By Bill W. Cooper
With three females being retained, the 73-member House of Representatives is under watch as to who becomes its country’s next Speaker.
As the House resumes in two months, the race to the Speakership is paramount, and with the names emerging as potential contenders for the position, an endorsement of a female, through election, will place the 55th Legislature in Liberia’s history for a good reason.
In spite of his defeat, Bhofal Chambers’ leadership as Speaker, which lasted the entire tenure, has ended, though symbolically, but formally in December. As such, there must be a new election, following the Representatives’ oath of office to prepare for the inauguration of the President.
The Speaker is the third highest position in the country’s governance and holds immense significance, as it carries great responsibilities of making key decisions in legislative affairs, as well as the day-to-day operations of the House, playing a crucial role in shaping policies and legislations and the administrative running of the entire Legislature.
Historically, the role of selecting a Speaker has often been subjected to keen interest, coupled with the Presidential influence, including intense lobbying amongst the Representatives themselves.
Furthermore, the process of selecting a Speaker involves an internal election within the House, where sitting Representatives casts their votes for the candidates of their choice, at which time newly elected Speaker will go ahead to name members of the different committees for the smooth and effective running of that body.
It is rumored that those tipped are mainly among those members in majority like the UP, CDC and the independent candidates, who seem to all have intentions; but the spotlight resonates over the former Deputy Speaker, J. Fonati Koffa.
Koffa seems to understand legislative politics, being a founding member of the opposition Liberty Party (LP), where he served as chairperson from 2011 to 2014 and oversaw its growth and expansion, but he later resigned after obtaining a seat in the Legislature on the party’s ticket and joined the CDC, where he now serves as a member of the Executive Council.
He began his legal career in the United States in 1998 in private practice, and moved to Liberia in 2009 to become a founder and Managing Partner of the International Law Group (ILG), now one of the emerging corporate and government firms in Liberia.
He was admitted to the Supreme Court Bar of Liberia as valedictorian of its Class of 2014. Koffa was educated at the University Of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill, where he obtained a Juris Doctorate (JD) degree in Law.
The Grand Kru County lawmaker described the discussions of having interest in the Speakership as being ‘premature’ for now, clarifying that his focus remains on the reelection of President Weah, who will in the coming days battle former Vice president, Joseph Boakai of UP, for the country’s Presidency in a runoff.
Koffa’s belief is that the fact that the southeasterners overwhelmingly voted for the ruling party in the first round of the elections, his first priority is to squeeze more votes out of them in the runoff for the ruling party.
Our legislative source averred that another contender is tough-talking Rep., Yekeh Kolubah, who is affiliating with the opposition community.
Rep. Kolubah, since his ascendency to the Legislature in 2017, has been, and remains, the strongest lone legislative critic of President George M. Weah and his CDC government, inclusive of then Speaker Chambers and other CDC legislators; the likes of Thomas Fallah, now Lofa District 1 Representative-elect, and just-defeated Acarous Gray, for their alleged involvement into rampant corruption.
The firebrand controversial lawmaker has also consistently accused the President of using tax payers’ monies to construct his personal properties, corruption, bad governance, the lack of leadership ability to improve Liberia, and the citizens’ lives.
Rep. Kolubah retained his seat as Montserrado County District 10 lawmaker, after defeating his major contenders, including Josephine Davies of the CDC, by a wide margin, in the just ended October 10 polls, in spite of his utterances which landed him out of session severally, upon the request of the CDC-led lawmakers headed by the presiding in plenary.
Another notable candidate for the Speaker position is Representative Moima Briggs-Mensah of Bong County District 6, who retained her seat as an Independent candidate.
Rep. Mensah, bracing the storm during the 54th Legislature, challenged her male counterparts as the lone female candidate in the race for the Deputy Speaker position, but got defeated by Rep. Koffa by a wide margin.
Joining the legislature in 2017 as one of the few female representatives, the Bong County District 6 lawmaker has been one of the outstanding female lawmakers who made significant strides in her career as a lawmaker, consistently championing the cause of marginalized communities and advocating for equality.
Her commitment to transparency and accountability, as well as women’s rights, has also garnered substantial support, particularly from civil society organizations and grassroots movements.
Another interested candidate might be Musa Hassan Billity, Chairperson of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), who, during the October 10 polls, defeated incumbent Representative, Roger Domah, in District 7, Nimba County.
Billity, who is perceived to be a novice to Liberian legislative politics, but a successful businessman, served as the Board Chairperson of the National Port Authority (NPA), Board chairperson of the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC), and the Liberian Airport Authority (LAA).
He also served as the president of the Liberia Football Association (LFA), and is currently the CEO and Board Chairperson of Srimex Oil and Gas Inc., as well as the Renaissance Communication Inc., which operates Truth FM and its affiliate stations in Liberia.
Billity was banned in 2019 from all FIFA activities for stealing the organization’s money meant to save lives in Liberia, and later, he lost an appeal against a 10-year ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sports to overturn FIFA’s decision.
FIFA’s Ethics Committee brought a guilty verdict in February 2019 against Bility, after he failed to explain how FIFA’s funding earmarked to save lives during the Ebola epidemic in Liberia was expended, and was also mandated to pay €455,000, an equivalent of US$$500,000, as fine.
As the campaign for the Speaker post is anticipated to be highly competitive, interested candidates should begin lobbying with their colleagues, and as well be building alliances and partnerships as to who to support, on the basis of vested interest.
While several names have emerged as potential frontrunners, only time will reveal who will ultimately assume this critical role, as the newest person to possibly handle the gavel might just be another ‘legislative nobody’, as in the case of former student leader, Anthony Williams, who is being referred to as the money changer, who removed the 18-year-old legislator, now former Speaker, Bhofal Chambers, off the neck of the Pleebo Sodoken residents.
Who Will Be Liberia’s Next Speaker? -As Several Names Pop Up
By Bill W. Cooper