MONROVIA, Montserrado â€“ A motion to hold the managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company, Marie Urey Coleman and Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh in contempt of the legislature was prevented from moving forward by the speaker of the House of Representatives, Bhofal Chambers. Lawmakers accused the pair of lying under oath when they briefed the House regarding the gasoline crisis in Liberia.
Marie Urey Coleman and Wilson Tarpeh are believed to have lied to lawmakers when they claimed that there was enough gasoline in the country and that rumors of a gasoline shortage were untrue. If fact, the country was going through a gasoline shortage that lasted for over three weeks.
The motion to hold the two top government officials in contempt was put forward last Thursday by Bomiâ€™s first district representative, Haja Fata Siryon. To the utmost surprise of many House members, however, Speaker Chambers seized the motion, denying any vote to be taken on it. The motion of contempt was made based upon the report of the Houseâ€™s 21-member special committee set up by the speaker himself to probe the real causes of the gasoline crisis.
Appearing before the House a week before, both Managing Director Coleman and Minister Tarpeh denied any gasoline shortage existed and placed the problem of long queues at petrol stations squarely upon new restrictions introduced by APM Terminals, the private port management firm.
Dissatisfaction by lawmakers later led to the setting up of the special 21-member committee headed by Grand Gedeh’s first district representative, Zoe Emmanuel Pennue, and co-chaired by Jeremiah Koung of Nimba.
Presenting the committeeâ€™s report, Rep. Koung disclosed that contrary to statements made by the two officials, it found that there was in fact a major gasoline shortage, of crisis proportion.
Many House members, including Mariamu Fofana of Lofaâ€™s fourth district, Ivar Jones of Margibiâ€™s second district, Munah Pelham-Youngblood of Montserradoâ€™s ninth district, Albert Hills of Bongâ€™s first district, Rep. Acarous Gray of Montserradoâ€™s eighth district, and Rep. Mike Jury of Marylandâ€™s second district, believed the committeeâ€™s report offered sufficient grounds for the House to take punitive actions. But first, they urged Speaker Chambers to seek a meeting with President Weah aimed at finding a sustainable solution to the crisis.
â€œShould we fold our hands or should we play politics? I think this is not about politics. The preliminary report from the committee has shown the looters looting our petroleum for many years what can we do as a body? The perpetrators must be brought to book,â€ Gray said.
â€œFor misleading members of this honorable House and the public, those officials must be held in contempt. They have to take us seriously. This place is not a place for joke, and it is time that the executive takes us seriously,â€ said Rep. Pelham-Youngblood, who along with Gray, hails from the presidentâ€™s political party.
She added, â€œI think we should be exercising our oversight responsibilities here, and no one from the executive should come before this august body to give us fallacies and we accept. We must set precedents in as much as we want to find common ground. When they come before the peopleâ€™s representatives, they must come with the facts. We should be the last people someone will come to with fallacies.â€
Following a number of proposed amendments that sought to extend the duration of the committeeâ€™s investigation, and to involve the APM Terminal and National Port Authority, lawmakers then moved to vote upon Rep. Haja Fata Siryonâ€™s motion. It was then that Speaker Chambers announced he was seizing the motion.
The speakerâ€™s action immediately triggered a mass walkout by angry lawmakers, leading to an abrupt end to the dayâ€™s session.
Since then, the gasoline shortage has shown signs of easing, as the government and petroleum importer Aminata & Sons, have announced a partnership to bring supplies in from neighboring Sierra Leone. While the vessel is now in the country, wait times in queues have decreased, but queues still exist at gas stations across Monrovia. Moreover, in locations farther from Monrovia such as Gbarpolu, gas costs L$2,000 (US$10.25) per gallon.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah