Ellen’s Request For Extra Powers In Limbo

By C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s request for more emergency powers during the State of Emergency has ended in deadlock at the Liberian Senate while members of the House of Representatives have deferred their deliberation for a decision to today.   The Liberian leader on August 7 informed the National Legislature of her constitutional mandate to declare a State of Emergency during which time certain fundamental rights will be suspended and or restricted given special circumstances.

On October 1, President Sirleaf reminded that august body of her declaration and recommended with request that certain restrictive measures were to be taken on keen Articles including the alteration of election time and manner.

President Sirleaf reiterated her recommendation amidst public outcry that her request was vague regarding all the restrictions as the Constitution was clear and that there was no need for amendments but she provided clarity to the Legislature on the Articles of the Liberian Constitution she seeks to request restrictions in another communication dated October 8.

In her communication, President Sirleaf among other things informed that body that if those measures outlined dare undertaken restricting and or suspending certain fundamental rights of the Liberian citizens and residents under the declared emergency which was accorded her by that Legislature, she would be able her sufficiently deal with the plague of the Ebola virus at all levels of the society.

However, serious controversy arose during the plenary sessions in the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate surrounding attempts to endorse President Sirleaf’s request for extra constitutional powers to handle the State of Emergency during the Ebola crisis in the country.

Several Senators in separate dispositions argued that the Liberian leader was trying to violate the Constitution by infringing on the rights of the Liberians and considered her request as one that would revert the country to the days of tyrannical leadership, imperial presidency and dictatorship while others believed that the President is not requesting an amendment of the Constitution.

Senators like Sando Johnson, Mabotu Nyenpan, Jewel Howard-Taylor, Geraldine Doe Sheriff, Nyonblee Karngar and Peter Coleman rallied their colleagues to stop any attempts to grant additional powers to the presidency because the issue of Ebola still remains uncertain and the powers exercised under the State of Emergency is already overwhelming.

They said it should have been health emergency instead of State of Emergency and look forward to November 6 when the State of Emergency period granted the presidency is to elapse.

Senators like Isaac Nyenabo, Abel Massaley, Frederick Cherue, Sumo Kupee, Joseph Nagbe and John Ballout detested the argument of their colleagues and said to reject the recommendation made by the President would be like contravening their own decision to have a State of Emergency declared.

They concurred that the request was more legal than political and urged their colleagues not to discuss it and reach a decision with emotions.

President Sirleaf wrote the Senate seeking its approval to restrict labor and assembly that might undermine the fight against Ebola virus or spread the virus.

Meanwhile, in her letter of clarity received by that body dated October 8, President Sirleaf said the Government of Liberia will use Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution to restrict freedom of press and prevent false information by print or electronic publication about the Ebola virus during the time of emergency.

The communication among other things is recommending that government will use public facilities without payment and the government will also use towns, cities for burial sites during this State of Emergency.

The House of Representatives following the receipt of the President’s communication on further clarity to her recommendation of restrictions to be placed on Articles 1, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17and 24, have agreed to hold a special session today.