(Internews’ Liberia Media Development Program organized the Community Media Forum, in collaboration with the Liberia Media Initiative.)
By Leroy M. Sonpon, III
Visiting members of the United States Congress, from the House Democratic Partnership (HDP), have advised their Liberian counterparts, especially those from the House of Representatives, to be accountable to their respective constituents by showing their ‘yea or nay’ votes on whatever bills they acted on.
The US congressmen and women described transparency as “very key to accountability” as well as democracy and governance.
The congressional delegation made the statement during a panel discussion on Tuesday, October 8, in a Community Media Forum, organized by the Liberia Media Development Program (LMD). in collaboration with the Liberia Media Initiative (LMDI) on the theme, “Representative Democracy and Governance.”
The Panel discussants were Congressman David Price, chairman of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP), Congressman Markwayne Mullin, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Congresswoman Alma Adams, House Chief Clerk Cheryl Johnson and House Parliamentarian Tom Wickham.
The purpose of the Panel Discussion and Community Media Forum was to provide a forum for constructive, engaging and contemporary discussion on representative governance, the role of legislators (US and Liberian) to create dialogue, new thinking and solution with and between members of parliament (MP’s), civil society representatives, media leaders and citizens, using media to amplify to a broader audience (citizens).
Price said the US Congress bipartisan HDP Committee has been working with the Liberian legislature for 12 years, both respectively and responsively, and has observed that there are challenges at the Legislature, which need to be addressed.
Rep. Price stated that despite the challenges, there is one common interest, which is Article 1 of the Constitution.
Article 1 of the 1986 Liberian constitution says: “All persons are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural inherent and inalienable rights, among which are the right of enjoying and defending life, and liberty of pursuing maintaining and security of the persons and of acquiring, possessing and protecting properties.
Price called on lawmakers to be accountable to their people (constituents) about their votes or what they vote on, must speak for their constituents, and that there are plenty of ways constituents can let their lawmakers know of their concerns.
“You represent the value of your people in the House of Representatives, and therefore, you are accountable to them,” Congresswoman Markwayne Mullin said.
Congresswoman Lee, the first African American woman to be elected from northern California, said representative democracy means to speak for those who do not have a voice, while accountability is important in representation.
Congresswoman DeGette, who said it is her first HDP visit and to Liberia, disclosed that has been in Congress for 23 years and is willing to contribute to building Liberia’s democracy.
She said she went to law school to help people and, as a criminal defense lawyer, she helped lots of people, but got into politics to make laws that oversees everybody.
Rep. Degette said that she works and listens to her constituents and is accountable to them on whatever decision she made in the House of Representatives.
Congresswoman Alma Adams said she is the 100th woman elected in Congress and that Liberia needs more women in the Legislature. A retired professor, after 40 years in the classroom, she said she believes in representative governance and democracy as well as transparency and accountability.
Chief Clerk Cheryl Johnson said since 1789, the record of Congress is still kept. She said whenever a vote is taken in the House of Representatives, it is posted on the US Congress website within at most 10 minutes for the public glare as part of an accountable system to the American people.
She said that every member of the House is a servant and is accountable to their constituents.
Parliamentarian Tom Wickham spoke of being responsible to interpret the rules of the House of Representatives to every member and serves as the referee.
He said that he has been at the House for 24 years and served six different Speakers.
Representative J. Marvin Cole of Bong County District #3 and Nimba County District #8 Representative Larry P. Younquoi were the two Liberian lawmakers that interacted with the US congressional delegation during the panel discussion.
Prior to the Community Media Forum, the 19-member congressional delegation met the leadership of the legislature and there were breakout sessions, which attracted lots of people to Tuesday’s discussion.
(Banner photo: Panel discussants, Congressman David Price, chairman of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP), Congressman Markwayne Mullin, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Congresswoman Alma Adams, House Chief Clerk Cheryl Johnson and House Parliamentarian Tom Wickham.)