The Liberian congress is a strange place with strange characters.
It is a place where legislators are elected to serve for seven and nine years respectively, only to live in the capital, Monrovia, far away from their districts and counties.
It is a place where elected officials are Legislators In Name Only (LINO), rubberstamping the President’s policies without having a serious and honest debate. It is also a place where a presidential nominee is rejected the first time only to be confirmed the second time.
The question now is if the nominee was rejected the first time for any reasons, what makes the nominee confirmable the second time?
Unsurprisingly, the Liberian legislature is a place where lawmakers can claim to report to work daily, and proudly collects their much-anticipated paychecks and other amenities, even as the country continues to fall apart before their naked eyes.
As elected representatives of their people, these individuals are expected to pass sensible legislations, uphold the constitution, have sound judgment and character, make better decisions, and work to make the country a better place to live and raise a family. Unfortunately, it is the other way around.
Because they are elected lawmakers, their constituents also expect them to hold hearings and find solutions to failed national policies, be a balancing act to the powerful presidency, and also hold confirmation hearings for presidential nominees, et cetera.
To these individuals, winning elections by any means necessary is the way to go, and siding with a President who often looks out for a particular member’s interest means being on the right side, even if that side is against the interest of the Liberian people.
Example: President Sirleaf is a frequent flyer; a globetrotter who often is out of the country, yet not a single lawmaker ever asks why she’s always traveling, what’s the budget or costs of her many foreign travels, and who are onboard traveling with her?
Another example: In the wake of massive suffering and economic hardships facing the Liberian people during this president’s tenure, Sirleaf would have done the Liberian people a huge financial favor had she genuinely empowered the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Commerce, Finance, et cetera to negotiate the nation’s economic and foreign interests abroad.
Instead, Sirleaf prefers to travel with her huge entourage to foreign capitals time after time, when the appropriate ministers could have done the same job to save the country the funds, since Liberia does not have its own presidential aircraft.
Vice President Boikai is right behind his boss in the flying column.
Again, the legislative branch prefers to play blind and be tone deaf to the imperial president’s waste of funds, perhaps because she often takes along a member or members of the legislature on her frequent foreign trips.
Again, where is legislative oversight in these matters?
A little history:
Influencing electoral results through lies, threats, intimidation and harassment is nothing new in Liberian politics. Swapping elections results to favor the other side is not unheard of either in Liberian politics.
Prior to the 1985 elections, Former President Samuel K. Doe’s Special Elections Commissions (SECOM), chaired by Emmett Harmon, announced that some of the political parties and their representatives were disallowed to observe the counting of the ballots.
When the Doe regime realized he (Mr. Doe) wasn’t going to win the elections, the administration burned the ballots and declared itself the winner.
During the 2011 general and presidential elections, James Fromoyan, who was appointed by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to head the National Elections Commission, was accused of allegedly swapping the 2011 elections results to favor the incumbent, after the NEC earlier declared the Congress for Democratic Change political party’s candidates the winner.
A mysterious letter Mr. Fromoyan claimed he never read but signed, which was brought to the attention of the general public during the contested presidential elections, declared the CDC the winner even before the votes were counted and the results certified.
However, as pressure mounted on the NEC’s chair, Mr. Fromoyan reportedly changed course and declared Madame Sirleaf winner of the presidential elections.
Why Fromoyan never read the letter but signed it is beyond comprehension. However, Fromoyan’s actions was clearly an assault on the integrity of the electoral process, and a blow to the confidence of the Liberian people who thought they were voting to elect the person of their choice.
At the end of the day, however, Madame Sirleaf won her second term, Fromoyan was out of a job and left the country, only to later resurface in Liberia after the dusts settled.
When elections laws or any laws are violated, the Ministry of Justice is expected to immediately investigate all of the above and prosecute the individuals implicated in the cover-ups, including the President of Liberia on whose behalf Mr. Fromoyan was acting.
The country moved on and not a single legislative hearing was conducted, as if it is normal or legal for government officials to violate the nation’s electoral process on behalf of a candidate or President of Liberia during an ongoing election.
Fast forward to 2013.
Almost two years after the 2011 presidential elections, a bizarre revelation that the former warlord, now Senator Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County, influenced the legislative race in his region (with the endorsement of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf), to favor his National Union for Democratic Progress (NUDP) candidates, once again opened the debate about corruption, the lack of fairness in the electoral process, official interference and transparency in the Liberian electoral system.
According to Mr. Johnson, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf endorsed the illegal practice after he briefed her during the 2011 general and presidential elections. It is also reported that President Sirleaf went along with the plan because she (Sirleaf) needed crucial votes from Mr. Johnson’s Nimba County to defeat the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), in the runoff.
Again, the Ministry of Justice and the entire judicial system, which Madame Sirleaf controls and manipulates, and the national legislature whose members owe their political survival or careers to the President, failed to act.
Prince Johnson has always been a reckless man – a time bomb waiting to explode anytime. Because of his bloody war past, the political establishment is afraid of him and prefers to rather leave him alone as he self-flagellates, which is also hurting the country’s road to peace and recovery.
A lawless man who supposedly represents Nimba County, this former warlord is known for his antics and meaningless utterances than actually enacting meaningful legislations that benefits the Liberian people.
How Prince Johnson and others – former warlords for that matters, became lawmakers is a question that needs to be asked over and over, because it shows that some Liberians would rather vote on tribal lines than actually vote for a serious person who will work hard to deliver for his or her people.
Mr. Johnson is not alone in these comical acts.
Geraldine Doe-Sheriff is another lawmaker who is also an embarrassment to the Liberian people.
Just recently, the Montserrado County Senator made news for all the wrong reasons when she submitted a bill to prosecute future perpetrators of war crimes. What she did not do is submit a bill that pursues those former warlords who killed, maimed, raped, exiled Liberians and destroyed the Liberian nation.
Like Prince Johnson, it is unclear whether Geraldine Doe-Sheriff is even competent to be a legislator, which is a million-dollar question that warrants a million-dollar answer.
Geraldine Doe-Sheriff would have endeared herself to the Liberian people had she garnered the courage to submit a bill that at least implements TRC recommendations such as “reparations, justice and reconciliation mechanisms, institutional reforms, governance, issues of the Diaspora, national integrity and corruption, the National Human Rights Commission, etc.”
Since Madame Sirleaf also ignored another TRC recommendation that barred her from seeking political office for 30 years, for her role in the civil war (but campaigned and won a second presidential term, anyway), Geraldine Doe-Sheriff should have submitted a bill supporting the TRC for showing such courage by calling out the President for undermining the recommendations of the commission.
While it is true that Madame Sirleaf is often blamed for the political mess in the country, because of her role as President, members of the House or Representatives and Senate should be equally blamed for being spineless and incompetent.
These individuals are hurting the country and the Liberian people.
Who elected them, anyway? And why?