The office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Liberia is the 3rd highest ranking seat in the Liberian Republic.
It is so because the Speaker presides over members of the House of Representatives, the ordinary citizens, I mean the employers of the lawmakers.
In the event of the death of both President and Vice President of Liberia or any eventuality which could lead to the disability of both, the Speaker of the House of Representatives assumes the position of President in line with the 1986 Constitution of Liberian.
The current Speaker of the House of Representatives is Dr. Bhofal Chambers who comes from Maryland County and he represents the people of Maryland County electoral district two, Pleebo-Sodoken.
Representative Chambers has been member of that august body following his election in October of 2005.
Dr. Chambers as many know himwas once critical of how former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former House Speaker J. Alex Tyler governed the affairs of the country and by extension, the House of Representatives.
Dr. Bhofal Chambers during the 52nd and 53rd Legislature carried out series of walkout protestations when he noticed that the Speaker, Tyler was proceeding opposite of what he [Chambers] considered as against the interest of citizens of Liberia.
He was heard many times loudly speaking in session when the presiding, Tyler disallowed him from voicing his point on some of the critical issues in the Liberian Republic and often walked out in an angry mood.
Dr. Chambers celebrated and praised by many for the level of criticisms against the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led administration, at one point in time, the Speaker, Dr. Chambers refused to publicly shake hands with former President Sirleaf because he was dissatisfied, disenchanted with her style of administration.
Although, Chambers did not regret any of his actions, his public combative posture against the first African Female elected president, but he was reprimanded by the court of public opinion at that time and his action was described as ‘rudeness’ towards the presidency of the Republic of Liberia while other saw him as the aristocrat of the day.
Former President Sirleaf and Chambers earlier had a good relationship which became acerbic due to some variance with the SIFCA agreement which was signed in August of 2011.
Their paths of divergence did not meet until President George Weah assumed the presidency of the country at which time the two were seeing publicly speaking, although he always blaming her for the backwardness of the nation.
What brought Chambers to the lamplight was his constant advocacy especially when he consistently and persistently spoke against the August 2011 SIFCA agreement and other national matters which drew the attention of the general public towards him.
One of the advocacies he undertook was during the fight against the Ebola crisis when former President Ellen Johnson wrote members of the 53rd legislature during restrict movements as means of containing the virus at the time the country has recorded the total of 2,316 deaths caused by the disease, a request which was turned down by members of that august body.
Before the vote which denied former President Sirleaf’s request to restrict movements was taken, Dr. Chambers said “I see a kind of police state creeping in,”
The Maryland County lawmaker was very critical during his days in the opposition, something which gave him an advantage over his colleagues to have won their admiration which some referring to him as the ‘massive leader’ because of his strong stance on critical national issues during President Sirleaf’s era.
The New Bhofal Chambers:
Things have changed over the years, the onetime massive leader, strong anti-government advocate during the then regime of Ellen is now in the seat to make the right decision he has always craved for from others.
But the question now is how different Dr. Chambers is from the Speakers before him? How different is President George Manneh Weah’s “legislative manipulations” from former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf? Is Chambers not taking direct orders from the executive as was done during the days of former Speakers, J. Alex Tyler and James Emmanuel Nuquay? Too many questions, but our Lawmakers and Electorates’ Microphone has been speaking with some Liberians who claimed to have known Dr. Chambers long before he was pronounced ‘first among equals’
What Liberians Say?
Jethro Emmanuel Kolleh is one person who claimed to have stood with the Maryland County lawmaker during his days in advocacy during the presidency of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
According to Kolleh, he followed Dr. Chambers during those days because of his stance on issues.
According to him, Dr. Chambers used to call him and others to meet him [Chambers] at various points to advocate against what were considered as ‘ills’ in the Liberian society.
“I remember when he was making appearances on radio; he would text us to be there with him. One time, he was going to OK FM, he texted me and others to meet him there,” Kolleh said.
“I do not have respect for him anymore because he has failed those of us who believed in him,” he said.
Kolleh added “Dr. Chambers spoke against many critical issues which I respected him for, but he has disappointed so many Liberians.”
“If you stand up in advocacy and young people confide in you, that’s the currencies that you give them, confidences when that is being swept away you do not get it easily. Let him know that prosperity will judge him as per his role today and his role yesterday,” Kolleh indicated as he pointed his fingers towards me in an angry tone.
James R.S. Doe, a son of Grand Kru County in his own flashback said “This Bhofal Chambers used to be a very robust, very serious lawmaker.”
Recounting what he remembers as a Liberian during the advocacy days of Dr. Chambers, Mr. Doe said “This same Bhofal Chambers who on many occasions challenged Madam Sirleaf that she was running bad governance, challenged speakers that they were running bad leadership at the Capitol Building, but here comes 2017 this same Bhofal Chambers who spoke of bad governance yesterday, today they are practicing those same things spoken against yesterday.”
According to Doe, Dr. Chambers is a member of what he calls ‘Weah’s Coach Team’ agreeing with everything that comes from the executive even if it is not in the interest of ordinary Liberians; although the Liberian Constitution says they are two separate branches of government that should coordinate.
“I think the legislature under Dr. Chambers’ leadership is worse than his predecessors” Doe added.
In any giving situation, everyone can never be against a person as I moved on; my microphone intercepted some group of Liberians who have been following Dr. Chambers years back.
Before meeting those Liberians, I was thinking if there were still people who believe in the ability of Dr. Chambers and still think what he does are in the interest? Sure, there are many and among those are Peter Flomo and Jerry Lasanna who are both residing in Monrovia for different reasons.
Flomo in his arguments pointed out that “the Speaker and the president should at all times have that cordiality.”
Flomo indicated that “the Speaker is only performing according to how things have been operated in the past; adding “What really you want the Speaker to do? Be against the Executive or step on all that comes from the executive? I tell you no.”
While Jerry Lasanna thinks that those who are badmouthing the speaker do not know how government operates. “What those people know about governance? I think they do not know the difference between government’s workings, NGO and civil society scope of operation.”
Not In Control Of the Floor?
What I have known over the nine years spent as a legislative reporter, a speaker should and must have control of the floor of the plenary, something I strongly believe the current Speaker, Chambers is still beleaguering with since he was handed authority as ‘First among Equals’[Speaker of that body].”
Cases in point are during regular prayers, legislative deliberations, appearance of summoned officials from the executive or private institutions.
Many times, the House of Representatives preacher has to either cut short his preaching or preach in disorganized chambers.
The Chief Clerk would read a huge volume communication while members of that body move and walk about speaking loudly on the floor after which they will request for a reread.
At one point in time, Rivercess County lawmaker who sat quietly during the time his colleagues talked loudly, walked about and ate in session woke up in anger and said “Mr. Speaker, we are not understanding anything that is being said here. You need to put this place under control”.
As serious matters are being read, majority of them (lawmakers) are seen in pocket discussions regarding their interests.
He was strong during his days as an advocate and it accrued him opportunity to have been elected unopposed by his colleagues who saw him as the best option for the speakership on grounds that he will not be ingratiated by any means and that he will stand firm against anything contrary to the interest of Liberians.
Apparently, lawmakers who once entrusted him have lost all trust in him as a Lawmaker was heard saying “the only way this man will stay long here as Speaker of this body is when we who are to have him removed do not do it in time.”
Dr. Chambers has spent a little over two years as Speaker of the Honorable House, but they are still being referred to as ‘rubberstamp’ legislature, a characterization he once placed at the feet of the Tyler’s administration as speaker of that august body.
Liberians still see the current lawmakers as group of people who have gone to make worth for themselves and lay aside the reasons for which they were elected as the people’s Representatives.
That body has rules intended to regulate them as members, but regular legislative sessions are most often held late or in secret session under the leadership of the Speaker; something which contravenes Lawmakers’ laws (rules).
In keeping with the intent of this column which seeks to educate, inform and provide history of the House of Representatives, we will focus on portions of the rules governing those who make the laws during every edition of this column.
Today, Chapter one which speaks to General provision is our focus highlighting Meetings, Officers and Quorum.
(1) The House shall meet in regular session at the seat of government on the second Wednesday in January of each year at twelve o’clock noon. In each odd-numbered year, it shall proceed with its organization, the election of a Speaker and a Clerk for the ensuing term of the Legislature. All elections shall be by roll call and shall require a majority of the Members voting to elect.
(2) A majority of the Members elected to and serving in the House shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day and not less than 15 Members voting in favor thereof may compel the attendance of absent Members and prescribe penalties for non-attendance. (See Const 1963, Art 4 §§ 13 and 14)
About the Author:
Mark Mengonfia is a student of Mass Communications at the African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU) and is currently serving as the Secretary General of the Reporters Association of Liberia+231(0) 776105060/+231(0)888105060 firstname.lastname@example.org