Executive branches of Government.

The Constitution of Liberia vests the Executive authority of the State in a President who is also considered Head of State and Commander in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

The Armed Forces of Liberia include the Military and all paramilitary organizations created by an Act of the Legislature and the President of the Republic of Liberia. The same Constitution under Article 29 vests the Legislative authority in a Legislature comprising of two distinct Houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives each of which must agree and pass on all legislations and major policy decisions before becoming binding laws on the people of Liberia.

In the spirit of coordination, the Constitution requires that for all laws agreed and passed upon by the Legislature to become binding on the Liberian people, same must be signed by the President and printed into handbills for circulation, so that everyone will know what the laws say about a specific subject matter. The intent of the above mentioned illustration is to explain to our people in simple terms that the lawmakers and the President are duty-bound to work together for the enhancement of development in our country.

Since the purpose of this Article is to deal with this collaborative process between the Executive and Legislative branches of Government and the extent to which such collaboration has impacted the development drive of the country, let us examine the process of collaboration within the context as to how the debts of Liberia were waived.

Liberia has been indebted to other nations and International financial lending institutions over a period of time in the Sum of US$3.8 billion United States Dollars.  This debt was monies that accumulated over a period of time with interest.  The 3.8 billion was credited by successive political leaderships in the names of building good road network, health care delivery system, better educational facilities, and so forth.

The loan short landed in the pockets of selected group of people at the helm of power while the vast majority on whose behalf the monies were credited continued to live in abject poverty. Looking at the size and population of Liberia within the context of how the 3.8 billion was used, one would realize that the monies were never used for the intended purposes.

It is worth mentioning that these loans were obtained at a time when the mining sector of Liberia was in its vibrancy.  Resources such as Iron ores, diamonds, and gold were much needed for substantial portion of the country’s revenue potential.

As if squandering 3.8 billion dollars at the detriment of our people was not enough, revenues generated from iron ore, rubber, gold, and diamond were also grossly mismanaged. Due to the long years of denial of our people couple with the perpetration of other social vices against them, disenchantment and disillusionment set in and later germinated into the 14 years of civil crisis this country had to go through.

After 14 years of self-destruction, major international actors under the auspices of the International Contact Group on Liberia intervened to bring to an end our nightmare. As a means of re-uniting the Country under centralized political leadership, disarmament, demobilization, resettlement, and elections were held out of which this Government came into being.

Since coming into being, the preoccupation of the Government and International actors have been to put in place systems backed by laws to ensure that this country does not revert to its ugly past anymore. In order to put the country on course, major reform measures were proposed by Liberia’s development partners.  These reform proposals required the Government of Liberia to repeal and/or pass new laws that are sensitive to the development goals and objectives of Liberia.

The Passage of these new laws as a way of making Liberia debt free and credit worthy could not have been made possible without the collaboration of the Legislative and Executive branches of Government.

The first benchmark Legislation was the passage of the Forest Management Act and the Community Rights Law which led to the lifting of the ban on all forest products.  The intent of the Forest Management Act and the Community rights law is to ensure that the communities in which the forest concessionaire operates get just social services benefits; something that was not done in the past. Following the passage of these laws, portion of Liberia’s debt was waived and grants were given to the Government to underwrite the cost of some of its development programs.

Another benchmark legislation passed by the Legislature for debt waiver is the passage of a law that created the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC).  The rationale for the creation of this Commission is to ensure that contracts that the Liberia Government desires to award to companies and contractors are bided for and awarded on the basis of merit.

In the past, political leaders awarded contracts on the basis of friendship and not on the basis of the ability of the contractor or company to perform.  As a result of this, many contracts were compromised at the detriment of a country that stood in need of rapid developments.

The PPCC therefore requires a competitive bidding process in which due diligence is done on all bidders, so that the ability to perform can clearly be determined.  These capabilities take into account technical know-how, financial capability and the willingness of bidders to substantially contribute to the implementation of the project (s), in keeping with corporate responsibility.

Another crucial piece of legislation was the Security Sector Reform Act passed by the Legislature and approved by the President of Liberia for the entire security sector of this country to undergo reform. The intent of this law is to create a security force sensitive to the civic responsibilities of the Liberian people and to ensure the creation of a security force that will be free of regime influences.

During the course of our civil crisis, the security forces were divided along fractional lines, thereby, making them to hold loyalty to only their commanders and those that control them from the political point-of-view. These forces committed wanton atrocities and other forms of abuses against the citizens; thereby, making public confidence to erode in them. As a result of the passage of the Security Sector Reform Act, the army and Police forces are today being re-organized and restructured to reflect the changing times and changing realities.

Following this, a portion of Liberia’s debt was waived and additional grants given to underwrite the cost of the reconstruction of roads and other meaningful projects. The intent of these grants is to help the Government of Liberia to carryout development, since the Government was not yet credit worthy.

Another Crucial benchmark legislation for debt waiver was an Act passed by the Legislature to create the Independent Human Rights commission which was created and charged with the responsibility to implement the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the view to making recommendations to the legislature for abuses committed during the course of the war to either be punished or forgiven.

It is worth noting that for every step taken to meet up with these reforms requirements as proposed and agreed upon by and between the Government of Liberia and development partners, portion of our debt was always waived and additional grants given for development.

Benchmark legislation for the HIPAC Completion processes was the passage of the Investment Incentive Code Act by the Legislature and approved by the President.  The object of this Act is to grant investors tax holidays and create a business-friendly atmosphere to attract more investors into the economy of Liberia.

Liberia is blessed with abundant of resources, so it cannot be developed only by the giving of grants through the international community, but through the creation of a viable, conducive investment atmosphere; thus, making full use of these naturally endowed resources.

Benchmark legislation was the passage into law by the legislature the Public Financial Management Act, an Act that calls for clear-cut financial policies and practices, so that when Liberia becomes credit worthy these will serve as guides that will not allow us to revert to things that led the country into plunder. Following the passage of this Act, Liberia debt was waived and declared credit worthy. These illustrations are made to pin-point at how the Legislature and the Executive on the one hand have interacted with our development partners in waiving the 3.8 billion dollars debt.

Without the collaboration and interactions between the legislature and the Executive, the legal processes leading to the waiver of Liberia’s debt would not have been realizable. Furthermore, the impressive levels of achievements would not have been possible. For one to therefore credit the President alone for all the good works and refer to the Legislature as not doing anything further exposes, in no uncertain terms, the limitation of the vast majority of our people in the governance process.

The GAC must also be credited for carrying out audits that were purely intended to expose lapses and wastes in five of our Ministries and agencies which were also basic requirements for the waiver of our debts. These ministries and agencies include, but not limited to Lands and Mines, Finance, Education, Health, and the National Investment Commission.

As a result of the audits of these ministries and agencies, systems and supporting laws are being put in place to enhance their efficiency, so as to avoid wastes and lapses. It is my hope that the nation will read the Thursday’s edition of the New Dawn Newspaper under the column Thoughts, Politics, & People which seeks to provide education on sensitive political issues of our time.
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About the Author: Senator Abel Momolu Massalay is currently the Senior Senator of Grand Cape Mount County and a former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

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