MONROVIA, Montserrado – The sitting of the 54th Legislature was on March 5 abruptly adjoined in the Senate following the failure of that body to attain the two-third quorum required by Senate rules to carry on the business of ratifying or adopting the Senate’s agenda.
Only 14 – less than half – of a total of 30 senators were present.
According to the director of press and public affairs of the Senate, Jarlawah Tonpo, the adjournment is the first of its kind in recent times but is not expected to harm any pending activities of the Senate. This is because the key decisions of the Senate will continue to be made in committee rooms, including the appearance of the finance minister, which was scheduled for the same day.
“Items that appear on the agenda are tools to work with, but they can be adapted and removed from the agenda at any time. The items on the agenda can be taken to the next working day for plenary action,” he said, adding that this was the legislative practice.
But Tonpo’s comments were a tacit acknowledgment that the Senate has been violating its own rules regarding quorum.
In the weeks leading to this Senate adjournment by the presiding officer, Montserrado’s Sen. Saah H. Joseph, chair of the Executive Committee, the other senator from Montserrado, Darius Dillon, had publically promised that he would advocate for stricter adherence to the Senate’s rules.
Dillon has been insisting that a roll call becomes a standard item on the Senate’s daily agenda, consistent with its own rule which requires sessions to commence at 10:00 a.m. local time. This practice, unfortunately, has been ignored by the legislature and its predecessors.
Sen. Albert Chie, the Senate’s president pro tempore, agreed with Dillon’s quest for the rule of order to be applied.
“The rule says 10:00 a.m. and not a minute after all senators should be in session. You made the rules so you have to live by the rules, we have work to do. The Liberian people are watching you,” he said.
“We have to live by our rules and if you don’t want to go by the rules, have the rules amended because you have the power to.”
Senate rules require a two-third presence of the total membership of the Senate to ratify any agreement, including concession agreements. Sen. Dillon has assured his colleagues and citizens that he is ready “to stand and fight for reforms” in the Senate.
“If we are transparent, open and ready to be accountable to our people when doing the people’s businesses, we need to keep track of the records on keeping with our own rules,” he said.
“No more voting our executive nominees in secret session. The president nominated these people publicly – why are we going behind closed doors to confirm or reject them? I want to be on record as to how I vote here. If I voted yes or no, I want it on the record so tomorrow, you can click on the website and see what I did here when I am not here again.”
Since his upsetting Senate victory, stealing the seat from the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, Dillon has remained outspoken about reforms across the entire legislature. He has demanded that lawmakers declare their personal assets and that both Houses be audited.
His campaign for the credible enforcement and reforms of Senate rules in only the latest instance in what he claims is his effort to “shine the light” on legislative accountability.
Because Dillon was elected in a special election, he is up for re-election in October this year.
Besides Chie, Dillon, and Joseph, other senators present at the March 5 session which was abruptly canceled due to lack of quorum, included Henrique Tokpah of Bong, Francis S. Paye of River Cess, J. Gbleh Bo. Brown of Maryland, Alphonso G. Gaye of Margibi, J. Milton Teahjay of Sinoe, Victor Watson of Grand Cape Mount, Morris G. Saytumah of Bomi, Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount, Oscar A. Cooper of Margibi, Thomas Grupee of Nimba, and Daniel F. Naatehn of Gbarpolu.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah