Last week members of the Liberian Senate and House of Representatives endorsed President George Weah’s request to declare a state of emergency to contain the further spread of the coronavirus.
However, the President’s request was endorsed with lots of modifications including sweeping powers to quarantine any affected counties or portions duration the period of the state of emergency based on health expert advice without the approval of the legislature.
“Now, therefore, it is hereby resolved by the senate and the house of representatives of the Republic of Liberia, in legislature assembled: that the state of emergency is approved for a period of up to ninety days from its effective date of April 10, 2020.
“However, the President of Liberia, on the advice of health experts, may impose an absolute quarantine in the affected counties or portions thereof at a time and for a duration based on expert advice,” the resolution disclosed.
The Upper House passed the resolution at 90 days, while the Lower House approved it at 60, but a conference committee of both Houses, headed by Sen. Peter Coleman and Rep. Acarous M. Gray met and agreed to the senate modification of 60 days.
The lawmakers’ resolutions also extended the state of emergency, which has been effective for about a week now from its previous 21 days’ request to 60 days.
It now means that the state of emergency announced by the President will not end on May 1, but June 11, 2020, at 11:49 pm.
Furthermore, the lawmakers authorized the President to end the state of emergency at any time during its operational period, “if the conditions which created the need for the state of emergency is abated and the clear and present danger absent.”
The joint resolution, signed on Friday, April 17, 2020, was passed by twenty-five Senators and over 55 Representatives, which make up two-thirds votes needed from both houses to either revoke, approve or change the President state of emergency declaration.
In order areas, the lawmakers have approved the President’s request for a loan payment of market women and small petty traders bank loans to mitigate the adverse economic impact brought forth by the state of emergency.
“That the Market Women and Small Informal Petty Traders Bank Loan Program is approved, with modification to add credit unions and related entities registered and doing business before January 1, 2020,” the resolution added. “And the request to appropriate US$15 million for Government domestic debt will be considered for the 2020/2021 Fiscal Year budget.”
The lawmakers’ resolution also mandates the government to make sure that the food support program covers the entire country, and should prioritize vulnerable population and the first responder population as well as the disadvantaged youth, the homeless, orphanages, senior citizens, and people with disabilities, etc.
“That the initial request for US$25 million is hereby approved for the Food Support Program with the modification that all of the 15 counties within the Republic shall be covered as affected counties for food support and additional amounts needed shall be submitted for re-appropriation. Procurement under this program must first accommodate locally produced food.
“That the food distribution program must prioritize the vulnerable population and the first responder population to wit: the disadvantaged youth, the homeless, orphanages, senior citizens, people with disabilities health workers and security personnel deployed in the frontline of the enforcement of the State of Emergency,” the resolution said.
At first, the President’s request to the legislature did not include the provision of free food to Liberians across the entire country, rather to households in designated affected counties for 60 days, which he requested US25 million for.
The President’s request also fails as well to include market women and small petit traders who took loans from credit unions as beneficiaries of the government loan payment program.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers have established COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, to solicit donations from individuals, groups of individuals, local and international private organizations, business enterprises and any other person interested in assisting the most vulnerable populations of the Republic against the scourge of COVID 19.
Before the establishment of the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, the lawmakers previously wanted the fund resource to come from a 25% salary deduction of all gainfully employed persons (both in the private and public sectors) for two months (May and June 2020).
According to the lawmakers draft document then, payment to the Emergency COVID-19 Fund shall be made in the same manner as payroll taxes are collected through the Liberia Revenue Authority as the intermediary; and all money collected by the Liberia Revenue Authority shall be deposited into the account(s) established at the commercial bank(s) designated by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning.
However, after heavy public backlash, the lawmakers remove such a clause and donated to the fund voluntarily.
It further that: All health workers shall receive monthly hazard pay for regular as well as volunteer workers as provided for by international organizations. And that all frontline security personnel shall receive monthly extended duty pay for the duration of the state of emergency. The appropriations of amounts under this program shall be subject to the recast budget.
The resolution concluded with calls for the establishment of a “Joint Select Emergency Oversight Committee to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Senate exercise oversight over all of the programs approved in this resolution and report to both chambers.”
“That the Tax Policy and Administration Stimulus Program is hereby approved,” the resolution said.
In a related development, the Liberian leader has appointed a National Steering Committee to provide oversight to the COVID-19 Household Food Support Program (COHFSP).
Recently, in his State of Emergency Letter to the National Legislature, President Weah requested the National Legislature to re-appropriate US$ 25 million from the FY 2019/20 National Budget for COHFSP, to be implemented by the World Food Program. The president in that letter promised to appoint a National Steering Committee to provide oversight and prescribe rules for the COHFSP.
According to a Executive Mansion release, the Membership of COHFSP’s National Steering Committee is as follows:
- Ministry of Commerce and Industry– Chair
- Ministry of Agriculture – Co-Chair
- World Food Program — Secretary
- Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs
- Ministry of Finance and Development Planning
- Ministry of Information and Cultural Affairs and Tourism
- Ministry of Justice
- Executive Committee on Coronavirus
- National Security Council
- Two representatives from Civil Society
- Two representatives from the CPP
- Two representatives from Other Political parties
- Two representative from the Christian community
- Two representative from the Muslim community
- Two representatives from the Youth and student community
- One representative from Women Groups
- One Representative from the Coalition of Political Parties Women of Liberia
- Representative from United Nations Organizations
- Representative from the International Monetary Fund
- Representative from the World Bank
In his letter to different members of the Committee, President Weah noted that the National Committee set-up is in line with an inclusive, all-of-Government, all-of-society approach the Government of Liberia has adopted at this stage of the National Response to COVID-19. The president disclosed that he has mandated the development of a clear Terms of Reference to guard the Steering Committee’s oversight and admonished members of the Committee to bring their very best expertise and contribution to the Committee’s work.