What’s This Issue With Lawmakers And County Superintendents?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Something strange is happening in the political system of the country with reported feud between some lawmakers and superintendents of their counties. Some of the lawmakers have accused local officials of not respecting that body on issues relative to their respective counties. For others, it is highly believed that some of the lawmakers are trying to usurp the functions of the Executive branch of government, under the canopy of “oversight responsibility,” which rightly so, is one of the functions of the Legislature.

The situation has developed a cat-and-mouse scenario that has led to some of the Superintendents being incarcerated for contempt of the law-making body, which is the National Legislature. This vinegary relationship between some of these law makers and their local officials, appointed by the President, is seemingly undermining the spirit of coordination as contained in the Liberian Constitution which recognizes the separation of power with the three branches- The Legislative, Executive and Judiciary.

As it is known, there are three distinct branches that form the nucleus or fulcrum of the country’s governing system. Despite the separation of power, the very constitution, while recognizing this separation, states that these three branches must COORDINATE for the smooth running of the government.

In that constitution; it states, “Liberia is a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes. The form of government is Republican with three separate coordinate branches: the legislative, the Executive and Judiciary. Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches shall hold office in or exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the other two branches except as otherwise provided in this Constitution; and no person holding office in one of the said branches shall serve on any autonomous public agency.”

Regrettably, developments in recent time suggest that something is wrong somewhere as there continues to be trickery between some of the county officials and their lawmakers, indicating that there seems to be a lack of understanding of this unitary nature of the government, thus resulting to this sour relationship between some Superintendents and elected officials.

It can be recalled that sometimes ago, there was a misunderstanding between the former Superintendent of Montserrado County and some lawmakers. Similarly, this also occurred between some lawmakers and the Superintendent of Bomi County. This even led to the incarceration of the then Superintendent Beauty Barcon.

Likewise, one of the known instances occurred between the Superintendent of Sinoe County. J. Milton Teahjay and a lawmaker; my good friend, Representative Matthew Zarzar that led to the Superintendent being jailed after he was found guilty of contempt by that body. Prior to that incident, there was a problem in the county between the superintendent and some lawmakers.

Just recently, this ugly situation by some lawmakers and local officials surfaced in Nimba County, resulting to a “vote of no confidence” by the plenary of the House of Representatives against the two senior local officials- the Superintendent Fong Zuagele and Assistant Superintendent for Development, Teeko Yorlay. The latest situation in Nimba County is said to have atomized the leadership of the county, with Senior Senator Prince Johnson, accusing his colleagues of interfering in the functions of the Executive Branch of government.

Unsurprisingly, yesterday while listening to the truth FM morning program’s first discussion which featured Bong County Senior Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, I gathered that it is not too well between the Superintendent of the county and herself. Although she did not dwell too much on this, the way and manner in which she responded to an issue relative to the Superintendent, intuitively, I deduced that indeed, they cannot see eye-to-eye.

Now, because of this unpleasant relationships at some times, Superintendents are said to be thinking about a united front to curtail this. When I listened to Sinoe County Superintendent, my former schoolmate from William R. Tolbert High School in New Kru Town, on a recent radio program, I got the impression that they are tired with this and now is the time to do something to curtail this constant rigmarole between superintendents and some lawmakers.

As a student of communication, I am concerned about this kind of ugly relationship between some superintendents and their county lawmakers. As I have repeatedly stated on this matter, although these officials, find themselves in separate branches, it is required that whether elected or appointed, should work together as a unit in order to do the people’s business.

It is rather unfortunate that some people who find themselves in the status quo do not really understand this unitary nature of the government, for which they continue to work at variance. As the constitution said, “Liberia is a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes. This simply suggests that several parts join into making a whole. This can be likened to the various parts of the human body that MUST work together for the functioning of the body.

Considering the embarrassment of this kind of relationship, I write to call on the Minister of Internal Affairs, Morris Dukuly and the National Legislature to organize a special forum that will bring together local officials and lawmakers to find a way out of this embarrassment because this has the propensity to undermine productivity or create unnecessary hurdles in the functioning of the government.

Until these officials, whether elected or appointed, see themselves and work for the same unit; with mutual respect, coordination, cooperation and effective communication and not perceived by show of “power” and “disrespect,” this   cat-and-mouse relationship will undoubtedly linger on, to the detriment of the country’s governing system. I REST MY CASE.