Open Letter to Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor of Bong County

Open Letter to Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor of Bong County

Dear Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor,

A Legislature, which seeks to create a paternalistic society cannot request an increment in salaries - 101 National Legislature

In the April 11th edition of FPA Editorial, it is said that you advocated for salary increment for members of the National Legislature.

As a son of Bong County, which you represent, I disagree with your request.

My reasons to you, those who you spoke to in Philadelphia and Liberians in general are given below:

When I heard your request for salary increment, I took interest in researching the National Budget from 2014-2017. 

I discovered that the National Legislature was taking too much of the national budget leaving very little for other sectors of the government. In order to prove my point, I compared the National Legislature budget with the budget of the “Agriculture Sector” (Ministry of Agriculture, Cooperative Development Agency (CDA), Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation, Liberia Rubber Development Authority and the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI)) of Liberia.

My point here is to show how the amount that has been spent for law making outweighed the amounts that have been spent on food security.

The Legislature is the first branch of our democracy charge with the responsibilities of formulating laws, ratifying treaties, conventions and amending existing laws. We have 30 Senators and 73 Representatives. Senators and Representatives have staffers that help maintain their offices.

Even though the Legislature is the first branch of our government, it is one of the smallest unit (in terms of the number of people working) when compare to the other two branches, that is the Executive and Judiciary.

The mandate of one of the “agriculture sectors” namely the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is to develop agriculture and ensures food security for Liberia.

In researching the budget, I discovered that from 2014 to 2017, the budget allotted to the National Legislature was US$142,560,592.00 (one hundred forty-two million five hundred sixty thousand five hundred ninety-two dollars).

Over the same period, the budget of the “Agriculture Sector” was US$22,464,720.00 (Twenty-two million four hundred sixty-four thousand seven hundred twenty US dollars).

The difference between the National Legislature budget and the Agriculture Sector budget was US$120,095,872 (One hundred twenty million ninety-five thousand eight hundred seventy-two US dollars). 

In order words, the National Legislature budget can double the Agriculture Sector budget more than 6 times! Individuals who are interested in detail can look at the expenditure items listed in the national budget in part:

Today, in Liberia, the poverty rate is too high. We have more than 50 percent of our people living in abject poverty.

It is actually better if members of the National Legislature can cut down their budget and said cut be given to the agriculture sector to help improve food security in Liberia.

One of the reasons you gave for increment in your salaries was to enable members of the Honorable Legislature to “cater to your constituents who come to your offices daily for assistance and in some cases, you pay tuition, underwrite burial costs and other expenses”.

My Honorable Senator, I believe this is hypocrisy to the highest degree. You are actually happy that “these people” can come to you to beg and you people of the Honorable Legislature have encouraged this type of sad behavior over the years.

In order words, you people have sought to create a Legislative Paternalistic Society in which you siphoned the resources of the country, create poverty, which gives you incentive for people to come to you and beg. When you give hand out, you create the opportunity to be reelected. 

My analysis above is based on the following points. First, when running campaign, would be Senators and Representatives promise to build roads, provide scholarships, build schools, etc.

Why promise these things when in fact these are the responsibilities of the Executive? You completely ignore lawmaking and oversight in campaigning. When you are elected, you seek to use public money to implement your promises.

A case in point is the “Legislative Projects” you Honorable Lawmakers forced in the national budget. I still do not understand the rationale behind the “Legislative Projects” except to believe that you continue to use public money as a campaign for your reelection. This is unfortunate.

In addition, you members of Legislature forcefully imposed yourselves in the implementation of the county development funds. Example is the Bong Community College.

Your constitutional responsibilities are lawmaking and oversight but you consider yourselves as implementers.

How do you oversight or evaluate yourselves without being bias? These types of power grasps undermine the foundations of our democracy.

When you create this type of system, the result is an unfinished community college struggling for survival while you request increment in salaries.

Another thing that you did to keep yourselves in power and deprive other Liberians was resignation clauses that you inserted in the code of conduct. What we have seen in other countries and make perfect sense is for appointed public officials to resign their posts before contesting elected positions.

The main reason is conflict of interest.

For example, a Minister who is running a campaign for public office cannot at the same time be minister because he or she may not be able to perform his or her duties as minister while campaigning. But in Liberia, you Honorable Lawmakers intentionally banned appointed public officials for 2-3 years while you left yourself untouched.

If the real argument is for appointed public officials not to use their offices and or resources to run campaign, why not include yourself.

I can go on listing the short comings of the Legislature in terms of bad concession agreements that offer no protection for the citizens, but I will leave this for another writing.

Given the points above, Honorable Taylor, I disagree with you on your proposed salary increment.

I think you should retract such request and instead urge your colleagues to cut down on some of your huge salaries and benefits to enable the agriculture sector boost food security in Liberia.

Emmanuel K. Urey,
University of Wisconsin-Madison
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