LIBERIA: Senate Split Over President Sirleaf’s Letter

The Liberian Senate is split over a communication from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf seeking the body’s endorsement for additional powers to fight the Ebola virus in keeping with the current State of Emergency.

The Senate had set Thursday, October 9, to discuss the letter President Sirleaf sent on October 1, when a second communication from the President dated October 8 outlining reasons for wanting extra emergency powers, was also received by the upper House.

After the two communications were read in plenary by the Secretary of the Senate on Thursday, several senators decided that the President’s request be rejected, while a others appealed for consideration of the document.

Senators Isaac Nyenabo of Grand Gedeh, Frederick Cherue of River Gee, John Ballout of Maryland and Sumo Kupee of Lofa counties, were among the lawmakers who opined that the President's request be granted.

According to them, their plea was based on the August 8 Joint Resolution adopted by the Senate and House of Representatives, which acknowledges the outbreak of Ebola and its spread as a clear danger to the state and its people.

They said under the circumstances the president should be granted extraordinary powers within existing agreements to provide other measures for the containment of the virus.

They stressed that in the President’s formal request for the first emergency powers, she stated that the list of all the emergency powers required to contain the further spread of the virus was not yet exhausted, and would have informed the body of additional measures when necessary.

The Senators further argued that added powers to the existing ones pose no danger to the citizenry, as the present emergency in the country demands tough measures, adding, “There is no danger, manipulation, plot or conspiracy in the president’s decision to deal with difficult times as this.”

But, Senators Alphonso Gaye of Grand Gedeh, Peter Coleman of Grand Kru, Geraldine Doe Sheriff of Montserrado, George Tengbeh of Lofa, Sando Johnson and Lahai Lassanah of Bomi, Nyonblee Kangar Lawrence of Grand Bassa, Dallas Gueh and J. Jonathan Barney of River Cess, Jewel Howard Taylor of Bong, Mobutu Vlah Nyenpahn of Sinoe counties, among other senators, argued that there was no need for such power to be granted the President.

According to them the main topic that needs redress apart from current Ebola crisis is Article 83, and not Articles 1, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17 and 24.

They said while they appreciate the spirit of coordination in government, any attempt by them to alter any portion of the Constitution as requested by President Sirleaf, especially Article 1, will pose danger to the country.

Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution states that all power is inherent in the people who have the power to alter the manner, “one man, one vote, secret ballot” through the process of referendum.

According to them, Articles 13, 14 and 15 which deal with religion, free movement and freedom of speech, were part of the August 8 resolution, and need no further stringent measures, while 12, 17 and 24, dealing with labor, assembling, and private property, are delicate matters that form part of the judicial jurisdiction.

After several hours of debate on the floor, the body could not come up with a concrete decision, as they were seen in groups chatting about the way forward, until a motion for adjournment was made at 7:45p.m.

It can be recalled that President Johnson Sirleaf wrote the Legislature on October 1, followed by a clarification letter on October 8, in quest of more emergency powers to sustain the State of emergency, with Articles 1, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17 and 24 being areas to effect some changes.

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