February 17, 2011


Dynamics of Lawmaking in Liberia

April 11, 2010

The House of Representatives is entrusted with many powers and functions but it is those of passing a bill into law that is most associated with the body and probably the least understood. This may take several forms but the most common are:

Acts of the Republic (RA), bills that have been passed into law; for example The Telecommunications Act 2007, The Act Creating the Liberia Broadcasting Corporation-LBS, The Central Bank of Liberia Act, (CBL) of 1999, the Act creating Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), the National Budget
Treaties, these refer to bilateral and multilateral treaties entered into by the Liberian government with another government or international bodies, mostly engineered by the Executive but requiring, by law, the approval of the Legislature. E.g. all United Nations and African Union charters that Liberia is a signatory of, the ECOWAS Charter, the Minor River Union Agreement etc

Resolutions, these can be passed separately by each chamber of the Legislature or jointly depending on the purpose. A simple Resolution may be passed by the House to inform the Senate that it has a quorum therefore it has entered the exercise of its functions in a Regular or Special Session. There may be a Concurrent Resolution originating from one Chamber but approved by the other providing that there be a joint session to hear the President’s State of the Nation Address. There may also be a Joint Resolution approved by both chambers to amend certain existing laws or acts, for example, an amendment to the New Financial Institution Act of 1999 (New FIA) etc.

The Liberian Constitution lays down the framework demarcations for the Legislation in its functions and powers. For example it sets the format for a proposed bill or legislation should follow which is “It is enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Republic of Liberia in Legislature assembled.” (Article 29). It also specifies the time, duration and conditions for sessions of the

Legislature in Article 32 (a) and (b) as:
a. The Legislature shall assemble in regular session once a year on the second working Monday in January.
b. The President shall, on his own initiative or upon receipt of a certificate signed by at least one-fourth of the total membership of each House, and by proclamation, extend a regular session of the Legislature beyond the date for adjournment or call a special extraordinary session of that body to discuss or act upon matters of national emergency and concern. When the extension or call is at the request of the Legislature, the proclamation shall be issued not later than forty-eight hours after receipt of the certificate by the President.

It also sets the procedure of filing bills, proposed legislations, the number needed for passage, legislative quorum etc. but it is the actual process of passing into law that is least understood by many.
There are many places a bill may originate; it may come from interest groups, constituents, other government agencies the Executive etc. but before a bill becomes law it has to be introduced to the flow of the respective chamber of the Legislature. There is only one way to do this. A member of that chamber has to introduce the bill or proposed legislation (except for the National Budget, which is done by the President. Even this requires a motion from a member of the Legislature, which is later turned into a resolution).

Stages of a Bill/Legislation


A Senator or Representative has to introduce to the respective chamber the proposed legislation. The author must submit a clearly titled and labeled bill to the Secretary of the Senate or the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives who then assigns a number to bill and reads it at the start of a day’s session. This constitutes the First Reading. It is then referred to the appropriate standing or subcommittee of that chamber.

The committee it was deferred to reviews the provisions of the bill; technically it may hold an in-camera or an out-camera session to discuss the bill but usually committees opt for the public hearing for two basic reasons. One it is apparently more transparent and open thus chances are high to get greater public opinion and secondly it provides members with free airtime and coverage. It is at this stage that experts, stakeholders and other policymakers are called to testify in aid of legislation. The committee in its deliberations may opt to consolidate all other related legislation before it thus presenting later to the full chamber a fuller and comprehensive bill than the one originally brought before it in effect a substitute bill.

Another option available to it is to kill the bill. This is often seen as an act of inaction rather than a deliberate strategy since it arises mostly out of disagreement between committee members. Their failure to agree effectively renders a bill dead until it is reintroduced either in its original form or updated version. It is at this stage that most strategist and policymakers prefer to kill a bill since it is presumed to be less cumbersome and only just starting but this may not necessarily be so for all bills.

However if the bill is endorsed by the committee in its report then it is calendared for its Second Reading. The committee Chairman often reads a sponsorship speech and opens up the floor for debate by proponents and opponents alike, who may or may not amend the bill further. During this time the entire public follows the drama and debates. Would be policy gainers and policy losers pull and push to get their interests; the full chamber after deliberating and amending the bill moves on to indicating the agreement or disagreement by yeas, nays or abstentions and this is recorded appropriately. In the event the yeas are in the majority {2/3} it is calendared in preparation for the Third and final reading.

After approval at its Third Reading, the bill is sent the counterpart chamber where it undergoes the same process of committee consideration and three readings. However some bills are co-authored by members of both houses in which case the co-sponsor in the other house may have already floored the bill so it is fast tracked to the committee level. It is highly possible for these two chambers to approve the bill at the same time or simultaneously since it was co-sponsored by Senator(s) and Representative(s).

From here it is sent to a Joint Committee (equal members of both houses) mostly composing of the leadership of both committees and chambers to deliberate on it for final reconciliation or engrossment. The Joint committee holds its deliberation usually away from the public and usually keeps no record of its proceedings or minutes. This committee’s recommendations (usually there are no more debates) are sent to each house for final vote. If both chambers approve this version of the bill it is then signed (by the Speaker, Chief Clerk of the H.O.R., the Senate President, the Senate Secretary etc.) and sent to the President of the Republic of Liberia for approval.

There are basically two outcomes from here, which are rejection or approval. The President has the powerful flexible tool of line veto and can thus veto part(s) of or the entire bill and send it back to its originating chamber (by the President) with the reason(s) for its rejection. The process is basically repeated in both houses with somewhat little differences.

Then there is the approval stage, which may occur basically in three ways. First it may happen when the President signs the bill into law when/as it is presented by the legislature. However there is also forceful or automatic approval if the proposed legislation, after being rejected by the President and sent back to the Legislature, gets a 2/3 majority vote in both houses. In that case it automatically becomes law since the power to veto is useful once per legislation. And lastly the President may opt to not sign the bill into law but after 20days lapses it becomes law anyway. This option to do nothing about the bill is often resorted to as a last resort and if the President still objects to the bill when it comes back the second time around. Its effectiveness has a limited scope but it is still an option. The bill is now law and is then printed and published for the general public to access it.

D. Othniel Forte
AB, ACP, BBA, MPA (scholar)