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The duties of my Liberian Legislator in District #4

By George Gorneleh         Map of Liberia (Bong County)

 

In furtherance of transparency in our fragile democracy, and to hold elected officials accountable to the citizens they represent,  I am following up with my January 24, 2013 article published by The Liberian Dialogue website, regarding a formal complaint filed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives against Bong County Representative Lester Paye of the 4th District. Because of the publication, citizens of District 4 have engaged in spirited discussions about the duties and responsibilities of their elected representative.
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 The revised 1983 Liberian Constitution enumerates the duties of members of the Legislature. These duties are summarized into six basic categories:

1. Expert:

One of the duties of a legislator is to serve as an expert on many complex matters that affect his/her constituency. In order to effectively discuss potential changes in his/her district, each legislator must be able  to understand and analyze the discussions and proposals on a variety of critical topics. Consequently, the legislator MUST be able to determine how a particular proposed legislation might affect the people he/she represents.

 2. Budget:

Each legislator must contend with an allotted budget each fiscal year. That means whenever a new legislation is proposed, the legislator should be able to critically examine the budget, and know how any new programs will be funded by the national government, especially if the new law will adversely affect his/her district.

3. Bills and Laws:

One key duty of a legislator is to write bills that are debated and eventually voted on by the entire legislative body. If the proposed legislation passes the vote, the bill is moved on to the next step toward becoming a law. The next step invovles approval by the Senate and then sent to the President for his/her approval or rejection. If the president signs the bill, it becomes law.

4. Commission Member:

Generally, legislators are selected to become part of additional special groups known as commissions. The commissions are charged with investigating a particular issue in depth to determine if future legislation is needed to improve the situation. Commission issues can be any issue including but is not limited to abuse of legislative authority, discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, tribal origin, corruption, nepotism, poor health care delivery system, bad road conditions, schools, crimes, unfair trade practice, white collar crimes or anthing else that is deemed worthy of further investigation.

5. Communication with Constituents:

One thing elected legislators must do to retain their posts is to effectively and candidly communicate with the people who vote for them. Legislators must spend some amount of time interacting with citizens of their districts by fielding phone calls, reading letters or emails to determine what the people in their districts are concerned about. Wise legislators will vote on major issues based on the will of the poeple in their constituency. The legislator’s staff also actively responds to calls, concerns, emails and telephone calls to lighten the load on the legislator.

6. Committee Work:

In addition to representing a particular district, a legislator is often assigned to committee that takes on projects in a particular area. This committee meets when new legislation is proposed that may affect its area of expertise. Committee members review proposals and evaluate the pros and cons in a hearing. The committee eventually votes to see if the proposed legislation should be sent to the floor for a vote by all the members of the legislature.

Analysis:

Let me discuss how our national government is divided into three branches, and describe the types of checks and balances available to each branch: Legislative, executive, and judicial. These three branches are not independent of one another, because the Constitution set up a system of checks and balances to help ensure that no one branch become too powerful. Each branch has powers that it can use to check and balance the operations and power of the other two branches. The main purpose of the system is to keep the three branches in balance.

For instance, the Legislative Branch is given the power to make laws. It has the following checks over the executive branch:

· May override presidential vetoes with a two-thirds vote
· Has the power over the purse strings to actually fund any executive actions
· May remove the president through impeachment
· Senate approves treaties
· Senate approves presidential appointments

The Legislative Branch also has the following checks over the Judicial Branch: 

· May create lower courts
· Senate approves appointments of judges

The Executive Branch is given the power to carry out the laws. It has the
following checks over the Legislative Branch:

· Veto power
· Ability to call special sessions of Congress
· Canrecommend legislation
· Can appeal to the people concerning legislation and more

The Executive Branch has the following checks over the Judicial Branch:

· President appoints Supreme Court and other county judges

Checks and Balances of the Judicial Branch:

· Judges, once appointed for life, are free from controls from the executive
branch
· Courts can judge executive actions to be unconstitutional through the power of
judicial review

The Judicial Branch has the following checks over the Legislative Branch:

· Courts can judge legislative acts to be unconstitutional

Conclusion:

The duties described above do not give absolute power to legislators to meddle into the functions of the other two equal branches of government. Analysis confirms the framers of the revised 1983 Constitution intentionally granted all power not specifically given to the Legislature to the people, and set up a system of checks and balances modeled after the American system of checks and balances, to keep the three branches in balance. This system has successfully served the American people for more than two centuries, and is undoubtedly the best system that protects citizens against tyrannical governments in which elected officials might be tempted to assume absolute power not granted in the Constitution.
Contact Mr. Gorneleh at: ggorneleh@att.net

 

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