- Recommends promulgation of Laws for Women’s Participation
By Leila Baryonnoh Gbati
Naymote Partners for Democratic Development is calling on the Legislature of Liberia to promulgate laws that will promote the inclusion and participation of women in the legislature and other public decision-making bodies.
Naymote is also recommending that the Legislature, among others, work towards greater transparency and openness, deepen engagement with government ministries, and provide greater oversight and accountability because, as a modern legislature, crucial reforms will be needed to strengthen its institutional capabilities in exercising oversight, promoting inclusion, and advancing democracy.
Naymote made the call at the released of its annual publication 2022 reports “Legislative Digest”.
The Executive Director of Naymote, Eddie Jarwolo, said on Tuesday, January 10, 2023, that the “Legislative Digest” report is Naymote’s annual publication of reports on activities of the Legislature of Liberia, which aims to foster “Legislative Openness, Responsiveness, and Accountability” in Liberia.
Mr. Jarwolo said that the report is the second edition of the Legislative Digest, which covers the period from January 1, 2022, to December 31, 2022, and that the first edition published in 2022 covered the period from January 1, 2018, to December 1, 2021.
He indicated that during their assessment they found out that the Legislature is still disproportionately occupied by men, despite numerous campaigns for women’s inclusion and representation in decision-making and leadership structures over the years.
According to him, as of the end of 2022, 91% of the membership of the Legislature was made up of men, while only 9% were women. Similarly, the two houses are strikingly unequal in terms of gender composition because men occupy 90% and 93% of the seats in the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, while women occupy just 10% and 7% of the seats in the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively.
The Naymote Boss further said that during the year 2022, the Legislature held 167 sittings, of which 106 (63%) were regular sittings, 36 (22%) were secret or executive sittings, 9 (5%) were special sittings, and 16 (10%) were extraordinary sittings. There were 29 public hearings held during the year. All secret sittings were held by the House of Representatives. The Liberian Senate followed the recommendations of the first edition of the Legislative Digest on reducing secret sittings and canceled all secret sittings in 2022.
He emphasized that the publication of the first edition of the Legislative Digest increased public awareness of the workings of the Legislature and empowered civil society and ordinary citizens with more information to advocate for greater transparency in the activities of the Legislature, which perhaps led to a slight decrease in executive/secret sitting numbers, from 35% in 2021 to 22% in 2022.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jarwolo disclosed that the Legislature passed a total of 53 bills during the year 2022, of which 35 (66%) originated from the Executive/Presidency, 12 (23%) from the House of Representatives, and 6 (11%) from the Senate, and the total budget allocated to the Legislature in 2022 amounted to USD 64,383,926.00. As such, there is no publicly available financial report to account for the use of the money, and popular demands to audit the financial records of the Legislature have yielded no results.
“The assessment did not also find any voting records or reports of ministries, agencies, and commissions filed with the Legislature, for instance, annual reports,” he said.
Additionally, Mr. Jarwolo said that in 2022, the Legislature of Liberia remained a male-dominated body, with women occupying only 9 percent of the 103 seats in both Houses. As such, the Legislature did not do much in 2022 to improve transparency and public participation in their activities, and it is still difficult for citizens to openly access information about the legislature, including voting records and legislative decisions made in executive or secret sessions.
He stressed that although the number of “secret” sessions reduced in 2022 when compared to 2021, it is still striking that more than one-third of legislative deliberative sittings were held in “secret” or “executive” sessions, which undermines efforts at transparency, public participation, and engagement with the Legislature.
He also mentioned that the findings suggest that more bills were passed in 2022 (53 bills) than in 2021 (29 bills), but oversight of the implementation of the enacted laws by the executive branch remains weak.
“Activities of the legislative committees responsible for oversight are not easily accessible, and this assessment could not access reports of ministries and agencies filed with the committees.” The team could not also access special reports from legislative committees on their statutory functions carried out during the year. “Based on the findings of this report, it adopts the same recommendations from last year, given that the substantive issues remain the same from the previous years,” he said.
He further recommended the following: that the legislature implement immediate institutional reforms to strengthen its various oversight committees and establish the appropriate systems for transparency and accountability, including limiting “executive/secret” sessions to only matters with serious implications for national security and defense as required under the law; that the institution set up a functional website and ensure voting records of members of that body are made public and available to assess the performance of its members; that the legislature should submit itself for a full-scale financial and system audit as required of all other public institutions; that the legislature make a deliberate effort to support constitutional reform in support of affirmative action that increases the proportion of women in both houses; and that the legislature, as part of its oversight responsibilities, ensures ministries, agencies, and commissions submit periodic reports that are vetted and made available to the public.