The Liberian leader, in communication to that august body, requested members of that body to re-appropriate US$25M for the remainder of the 2019/2020 budget year in support of the government's stimulus package.
This, according to the President, will facilitate food distribution for designated households for 60 days, as Liberians remain under lockdown due to increasing coronavirus cases.
He urged the World Food Program(WFP)to implement this program, while the government fully pays loans owed by vulnerable market people.
“In this direction, I propose to the Honorable Legislature that the Government fully pays the loans owed by market women, and petty and small traders in affected counties as part of the requested budgetary reallocation," said the President Weah’s communication.
Among other things, while proposing to the Legislature for the government take up the electricity bill of households in the affected counties for the duration of the lockdown, the Liberian leader, among other things, informed them that the government a few days ago paid US$4 million dollars to the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), representing a significant settlement of government arrears to the entity, representing one of the largest single payments on government electric bill in years.
However, debating the president’s communication, specifically on the issues bordering stimulus package, several members of the House of Representatives during the third day sitting of the Extraordinary session, provided critical views to the document, stressing that several of the issues must be discussed at a later time after the SOE is passed, given that the Legislature has only 72 hours (three days) to pass on it.
On the issues of food distribution for affected communities and or counties, the lawmakers, including Grand Bassa County Electoral District #4 Representative Vincent Willie, Bong County Electoral District #6 Representative, Moima Briggs Mensah, Margibi County Electoral District #3 Representative, Ellen Attoh-Wreh, Grand Gedeh County Electoral District #2 Representative, George E. Sengbe Boley, and Lofa County Electoral District #2 Representative, Cllr. Joseph Jallah among others, took exception to the selection of specific counties or communities.
The lawmakers contended that taking into consideration the fact that the SOE is being declared across the entire country, it means that all counties or communities are affected, owing to that the fact the everyone is affected by the lack of free flow of basic goods and services.
They indicated that the issue of loans to vulnerable market people should not be an issue of urgency, rather it must be done scrupulously since it is a financial matter, especially taking into consideration the past experience with the US$25M mop up exercise by this government.
“The State of Emergency is clear and I think we can settle down on it easily, but the other things that have to do with food supply to needy communities and people and other things can be done later,” said Rep. Boley.
Like Rep. Grand Bassa County District #4 Representative, Vincent Willie wants the stimulus package to be treated separately owing to the many “complications” surrounding it.
Rep. Willie and several other lawmakers contended that while the settlement of domestic debts is important, and while at the same time recognizing the critical significance of power at this time, they expressed serious opposition to the President’s latest decision to pay US$4M for the settlement of LEC bills, while major hospitals across the country remain unfunded and unready for the battle against the deadly virus.
“We are not saying that the government should not settle electricity bills, but we must know that this is not critical for now. As we speak, several hospitals across the country have not received a dime for preparedness,” asserted Rep. Mariama Fofana of Lofa County Electoral District #4.
Accordingly, the debate got overly tense with lawmakers seemingly not settling down with a motion, thus leading to House Speaker, Bhofal Chambers to call for an executive session.
Up to press time, it was not clear whether or not the lawmakers settled down the passage of the SOE and suspended proposals regarding the stimulus package.
It can be recalled that President Weah declared the State of Emergency throughout Liberia effective Friday, April 10 at 11:59 pm, stating that the horrific scenarios that are beginning to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic should serve for everyone to “spring into action.”
“My fellow Liberians, although our health team is working assiduously to complete the testing of scores of contacts, let us recognize that the COVID-19 virus has now entered a new phase in our country as we move from protection to containment. The dynamics of our management of the disease have been significantly changed there will be required additional strong measures to delay the spreading of this highly infectious virus and keep our public safety,” President Weah said in a nationwide address.
“Therefore, by the authority granted to me under Articles 85, 86, 87 and 88 of the Liberian Constitution and after due consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate as required by law, I, George Manneh Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia, hereby, declare a State of Emergency to exist in and throughout the Republic of Liberia for a period of three weeks renewable until the threat to Liberia from the COVID-19 Virus no longer exists.”
The President lamented that the global pandemic is killing thousands of people around the world and there is no vaccine or cure.
“The global spread of the virus represents the greatest threat to the people and well-being of the People of Liberia since the Ebola epidemic suffered our country from 2014 to 2016,” he said.
“Article 88 of the Liberian Constitution and after due consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate as required by law, I, George Manneh Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia, hereby, declare a State of Emergency to exist in and throughout the Republic of Liberia for a period of three weeks renewable until the threat to Liberia from the COVID-19 Virus no longer exists.”
He has, therefore, called for an emergency reconvening of the Legislature in a joint session to endorse the State of Emergency by joint resolution.
Under the State of Emergency all 15 counties are quarantined from 11;59pm, Friday, April 10 until further notice.
Movement between counties is strictly prohibited; no person shall be permitted to enter or leave the borders of any county to another county except for Montserrado County and Margibi County which are quarantined as a single unit.
Also, all residents within the borders of Montserrado County, Margibi County, Nimba County, and Grand Kru are to stay at home throughout the time of the quarantine.
“Throughout this period, residents may leave home only for essential journeys like reasons of health and food which should be restricted to your local communities only and be limited to a single person per household for a maximum of one hour,” he warned.