The threshold is probably the longest debated legislative issue of the 52nd National Legislature which spent two years in the corridors of the Capitol Building. Following prolonged bickering, it was finally passed immediately upon the resumption of legislative duty in January when the Upper Legislative Wing (the Senate) concurred with the House of Representatives at 40,000 persons per constituency after members of the august body returned from their constituency or agricultural break.
The Senate’s concurrence was preceded by an initial veto by the President in September of 2009 in which she stated that the passage of 40,000 citizens with the proviso that no county becomes a single-seated constituency implying that no county gets less than two representative seats was in violation of Article 80 (d) of the Liberian Constitution. She furthered in her September 17, 2009 letter that the effect of the Act, when enacted, would result into what she called huge financial and budgetary increase in recurrent and capital expenditure costs.
The President’s reliance of a second veto comes from the National Legislature’s refusal to override her first veto that was sent on Capitol Hill before the body retired for its break. She stated that there is no showing to the effect that her veto was overridden or rejected by the Legislature as stipulated in Article 35 of the Liberian Constitution which provides that a veto may be overridden by the re-passage of such bill by a veto to two-thirds of the members of each House in which case it shall become law.
“My Speaker”, the President continued in her letter, “in obedience with Article 35 of the Constitution, I would like to know as to whether the Constitution requirement to override my veto was satisfied”.
‘Passage Means Additional US$5 Million For New Lawmakers’
As stated in her first veto letter in September of last year, the President again stressed the budgetary constraints she said would be faced by the Government if the threshold is passed at 40,000.
“Mr. Speaker, the enactment is very important to me as it is with you and the public. But let me once again take this opportunity to bring to your attention the grave financial implications at the resultant impacts the passage of this Bill, at an approximate equal population of 40,00 citizens, will have on our developmental program”, she wrote.
She reminded the lawmakers that the current budget expenditure of each member of the 52nd National Legislature is US$225,857.70 and that an addition of 23 new members will mean an addition of US$5,973,936 and a one-time capitol cost of US$2,750,000 will amount to US$8,723,936.
‘Second Veto Undermines Electoral Process’
Grand Bassa County Representative Gabriel Buchanan Smith (Liberty Party-LP) in response to the President’s second veto of the threshold bill described her action as a calculated attempt to undermine the electoral process as well as to undermine the country’s struggling democratic process.
“In my mind, having spent 19 days at the Executive Mansion, calculating the electoral process we think it is intended to undermine the electoral process not only, but to undermine our democratic process”, he said.
The Grand Bassa lawmaker stated that President Sirleaf’s second veto is also intended to bring about constitutional crisis as he asked Liberians to retrospect on the root cause of most of Africa’s crises which are most often initiated from failed, ill-prepared and manipulated electoral processes. He said her continual veto makes puts the NEC in a difficult position to be able to deal effective with the pending 2011 elections, given its own time frame and the usual bickering of the National Legislature on the issue.
“In the face of this veto, it is going to be practically impossible for the Election Commission to do its work judging from the time-table that the Commission has and given the time that it is going to spend here again at the National Legislature”, Representative Smith pre-empted.
He also asserted that the President’s consistent veto has nothing to do with economic reasons as it only an actual intent to not have a proper representation of people he referred to as commoners .
“The actual intent of the President’s veto is not for economic reasons; else, she won’t have created agencies in which individuals get over US$20,000 as monthly salary”, he told FrontPageAfrica.
There have been pressures from both the civil society and international partners for the passage of the bill while the National Elections Commission (NEC) has been tying the holding of the 2011 elections to the passage of the bill which its chairman, James Fromoyan, continues to say is very crucial to the elections on which the United States Government has already promised to spend US$17 million on.
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