By Tarty Teh
Any semblance of continuity that survived the Liberian Legislature’s tempestuous existence since January 2006 was wiped away on March 17, 2009, when the Senate forced its leader, Grand Gedeh County Senator Isaac Nyenable, to resign his post as President Pro Tempore on the whimsical charge of “ineptitude,” among some of the assembly’s subjective quibbles.
A week earlier the Liberian Senate had voted to dissolve its own leadership; but what the planners of the stunt had in mind was for then current President Pro Tempore Nyenabo to quit his post. It was easy to tell what was in it for the schemers; but if there was any inducement for Mr. Nyenabo it wasn’t all that apparent.
The Senate’s vote to suspend its own management team wasn’t all that sudden either. It was only the latest scheme in the drive to remove Mr. Nyenabo as leader of the Senate. In fact, the Senate agitators once managed to chase Senator Nyenabo from his seat as Pro Tempore, albeit briefly. He got a reprieve from the Supreme Court which had ruled that at least there was no constitutional provision or case-law antecedent for the way Senator Nyenabo was treated.
But the rebellious Senate faction first refused to honor the Court’s decision, as has happened many times with this Johnnie Lewis Court. Among some of the reasons the rebels gave was that the entire Senate was on its agriculture break, hence any court ruling during that time had no binding effect, or something close to that. And it wasn’t as if the assembly was in a rush to get back in session to process the Court’s decision. They simply and stubbornly ignored the Court once they reconvened.
In fact there was a newspaper report that the government of the United States of America had said it would not allow any member of the Liberian Legislature to travel to the U.S. if our Congress did not act to honor the Supreme Court’s ruling. But the prudish U.S. mission to Liberia tried to rob us of a useful device for making our Congress behalf when the embassy issued a release doubting that any such threat ever came from the American government. Even so, the floated rumor appeared to have had some effect. The pseudo ban on travel probably unnerved our Senate to think twice about continuing to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision.
However, what the U.S. government did say — and which it stated with all the candor that diplomacy would permit — was that we should investigate the bribery scandal that involved all three branches of our government, especially since there were some witnesses who claimed they had documentary proofs. Our House of Representatives said no thank you, and investigated itself instead. It came down with what looked like suspended sentences for two members of the House — one for not presenting convincing evidence for charges made, and the other for “bringing disrepute” to the Honorable House of Representatives.
But that’s just the House. The road to accountability does not necessarily pass through the Legislature. We will have a constitutional debate on this issue if the fourth branch of the government — we the people — demands that debate.
Now the Legislature is at it again. But some of the current legislative histrionics were not all together unexpected since the day a brand new Executive, a brand new Judiciary, and a brand new Legislature were seated over three years ago. It has been an amateur hour in Liberian politics since that time, with some of the most egregious contributions coming from the most unlikely place: the Executive branch headed by a Harvard-trained President who sometimes leads the assault on civil liberties.
It was easy to lose count of what was going on in the Legislature because it was not only the legislative branch of the Liberian government that was acting up, so to speak. We already had bribery scandals that involved the Executive, Judiciary, and this very Legislature. The e-mail scandal that sent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf reeling was a gift from Heaven or Hell depending on one’s predisposition.
Covering up old lies with new ones didn’t help matters much. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was itself dodging incoming missiles of allegations regarding the warring activities of some of its own members even as they sat in judgment of some of those who came forward to acknowledge their own involvement in the war. To that end, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s secret appearance before the panel in February 2009 — mostly to pass the bulk of the blame to someone else — sparked new rounds of recrimination.
Enough already, I would say. But since the Liberian Senate is currently playing out its latest folly, we should begin with the Legislature in seeking to keep count of the criminal allegations that hobbled both chambers of the assembly since the day this Congress was seated. I am thinking that there should be some sort of official tracking system — something that could be called Senate-House Indictment Tally (or *HIT). Forget the acronym; obviously it stinks. But stick with the idea.
It makes you wonder how much worse off we would have been if we had recruited all of our members of Congress — and the Executive and Judiciary branches too — straight from the Central Prison in the capital. Speaking of the Central Prison, incumbent Margibi Senator Roland Kaine once resided there on suspicion of massacre. So the idea I am trying to put forward is that even without determining whether or not one is guilty of any charges brought, we need to know just how many lawmakers have been unable to escape criminal allegations thus far. That’s what the *HIT list should be about. <>
Copyright © Tarty Teh 2009
March 20, 2009, Monrovia, Liberia
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Culled from the Agenda’s 21 March 2009 Edition