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Koffa’s effectiveness as a lawmaker might transform Liberia’s legislature

Grand Kru County’s Representative to the Liberian House of Representatives Honorable J. Fonati Koffa

Some Liberians might not agree on the best Liberian lawmaker in 2018 moving forward, but they would probably agree on what makes a lawmaker effective. Mostly, it is a matter of a lawmaker having a coherent program and finding ways to get it enacted. Similarly, it’s not too difficult to realize and define the qualities of an outstanding legislator. We are talking about somebody with the brains to understand complex problems, the creativity to frame solutions, and the personal skills to build majorities in favor of the things he/she proposes.

Grand Kru County representative, Honorable J. Fonati Koffa, a lawyer by profession, in a short time as a Liberian lawmaker, has coherently fit the above description.  Since becoming a lawmaker, Honorable Koffa has demonstrated the capacity and applied the abilities to transform how the House of Representatives should be seen and what lawmakers should be known for and regarded as.

In other words, Honorable Koffa is set to transform the Liberian legislature, especially the lower House, in a manner and way that induce confidence and the trust of the Liberian people.  In a short period, Honorable Koffa’s legislative qualities have been defined such that he is regarded as an outstanding legislator.

As a lawmaker, Honorable Koffa has gradually manifested as having a coherent program and finding ways to get it enacted.  He is somebody with the brains to understand complex problems, the creativity to frame solutions, and the personal skills to build majorities in favor of the things he proposes.

Koffa’s most recent foreign trip to the United States paid for from his personal resources, manifests the effectiveness of the lawmaker.  In a nation where lawmakers care less about the people who elected them and the districts/constituents they represent, Honorable Koffa has proven that representation means serving one’s district and the people––their needs and concerns.

Upon his return home from the United States, Honorable Koffa announced that one of the results of his foreign trip was to realize and put in place the potential construction of a mini housing or apartment complex in Grand Kru County to provide housing assistance to his people.  He did not say it should be the efforts or resources of the Liberian government.  What Koffa is doing is emblematic of good legislating.  Koffa has also promised to ensure that good legislating ensue because, in other words, he would not sit idle and pass bills that do not improve his people and area.

In advanced nations, lawmakers worried and are deeply concerned about unemployment in their districts and for the constituents.  In Liberia during the past decades, lawmakers only seem to worry about their own employment.  Honorable Koffa’s efforts to put his constituents first also implies that their employment needs are vital to his representation of them. That means he is ready to attract investors and investments to his districts and constituents so that private sector jobs are created and filled.

Over the past decade, Liberian voters have managed to trade one kind of “bad” legislature for another by electing individuals who care less about them and who often do not know what they were elected for.  Koffa’s activities in this short period are likely to compel other idle and do-nothing lawmakers to change course because their constituents will be asking them questions such as: If Koffa can do this, why not you?

Alan Rosenthal, in his newest book, “Heavy Lifting: The Job of the American Legislature,” starts by citing a couple of criteria that, in his view, should not be used to determine whether a legislature is good or not.

According to Rosenthal, “Legislative excellence is all about balance and harmony. There are three major functions of the modern legislature: representation, lawmaking and dealing with the executive branch. The ideal legislature does all of them well and keeps them in proper proportion.”

Currently, one would agree with Rosenthal that Honorable Koffa is performing his representative function extremely well. He is listening to his constituents and solving people’s problems.

Koffa’s presence in the current Liberian legislature appears to derive some benefits as well as impose a subculture on other legislators: that they need to represent their people well, not themselves.

Photo: Hon. J. Fonati Koffa, sponsoring the Liberian Business and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018.

First, from Koffa’s work and seriousness so far, one can tell that he honors the institution he serves in.   Legislating requires a bond of trust between citizens and their representatives. Tearing down the branch of government a lawmaker serves in diminishes a legislator’s ability to solve problems in the legislature. When a lawmaker demeans the institution he serves in, he or she demeans himself or herself.  It is incumbent upon lawmakers to appeal to the best instincts of their electorate, talk about what he or she stands for and what he or she intends to do during his or her time in office, then work as hard as he or she can to fulfill those promises. Remember, as a lawmaker, you ran for office—to make a difference, a significant difference for the better.  This is exactly what Honorable Koffa is doing––trying to make a difference in Grand Kru County.

Second, Honorable Koffa stays in touch with his constituents in Grand Kru County based on all available evidence.  A legislator must communicate with his or her constituents. This is an overwhelming and essential task, but it is also very critical. Koffa is returning his constituents’ phone calls, answering their e-mails and letters, and is planning to have town meetings.  It is important for constituents to know who their lawmaker is, that he or she is approachable and responsible, that he or she represents them. Besides, political experts say it makes the job a lot more interesting if a lawmaker really knows the people he or she represents.  Political researchers have proven over and again that it is very difficult for a lawmaker to build a bond with his or her constituents simply through press releases or self-serving news stories or headlines. It is also very important for a lawmaker to think through the issues before a decision and to explain to his or her constituents—either before or after he or she votes—about how he or she got there.

Third, Honorable Koffa has demonstrated himself as a lawmaker who seeks to solve problems.  One fundamental role of a lawmaker is to be a problem solver for his or her constituents.  Unlike other lawmakers who create more problems for their districts and constituents, Honorable Koffa is working hard and committed to solving problems for his constituents and for the institution in which he serves.  This is important because as a lawmaker, controversial, or even inflammatory issues will arise in a district.  It is expected that a lawmaker will use his or her skills and office to help the community find solutions.  As a lawmaker, one is not expected to take a side on clearly local issues but he or she needs to serve as a resource for information to help find the best solution.   Koffa is doing just that. Having noticed housing problems and issues in Grand Kru County, he is attempting to initiate a provisional and long-term solution.

Fourth, Honorable Koffa wasted no time in understanding and mastering the rules of the Liberian legislature.   It is important to master the rules in anything one is in or does.  For example, playing basketball, volleyball or tennis without knowing the rules, one will lose.  Equally, the same goes for legislating.  A good and serious lawmaker needs to know the rules.

With these new but necessary practices and tenets, there is no doubt that Grand Kru County’s representative and the Chairman of House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on the Judiciary, Honorable J. Fonati Koffa, is not only making an indelible impact, he is also changing the way lawmakers need work and/or represent their constituents and districts in Liberia.

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