Abuja - Since his removal as Speaker of Liberia’s first post-war National Legislature, Edwin Melvin Snowe, Jr has since seen his political life shifting from one level to a higher one.
Having firmly established himself in the country’s political landscape, Snowe continues an upward movement, further re-inventing himself.
This time, he is doing just that regionally too, at the level of the ECOWAS Parliament. With just a little over a year at the sub regional parliamentarian body, the Liberian lawmaker has already begun making inroads in Abuja.
With a heavy reliance on previously held high posts in Liberia, including managing the lucrative but hard-to-handle Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation and the Liberia Football Authority, the outspoken politician has translated his national influence into a regional one.
He is virtually spearheading what is perhaps the most influential and most powerful committee at the ECOWAS Parliament, while at the same time trumpeting Liberia’s horn in the interest of country and his own political career.
In a special FrontPageAfrica interview conducted recently during one of his official visits to Abuja, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Representative Snowe talks about his experience at the ECOWAS Parliament, the high level of support he continues to enjoy from both his fellow Liberian parliamentarian delegates and regional colleagues, Liberia’s gains at the regional scene and his efforts to help get Liberians employed at the regional body.
He also touches on his new political home in Bomi County and the high level of confidence he has for his and Vice President Joseph Boakai’s legislative and Presidential ambitions for the October elections, among others.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: How would you compare this regional experience with the national one, as far as lawmaking is concerned?
REP. EDWIN MELVIN SNOWE: The truth is, there’s a vast difference. I’ve been in direct, political representation since 2005 when I was elected and inaugurated in 2006. I was speaker for a little over a year and then I was forced to resign. And then I have headed a number of committees in the House and I’ve also been a member of a number of committees as well.
But the experience at the ECOWAS Parliament is just different. It’s quite, quite, rewarding: you got to meet the high dignitaries, you get to know the Region, you get to know the actors in the Region, the Heads of State, you get to meet your other colleague parliamentarians from the other 14 countries in the Region, the language, the culture, the customs, the traditions. I
t’s really, really different. It’s completely different. And now with the enhancement of powers of the ECOWAS Parliament under the leadership of President Sirleaf, the Parliament will now begin to look at deliberating on the Community’s budget for example. We can now have public hearings; we can now invite commissioners [of the ECOWAS Commission]. We can review treaties and express our opinions on treaties and protocols signed by our Heads of State. It even gives the Parliament additional exposure.
And thanks to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Chairperson of the Authority of Heads of State of ECOWAS who has believing in the power and importance of the Legislature.
She was been able to work with her colleague Heads of State to ensure the passage of the Supplementary Act of the Enhancement of Powers of the ECOWAS Parliament.
Today the Parliament is not yet a full-fledged legislative body to confirm and all those kinds of things, but we can now review the entire budget of the Community which is a very huge responsibility.
We can now review treaties and protocols signed by our various Heads of State and Government. We can express opinions on those documents. And we can now have hearings on any of the commissioners and heads of our autonomous agencies.
So the Parliament now has graduated, from where we were a few years ago, to a bigger platform. As you know, I co-chair the Committee on Administration, Finance, Budget Control and Audit, which is a very huge committee, perhaps the biggest committee here at the Parliament.
It’s involved with the day-to-day activities of the Parliament. So it gives me more responsibilities than the ordinary. So it’s been very rewarding.
Since I joined the Parliament, I’ve been on several official missions. I was in Burkina Faso, Togo, Senegal, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Mali where I met with the Presidents of those countries. And all of that happened in just one year.
So you’re talking about meeting like 9 Heads of State and Presidents, in their palaces or offices on a one-to-one basis. And that tells you the difference between this Parliament and the national parliament.
Notwithstanding, the work of the local parliament is equally important. It’s the direct representation of your people, it’s the direct sovereignty and it’s that power that you need to enable you to come to this regional parliament. So, all respect and all gratitude goes to the national parliament.
FPA: How vital is your position on that strategic committee on Administration, Finance, Budget, and Audit? Is there anything new you’re learning, having served on various other committees at the National level back home before now?
SNOWE: You know, my background ofcourse is Business and then public Administration. At the National Legislature, besides being speaker, I also served as Chairman on Rules, Orders and Administration. This committee which I co-chair here at the ECOWAS Parliament, when compared to any of those at the National Legislature, will be the Committee on Ways, Means and Finance, it will be Committee on Rules and Order, it will be the Committee on Public Accountants and Expenditure. Those, being the biggest committees at the National Legislature, are all into one committee here at the ECOWAS Parliament.
Also, you’re not looking at just one country but all of the countries. So we’re involved into what is happening with the Community Levies, how much country is paying, which country is delinquent, how much is due, what’re the salaries of the Commissioners, what are the job profiles there, what are their medical, housing and educational benefits and grants for them, their spouses and children, their allowances, and so forth. So, you’re looking at the global picture of the parliament.
It’s a bigger platform but because of previous positions held, like being the Managing Director of the refineries [LPRC], President of the LFA, Speaker of the House, Chairman on Rules, Order and Administration, those areas prepared me for what I do now at the ECOWAS Parliament.
And again, that’s why I remain grateful to the Liberian people and the National Legislature. It has propelled and prepared me for the current position that I occupy at the ECOWAS Parliament.
FPA: And this herculean task has made Abuja your second home.
SNOWE: Oh, yes, because of that, I’m here in Abuja every month. My longest stay here is 3 weeks. In February, ofcourse, I’m here for 3 weeks for Extraordinary Session. In May, I’m here for 3 weeks for Ordinary Session. In September, I’m here for three weeks for Ordinary Session.
Then every month, I’m here. In March, I’m here for auditing and preparing for session. In April, we do mid-year review of the previous budget.
In May, we have session. In June, we have budget review. In July, we have house-keeping where the Audit Committee sits and meets. In August, we prepare for the September Session where we do a revision of the activity administrative work.
Of course we meet in September of the Session. In October again, we do end of year review. In November, like this year for instance, we’re trying to do round table conference in Senegal to try to get external resource mobilization for the Parliament.
And ofcourse in December, we’re on break. Even last December I was here till the 20th or so. So, it’s very, very busy job. I’m here every month.
Because this year we are having elections in Liberia, I’ve informed the Parliament that I will have to cut down my visits here to the Parliament. So I will have to do most of my work online via emails. I’ll still come here but the frequency won’t be as it has been in the past due to my election schedule back home.
FPA: This is your 11th year at the National Legislature where you served first as the speaker under whose gavel and signature you became the sending speaker who sent some of the current members of the Liberian delegation here at the ECOWAS Parliament. Why now?
SNOWE: You know, it’s like someone asking Madam Sirleaf, “You were President of Liberia, why now you became the Chairperson of the Authority of Head of State and Government of ECOWAS?’
This is a bigger platform, a very different platform. National and regional politics are very different.
There are issues now that I can tell you, both nationally and regionally, like when we gave the Country Reports. I can tell now what’s obtaining in the Nigerian political cycle; I can tell you today what’s happening in Mali, in Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and other places in the region in addition to what’s happening in Liberia.
And like you, due to my job, I’m a very busy person. But yes, to whom much is given, much is expected.
So, I’ve been given a lot of responsibilities here at the ECOWAS Parliament and it’s expected that I should give my best.
I think God for that. For instance, I’ll leave tomorrow for Liberia, my country, not to say I’m returning home but to again represent the [ECOWAS] Parliament at the 51st ECOWAS Summit and all the other mid-term statutory meetings of ECOWAS taking place in Monrovia. I got a letter from the Speaker of the Parliament here to that effect, appointing me to form a part of the ECOWAS Parliament delegation.
So, I’m going on an official mission back to my office where my bills will be paid. Yes, I might not take advantage of some of those because I have my own cars and house in Liberia and may not need to be in a hotel.
But I’m just saying this to let you that those are some of the responsibilities given me by the Parliament which I appreciate and I look forward to performing them well in representing my country.
FPA: You and the entire Liberian ECOWAS Parliamentarian Delegation in recent months have presented three Country Reports, read by you ofcourse. How does this speak to the coordination between the Executive and Legislative branches back home?
For those reports to outline progress recorded in Liberia, knowing that some of your colleagues on this team are from the opposition block, means real coordination between both branches.
Snowe: I must give credit to Senators Prince Johnson and George Weah and Representatives Jefferson Karmoh and Haja Fata Siryon.
The three Country Reports that I have read on behalf of the team doesn’t mean that they can’t read. But they have said to me, “Look, you’re a member of the ruling party. You’re an insider. You’re a friend of the President, so to speak. You give the report”.
And they’ve never opposed to what is in the reports. As a matter of fact, we contact the ECOWAS National Unit in Monrovia which is the national ECOWAS desk office, with Mr. Ben Roberts.
He sends us drafts. We make them specific, to the needs to the Parliament. And we present those reports.
Those reports represent the facts of what is happening in Liberia. And the truth is, we do it with pride and dignity, being able to represent our country at this level.
This also calls for financial discipline. Each country has a certain levy on importation of goods coming out of ECOWAS zone where you pay 0.5%.
That amount is not for the Government of Liberia or any Government. It’s for ECOWAS. So you only keep that money and remit it to ECOWAS.
And what Liberia has done over the years, as desperate as we’ve been, with all the challenges that we’ve had, we still have not been able to say ‘Well, let’s go and eat ECOWAS money’.
As we collect the money, we remit the money to ECOWAS. And I think that speaks volumes of our country’s financial discipline that we’ve applied over the years.
FPA: The curtain draws down on Liberia’s chairmanship of ECOWAS in few days. You’ve been a part of some of President Sirleaf’s ECOWAS delegations for the past few months. What can you speak of as some of the major achievements of the region under President Sirleaf as chair?
SNOWE: Liberia has done extremely well. Firstly, as chair of the Authority of ECOWAS’ Heads of State and Government, President Sirleaf was the first one who flew to Abuja and visited all of the ECOWAS institutions.
She visited the Parliament, the ECOWAS Commission and the Court of Justice. As you know, ECOWAS has three branches, as you have the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary branches of Government.
We have the same at ECOWAS. She visited those institutions and listened to and addressed the problems and the prospects of these institutions for the betterment of the Community. That was unprecedented. At the Parliament, she went into committee meetings, sat down and listened. She did the same at the Commission. She did the same at the Court of Justice.
Madam President has been and is still very involved in the Guinea Bissau crisis. She went into Guinea Bissau, held consultative meetings with the leadership of Guinea Bissau. Though we’re not where we want to be, but we still have progress.
My President, as you know, under her leadership, had the Gambian situation resolved without a blood shed.
She was very busy, flew to The Gambia. Thanks to the President of Nigeria, President Buhari who used his jet, and flew to Liberia, picked up the Presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone and flew into The Gambia and we were able to have the crisis there resolved without us having to fire a bullet.
Madam President went to Ghana and had the two main political parties signed a dialogue that they would respect the outcome of the elections.
Madam President, in Liberia, has the first Chairperson of ECOWAS to address a delocalized meeting of the ECOWAS Parliament.
She had four appearances with the ECOWAS Parliament, out of the five official days, eventhough there were recreation and sight-seeing for other days.
The President saw the Parliament four times on official matter which was very much unprecedented.
The President has been involved in the situation in Cote d’Ivoire. She immediately issued a Statement, called the President of the ECOWAS Commission and mandated him to fly there immediately and made sure the situation there has been brought under control.
The President has been extremely involved in her work as Chairperson of ECOWAS. No President of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government can share the credit that Madam President has shared as the head.
And I can visualize through my imaginary eyes that come June 4th, ECOWAS Heads of State will honor Madam President for the role she has played.
This is because whenever we travel to these other countries in the region, they speak so highly of the President.
And I am so proud as a Liberian that today, my country, is not remembered for war, chaos and civil unrest but is remembered for prosperity.
Yes, we have not done all and may not be where we want to be because there have been challenges and there will be challenges but where we are today, the platform we stand is a better platform than the one we met.
FPA: How would you also address concerns from the ordinary Liberians about specific benefits to the country vis-à-vis ECOWAS? One of such concerns being the low representation of Liberian nationals at various ECOWAS institutions in the region.
SNOWE: Let me thank you very much for that question. What we have done is that we have flagged this issue and it is yielding instant results for our compatriots.
In fact, tomorrow at the Parliament, the report of the Committee on Finance and Administration will be read. In that report which is the recommendation that will be endorsed tomorrow, has called on the Parliament to recruit Liberians. Right now, the Parliament is recruiting over 23 staffs.
So we have mandated the Parliament to ensure that Liberians and Cape Verdians are given preference. When we came here, we made the case that there was no Liberian within its employ. Today, the Comptroller [for the ECOWAS Parliament] is a Liberian but he stays at the ECOWAS Commission.
But we are not counting him. We need Liberians actually here at the ECOWAS Parliament. And my committee has made the representation. I have the report here with me of which I signed as the co-chair.
Thanks to Senator Mohammed Lafiagi of Nigeria, who buttressed my efforts and also signed that report. We are now recommending that Liberians be given the opportunity to have direct representations at the ECOWAS Parliament. That’s why we are appealing to Liberians to participate in the recruiting process.
The jobs are being advertised on the ECOWAS Parliament website and it closes on June 22nd. So we look forward to seeing Liberians apply for some of those jobs so they can be a part of what we do at the ECOWAS Parliament.
FPA: Finally, you and the electoral process back home. You now have a new political home so to speak, leaving Montserrado and now you’re both a resident and a legislative aspirant in Bomi County. What are the prospects, challenges and the future?
SNOWE: I’m very confident that I am going to win by a very wide margin. I’m concerned about my security. I’m concerned about my wellbeing.
There have been numerous threats, either through clandestine means or other means. So I am very, very concerned. My mother is concerned. My family is concerned. But as a politician, you have to be prepared to die for the people you intend to represent.
So ,I am prepared to do that. I am counting on God. I look forward to the protection of the Almighty God that he will be able to guide and protect me during this difficult time. But as for elections, I’m very confident. The people have shown me so much love.
I know that there are attempts by some people who want to go to court because they say I am not a resident of Bomi County or that I am not domiciled there.
But that is a very lazy argument. My legal team is already prepared, waiting for them and we are going to defeat them in that process.
Also, as you may know, I’m supporting the election of the Vice President, Ambassador Joseph Boakai. I’m going to go all out to ensure that he is elected President of our country in order to continue the stability, peace and prosperity as well as the respectability amongst the comity of nations.