By: Musue Haddad
Participants at a one-day Policy Dialogue in Monrovia called for the immediate re-engagement of the modernization of the Liberian Legislature, if that august body is to function efficiently, and be seen as credible and transparent. The modernization of the Liberian Legislature was initiated a few years ago, but came to a halt a few years later because of several reasons. The Donor partners are willing to re-engage in the modernization process.
Speakers in their presentations and participants during the interactive discussion said the modernization of the Liberian Legislature was long overdue. While speakers illustrated efforts made, and challenges in modernizing the Legislature, participants from a cross section of the society at the Policy Dialogue expressed eagerness in being engaged with their Representatives through the modernization process.
The Policy Dialogue, held at the Grand Royal Hotel Conference Room brought together speakers and participants from the National Legislature, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), National Democratic Institute (NDI), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Governance Commission, students and representatives from Civil Society organizations.
The Policy Dialogue, “Promoting a Modernized Legislature in Liberia: Issues, challenges and Prospects,” was organized by the National Integrity Mandate Area of the Governance Commission as a part of its LEMTAIL’s Project. The LEMTAIL Project called the Legislative Monitoring for Transparency and Accountability is aimed at promoting transparency, accountability and national integrity in Liberia.
For example, after hearing about some of the technological advances that modernization would bring, participants expressed eagerness to have access to the free automated phone (as is in other countries) that would allow them to call from any parts of the country to get information about bills, and activities at the Capitol, or simply find out what lawmakers are doing in Monrovia and their constituencies. However, no information is placed on the phone.
Speakers, Donors and participants at the Dialogue wondered why the Legislature is not making use of several equipment donated and installed by donor partners. Some of the technological equipment donated and installed during the brief modernization process that are not being used are: an Electronic Voting and Attendance system that was donated by the World Bank and a Bill Tacking System.
Representative Gabriel Smith in his address said, a modernized Legislature serves as an effective participant and contributor to good governance, adding, “Modernization gives increased capacity to the Legislature in performing its functions and responsibilities.”
Smith said, without a modernized Legislature, it would be impossible for the legislature to perform its role as a major contributor to the sustenance and enhancement of a democratic system of governance.
Hon Smith, Representative of Grand Bassa County, District # 3, also Chairman of the Committee on Elections and Inaugurations added, “Modernization gives increased capacity to the Legislature in performing its functions and responsibilities.”
Smith enumerated several issues hindering the effective functioning and modernization of the Legislature, including, lack of research capacity, limited professional staff and limited ICT skills. He also recommended that any modernization program of the legislature take into consideration a regular interactive forum for the legislators, study tour arranged for members of the legislatures, training for constituency staff, and central staff, ICT training for members as well as staff, and the availability of internet facility at the Capitol to enhance communication.
In his address, the UNPD Deputy Country for Programme, Mr. Cleophas Torori demonstrated through a power point presentation his organization’s and other partners’ support in helping to modernize the Liberian Legislature.
Torori said, “Legislature strengthening is an integral part of UNDP’s support to democratic governance whose mission is to assist governments and its citizens realize their development aspirations through, “state institutions that work; …..a legislature that makes laws and controls executive power….”
He said it is based on his organization’s policy in promoting democratic governance that the UNDP has been working assiduously with partners in strengthening and helping to modernize the [Liberian] Legislature.
Drawing from his organization’s findings in 2012, Torori said, strategies for strengthening the Liberian legislature should focus more on capacity development of Legislative Members and staff. Capacity building for members, Torori said would strengthen the skills of members for law-making, functioning committees, and development of local partners to assist with constituency work. For staff, he said capacity development would promote professional independent cadres of workers, and also ensure proper documenting of voting, bill tracking, and journals among others activities to enhance accountability and transparency.
In her Introductory Remarks, Counsellor Ruth Jappah, Commissioner, National Integrity System Mandate Area of the Governance Commission said, while the Liberian Legislature is attracting attention now more than ever before, it is still lagging in integrating the interests of the people into government’s agenda.
Commissioner Jappah attributed the failure of Legislature in performing its duties to several factors, key among which she said is, “The existing political culture that ignores the urgency for accountability, since little or no information is provided to constituents on how the legislature is responsible for the people.”
Jappah stressed that modern legislatures function well through effective committees, without which numerous bills languish in committee rooms, leading to the non- passage of major bills,” particularly the National Code of Conduct.’
In closing, the Deputy Chairperson of the Governance Commission, Commissioner Elizabeth SeleMulbah challenged the Liberian Legislature to be on par with their colleagues across the globe,” adding “we need a legislature that is modernized.”
She urged members of the legislature to measure up, and not be complacent because we are called the Dark Continent of Africa.