By C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy
Members of the Liberian Senate yesterday detected several errors in that august body’s standing rules especially relating to Rules 19 and 14 respectively, which deal with the election of a President pro-tempore.
The debate emerged from a communication drafted and placed on the plenary’s agenda requesting that body to allow for the election of a President Pro-tempore on Thursday, January 22, 2015 but there was a serious confusion that holding all things constant, rules 19 and 14 of the Senate’s rules could not apply if the vacancy must be occupied as some senators were arguing and therefore that body cannot go by them.
The senator’s spoke from different stand-points and differed several times but concluded at the same point realizing that the process by which the Pro-tempore was ousted had been either omitted or ignored by the Constitution and in their own rules making it difficult to derive at legal basis for their arguments but the legal consultant of the National Legislature, Jonathan Wilson, said nothing is wrong with the rules.
While other senators believed that since the Liberian Senate had been treading on erroneous grounds in the past, laying aside their rules would be of no harm to that body, but other senators argued that the rules were made by senators and not in isolation of the Liberian Constitution therefore it must be upheld and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with going by the rules since in fact, the Secretary of the Senate had begun tracking the process based on the rules.
Senators Henry Yallah and Peter Coleman, drafters of the Thursday, January 22 election request communicated to the plenary argued that rule 19 was not in isolation to the Liberian Constitution referencing Article 47 but condemned the previous election of a Pro-temp who had just a term of three years to be booted out or get re-elected by his constituents.
The two senators who represent Bong and Grand Kru Counties respectively joined by Montserrado County’s Senator, Geraldine Doe Sheriff, informed the plenary that where the rule is silent, it behooves the plenary to take decision on critical matters as the plenary is the highest decision making body of the Liberian Senate.
The senators’ point was buttressed by Senators Thomas Grupee, Jonathan Kaipay, Sando Johnson and George Tengbeh describing the attitude of their colleagues as a procrastination of time which was offensively downplayed by injecting how they do not have the numbers and know that they have failed and therefore want to drag the process so as to assemble their numbers.
Following all of their points, they agreed that their rules are in error and therefore the Senate as a ‘House of elders’ must act fast in its own wisdom to correct the wrong referring to the omitted aspects as ‘missing puzzles.’
Those who expressed their views regarding the upholding of the Senate rules in line with the Liberian Constitution included Senators Milton Teahjay, Oscar Cooper, Jewel Howard Taylor, Daniel Naatehn, Marshall Dennis and CommanyWesseh.
Those senators lured their colleagues to accept that rule 19 is closest to what the Senate is driving towards because to conduct an electoral process, there must be guidelines which in their minds will not take two days and with the dates attached to the holding of the elections, there are critical tracking methods which range from one method to another.
According to the Senate own standing rule 19, Section 3, “In case of removal of the President Pro-tempore, the Liberian Senate shall elect a successor in keeping with the following procedure: a) The Secretary of the Senate shall announce a vacancy for the position of the President Pro-tempore of the Senate, b) within a period of 30 calendar days, an election shall be held in plenary to fill the vacancy of the President Pro-tempore, c) All interested candidates shall declare their intention in writing to the plenary through the Secretary of the Senate not later than 20 calendar days from the date of announcement of the vacancy.
The rule goes on to state that, “The Secretary of the Senate shall circulate all declarations received to all members of the Senate not later than 5 calendar days prior to the date of election. D) the plenary at which the election shall be held shall have only one item on its agenda which shall be the election of the President Pro-tempore of the Senate and on the day of the election, the President of the Senate shall preside, or in the stead, the Secretary of the Senate amongst others.
The senators reminded the plenary that the election of Pro-tempore is nothing to rush about and that the special senatorial election that now places that body in a critical position to elect a Pro-tempore after three years order than what the law provides, happened for the first time in 1986 with several amendments made now in the Liberian Constitution.
They informed plenary that rule 19 section 3 is in the context of Articles 47 and 37 of the Liberian Constitution regarding the word ‘otherwise’ and therefore needed to seek legal consultation from Cllr. Jonathan Williams, the legal counsel of the National Legislature.
The senators said in order for them as senators to respect their rules, they have to respect each other and that is also intended to give the new senators the chance to understand those vying for the position so that they too might make informed decision, noting, “Let us take time as elders; let us be in no rush to elect a Pro-temp.”
But Senators Gble-bo Brown and Albert Chie carried a completely different view that the rules of the Senate on the holding of election for Pro-temp is clear and to do that now is unconstitutional considering the six years clause of the Pro-temp’s position and noted that in case of absence, there must be a vertical trend which is the ascension aspect.
They argued that what should be their reliance if election for a Pro-temp is conducted now because rule 19 and 14 do not apply therefore suggestions must be advanced and not just to allow few persons sit and select a date.
The new senators requested that plenary continue to engage with the amendments of the rules to conform with the Constitution and encouraged their colleagues to revert their focus more towards amending the rules so as to target future occurrences and not just for the Pro-temp position.