The Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD) says Oversight-Committees’ activities in the Liberian Legislature remain “grossly opaque, weak organizationally and allow personal political and economic interest to supersede duty and responsibility to the country.”
In its bi-annual report released recently, IREDD said its Legislative Monitoring under the theme: “Lawmaker Watch”, explains monitoring activities at the Legislature over the past six months (January – June 2021).
Essentially, the report covers key monitoring activities relating to Legislative functions (Oversight, Representation and Lawmaking) as well as institutional governance and the interplay of politics and interests at the Legislature.
The group reports that this is manifested in the selective manner in which bills are given attention and the speed at which certain bills are acted on compared to others.
Besides, most activities of committees are still being conducted in secrecy or lack adequate information to allow public access, the report said.
It noted that a total of 51 Committee reports were recorded by IREDD at the Liberian Senate while 27 Committee reports were also recorded at the House of Representatives, respectively.
Further, IREDD said a total of 56 communications were recorded at the Liberian Senate while a total of one hundred, twenty-three communications were also recorded at the House of Representatives.
Concerning Lawmaking, IREDD reports that a total of 48 bills were recorded in committee room at the Liberian Senate while a total of 88 bills were also recorded in committee room at the House of Representatives.
Additionally, IREDD noted that a total of seven Legislations were passed at the Liberian Senate and a total of thirteen bills were also passed at the House of Representatives.
On representation, the report said a total of 2,050 present times were obtained at the House of Representatives while 892 absent times were also obtained at the House of Representatives.
169 distant times were obtained at the House of Representatives and 10 excuse times were obtained there.
Still at the House of Representatives, IREDD a total of fifty-five sick times were obtained and a total of forty-seven plenary sessions were held during the period.
At the Liberian Senate, IREDD reports that a total of nine hundred six present times were recorded, and seventy-three absences were recorded there.
It details that a total of sixty-nine distant times were also obtained at the Liberian Senate, along with forty excuse times and a total of twenty-nine sick times obtained there.
IREDD continues that the Liberian Senate held a total of forty-six plenary sessions.
According to the report, 5% of Representatives obtained ‘A’ in plenary attendance while 13% of them also obtained F in plenary attendance.
Similarly, 28% of Senators obtained ‘A’ in plenary attendance while 10% of them obtained ‘D’ in plenary attendance at the Liberian Senate.
The monitoring report also highlights key petitions that originated from the public and it further reveals critical issues relating to accountability and transparency at the Legislature.
During the period, IREDD said one Legislator from Margibi County, Ivar K. Jones of District 2, extended an invitation to the reporting organization to participate in his annual report to his constituents, an invitation which was honored by IREDD.
On December 8, 2020, IREDD said a midterm election of fifteen Senators was held, of which 90% of those elected were newcomers.
The elections were held following intense debate on the constitutionality of the postponement from October to December, something triggered by the chilling effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the report notes.
The results were released amid reports of fraud which were adjudicated through Supreme Court ruling.
IREDD states that up to date, one of the elected Candidates, Mr. Brownie J. Samukai has been held by the Supreme Court due to his involvement in corruption during his time as Defense Minister during former President Ellen Johnson Sir leaf’s regime.
The group has made several recommendations, saying the passage of all legislation should be acted upon based on the Legislature’s standing rules and best legislative practices.
It recommends further that the Legislature ensures that all line ministries and agencies provide their quarterly and annual budget performance reports so as to enhance transparency and accountability in public service and also inform legislative decisions during budget deliberations.
It urges that the both Houses of the Legislature review their standing rules to prevent Committees members from signing committee reports during plenary sessions.
“That the plenary of the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate ensure that all members of international parliaments provide reports on their representations at the different parliaments,” it said.
IREDD said despite the impervious operational mood of the Legislature particularly the work of oversight committees, the quality of engagement and cooperation established with key clerical staff of both chambers is highly helpful in gathering this 2021 Bi-annual report.
But it notes that the lack of access to committees’ minutes as well as the Legislature’s lack of commitment to bill tracking systems further complicates monitoring efforts and data collection.
“However, there remains a high prospect for an improved data collection environment as public awareness becomes heightened and citizens’ demand for accountability continues to gain momentum with time,” the report said.
Although the monitoring report has not quarterly been released to the public since 2021, IREDD said it remains committed to monitoring the Liberian Legislature and providing comprehensive monitoring reports.
“The breakdown to the quarterly reporting is not due to our weakness but due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 in Liberia and around the world. IREDD Quarterly report will now be released on a bi-annual basis.”