Friday, January 18, 2008

Lawmakers Divided Over Bribery Issue

President Sirleaf seen in the middle at the opening session yesterday
As the 3rd Session of the 52nd National Legislature commences, some members of the lower house of parliament are said to be divided over the involvement of independent experts to form part of the investigation into the bribery allegation that is still hanging over that august body.

Some members of parliament have vehemently rejected the idea of inviting independent investigators to probe the bribery allegation on grounds that the involvement of outsiders is not in the best interest of the House of Representatives.
Speaking yesterday at program marking the official opening of the 3rd Session of the 52nd Legislature, the Chairman of the House Committee on Executive, Rep. Kettehkumuehn Murray said while the House of Representatives welcomes the probe into the bribery allegation and any other allegations and actions against those who may be involved, what the house is totally against is the involvement of those he described as outsiders to probe the allegation.

In strong words, Rep. Murray said members of the house will not invite any outsider to come and interfere with what he considered as the secret corridor of the House of Representatives.

The Montserrado County lawmaker further stressed, “Allegation of bribery and any other allegation must be investigated and decision must be taken by this House, but we shall not, and we will not initiate the hundred and sixty years of independence of the legislature by inviting any outsider to come and probe into the secret corridor of this House.”

But Rep. Edward Forh of District #12 has taken strong exception to the statement by Rep. Murray on the involvement of independent bodies to probe the bribery allegation. Speaking to Legislative reporters minutes following the opening ceremony, the Montserrado County District #12 lawmaker said the involvement of an external body will vindicate members of that august body.

Rep. Forh then called on members of the Press Union of Liberia, the Liberia Council of Churches and human rights organizations in the country who are concerned with the bribery allegation to organize themselves and exert pressure on the leadership of the House to speed up the investigation process.

Last year, it was alleged by former House Speaker Edwin M. Snowe that some of the colleagues in the lower house of parliament received bribes to remove him from the position. His statement was backed by two other lawmakers who claimed to have received US$5,000 each to remove the former speaker from office.

As the result of these allegations, some international organizations including the ICGL and the United States Embassy near this capital have persistently called for an independent probe into the bribery allegation to authenticate the actual fact about the issue.

At the same time, Rep. Forh has raised serious concern over the increase in the price of basic commodities in the country. Rep. Forh said prices of basic commodities continue to skyrocket without any clear explanation from the Ministries of Commerce, Finance and others concerned.

The Montserrado County lawmaker vowed to lobby with his colleagues to reduce the allotments of ministries and agencies of government that are not carrying out their statutory mandates. He said these institutions and agencies will be cited by the House to show cause why there is an astronomical increase in the prices of basic commodities on the Liberian market.

Recently, a senior Legislative staff, Mr. Darius Dillon has joined members of the international community in the call for forensic probe of the bribery allegation against Speaker Alex Tyler and others.

“It took them a week to pass the financial autonomy bill given the National Legislature autonomy to control its own budget; it also took them one day to spread US$500 each on their earnings from government coffers. Why is it taking two years to commence a probe into the bribery allegation brought against the House of Representatives?” Dillon quizzically inferred in a NEW VISION interview Sunday.

Mr. Dillion is strongly calling for the resignation of Speaker Alex Tyler who stands accused of bribery by some colleagues of the Lower House including Representatives Edwin Snowe of Montserrado County .

Mr. Dillion, a one time Chief of Staff of the office of dethroned Speaker Edwin Snowe, recalled that Representative Saah Gborlie and Bong County lawmaker Bono public confessed in a jointly signed written statement carried in the January 8 publications of some local dailies that they were offered US$5,000 bribe by the present Speaker Alex Tyler and representative Edward Forh as inducement to remove former Speaker Snowe from office.

Dillion further said he wants Speaker Tyler to resign because he is accused of bribing colleagues to perform their constitutional duties. He said the resignation of Speaker Tyler will restore the dignity and the moral integrity of the House of Representative in particular and the National Legislature in general.

“It’s an unspeakable offence for people stand accused of an offence to resist call for a credible probe intended to clear their names,”
Dillion propounded.

According to him, “the refusal by the accused to allow an independent probe sends a signal that something is at stake.”
Recently, during the turnover of keys of the newly rehabilitated and refurbished Capitol Building – the home of the National Legislature – Ambassador Booth called on the House of Representatives of the Republic of Liberia to clear itself of the bribery allegation brought against it.

The background of the Ambassador’s comments was grounded on allegation by Mr. Snowe that some members of the House were trading bribe as inducement to remove him from office.
The ICGL subsequently came up with a position statement calling for a probe but there is apparently debate of who should conduct the probe, as some lawmakers say the House will not allow itself subject to outside investigation.
Speaker Tyler is on record saying that the House’s Judicial Committee was conducting a probe of the bribery allegation, but added that the delay was caused by the absence of accusers to come forth with evidence.
“We want to send a note of caution that the people of Liberia have realized the power inherent in them in keeping with Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution”, Mr. Dillion noted.

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