Source: Front Page Africa
Monrovia — The Long standing debate in Liberia regarding the granting of exclusive rights to women to have 30% participation in elective positions has been dealt a blow with a committee of the House of Representatives of the 53rd Legislature insisting that the proposal be taken to referendum.

The 30% women participation in the amended election law has been preached by prominent Liberian women for years and was recently proffered by the Liberian Senate, but it seems to be losing ground as Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Elections and Inauguration and Judiciary are recommending that, this aspect of the law be sent to the Constitution Review Committee (CRC).

The bill was passed by the Liberian Senate and sent to the House of Representatives for subsequent concurrence, but it has turned out to be different after the House committee on Elections careful review of the bill.

In the committee's report to plenary in response to plenary's mandate, the Committee Chair Representative Gabriel B. Smith (IND-District 1# Grand Bassa County) said, the two committees made several changes in the Senate version of the bill.

The committee in its report recommended that plenary sent the Gender Participation Bill to the CRC for a referendum because in their mind if passed it will limit women potential to just 30% noting that women of Liberia are competent enough to fight for more than 30%.

Smith said: "If Liberians decide in a referendum that they want to introduce a system of government by setting a 30% aside at a referendum for women at the level of the legislature that will be their decision and not us as LawmakersLawmakers. Any attempt by us LawmakersLawmakers to pass this law will be undemocratic and exclusionary which means keeping people away from the field. Every Liberian as per our constitution must have a free and unhindered right or opportunity to partake in political activities."

Arguing against the committee's findings Representative Mariamu Fofana (UP-District#4 Lofa County) said, the 30% Gender Participation Bill has a constitutional backing quoting article 8 of the Liberian Constitution as her reliance. Article 8 of the Liberian constitution states:"the Republic shall direct its Policy towards ensuring for all citizens without discrimination, opportunities for employment and livelihood under just and humane conditions and towards promoting safety and health welfare facility in employment."

The Lofa County Lawmaker who fought as a lone soldier against the hugely dominated men plenary session fought with all her strength to convince her male counterparts to see a reason to vote in favor of the bill as the Senate has done but she could not succeed.

Representative Fofana said: "Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues you cannot give equal treatment to people in an unequal situation such as women in the political and electoral processes, we are not in an equal situation for the committee to say this law cannot be enforceable and endorsed because the crafters are calling on political parties to endeavor to nominate a candidate list of not less than 30% female. I think they had the power to insert a clause that could make it enforceable if they wanted to. We know that this provision will not translate into an electoral feast for women, but it will encourage more women to participate."

Representative Acarous Gray (CDC, District # 8 Montserrado County) the only male Lawmaker who spoke in favor of the provision called for the introduction of the system which, according to him will set aside 15 seats exclusively for women in the fifteen counties at the legislature adding to the already 73. Gray argued that the system is in keeping with common best practices used by many governments around the world, especially Africa and said if introduced in Liberia it will add flavor to the country's emerging democracy.

The Montserrado County Lawmaker proposal was described as a brilliant idea by most of his colleagues, but they said, it comes with extra costs to a government that continues to experience shortfalls in its National budget for years now. Since its coming to being in 2015, Gray's opposition CDC is the only political institution that has produced the highest number of female candidates in the National Legislature.

Fees charged unreasonable

The committee contrary to the Senate version of the amended law on fees charged for candidates wanting to participate in a given election also recommended to plenary that fees be increased but not at the level where ordinary Liberians cannot afford. They accused the Senate of increasing election fees by five to six hundred percent of the previous fee charged by the NEC.

The Liberian Senate in the amended law increased the fees for candidates planning to contest future elections for the presidency to US$ 25,000.00; Senate US$5,000.00 and Representatives US$ 3,000.00. In their report the House Committee recommended that the fees be reduced to US$ 20,000.00 for Presidents, US$ 10,000.00 Vice President, US$2,500.00 Senate and US$ 1,500.00 Representatives.

After several minutes of heated debate, the committee was requested to take the report back to the committee room for revision and report back to plenary after their Easter break.

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