Liberia: Scrutiny Of Montserrado County Elected Official Sheds Light on Accountability, Transparency Lapses in National Legislature

TRUMPETING HIMSELF AS the light in the darkness of a corrupt system mired by bad governance and integrity lapses, Abraham Darius Dillon won the hearts of thousands of Liberians fed up with the way the government of President George Manneh Weah was overseeing the affairs of state in Africa’s oldest republic.

LAST AUGUST, Mr. Dillon backed by the four-party alliance representing the former ruling Unity Party, Liberty Party, Alternative National Congress and All Liberian Party, cruised to an emphatic victory in the Montserrado County Special Senatorial race. In final numbers representing results from all 1, 790 polling places or 100 percent in the Montserrado County Senatorial elections, Mr. Dillon secured a total of 102,549 votes for 55.74 percent to Wie’s 63,971 votes for 34.77 percent.

THE ELECTIONS WERE held to fill the void left in the aftermath of the death of former Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff.

LAST DECEMBER, after only a year in office, Senator Dillon looking to win the seat for the next nine years, defied the odds in clinching victory from the ruling party’s candidate Thomas Fallah, receiving 202, 880 votes, representing 61.31% of the total of 98.29% of the polling places.

DESPITE HIS TWO impressive victories, Mr. Dillon’s political immaturity was evident from the very start.

SHORTLY AFTER winning the Senatorial seat, the Senator found himself embroiled in a US40,000 jeep scandal.

A VICTIM OF HIS OWN creation, Mr. Dillon aka “The Light” had raised the bar so high for even himself. In September 2020, the Senator was embroiled in a controversy regarding a US$40,000 Jeep he accepted as his official car. At the time, Senator Dillon’s supporters reminded him of his previous criticisms against lawmakers riding expensive vehicles.

THEN CAME LAST APRIL when the Senator who had vowed to be the eyes and ears of a nation that had lost trust in a national legislature which had become notoriously renowned for accepting brown envelops in exchange for passage of virtually every major legislation or anything of interest from the Executive Branch of government, found himself in yet another controversy.

THIS TIME, the Senator found himself battling allegation that he along with 29 other members of the Senate had received $US6,500 each as compensation for the passage of President George Manneh Weah’s COVID-19 stimulus package.

SENATOR DILLON COUNTERED AT THE TIME, that each lawmaker was given USD$ 6,500 from allotment made in the National budget as operational funds, insisting that the money was legal as it went through all the process of acquiring legal pay from the government. “With all my big mouth about integrity, if I had taken bribe unearth by any news agency or individual, I would resign today but this is a legitimate money, as probably unfair and untimely it may have been this money is legitimate.”

NEARLY SIX MONTHS into his full nine-year stint as Senator, Senator Dillon is once again in the line of fire.

THIS TIME, FACING criticism for accepting, along with 29 members of the Senate a US15,000 payment(fifteen thousand United States Dollars) for legislative projects from the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment.(LACE).

STARING DOWN A WAVE of mounting criticisms, the Senator on Tuesday was forced to backpedaled his decision to accept the money.

SAID SENATOR DILLON at a news conference Tuesday: “We set the standards, and we have without doubt become the compass for integrity, openness, transparency and accountability in public service. The focus being placed on us and the public scrutiny of what we do, and how we do it is in place. We indeed welcome and embrace the scrutiny, the criticisms, the rebuke, etc in good strides. We hold no ill-will toward anyone for placing the premium focus on us, whatever the motivations may be. We may not always be right, but we will continue to strive to do our human best to be at our best. This should help to keep us on track for our own good and for good of country. And indeed, God is in control.”

SENATOR DILLON’S DECISION has been greeted with mixed views, hailed by some and criticized by others.

MR. KIMMIE WEEKS, who ran against Senator Dillon during the last Senatorial elections, hailed the Senator for doing the right thing by announcing that he would return the US15K back to LACE while urging other Senators to follow suit. “This is laudable. Where are the other 29 Senators?  Senator Saah Joseph, will you show strong integrity and return the money to the executive branch to execute projects in the interest of the people of Montserrado?  Will the Liberian Legislature finally allow itself to be audited? We must keep the pressure on until every single lawmaker who received money follows suit and turns it back over to the Executive branch (LACE or county development funds) to implement projects for the people and prevent this line item from being passed in the future.”

LACE, HOWEVER, says its regulation governing their operations and status does not allow them to carry out individual projects for legislators outside the structures of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) sign between LACE and the Legislator and in line with budget appropriations or the budget process.

BUSINESSMAN Mahmud Johnson was also full of praise. “Democracy is about give and take. The people in parliament are there to represent our interests. The process of negotiating the various interests, however, is often messy, as not all constituents want the same things. Public leaders aren’t perfect, and neither are they geniuses. One thing that every leader should be, though, is a listener. I’m actually proud that Senator Abe Darius Dillon listened.  Will the others follow suit, though?”

MR. MULBAH YORGBOR, the former Secretary General of the Council of Patriots who recently crossed over the Alternative National Congress(ANC) opined that Senator Dillon has the hardest job in Liberia today. “Senator Dillon is on a different pedestal – a pedestal where supporters and rivals ceaselessly criticize him daily. Imagine T-5(Rep. Thomas Fallah) in that position….. Let’s treat Dillon as a mother would, her child. Chastise him only to bring out the best in him, not to put him down. That is my real message. Take it or leave it, he’s the best on Capitol Hill. The entire CDC is weaponized to bring him down. That points to one thing – he’s doing better.”

ISAAC H. ATTIOGBE AGREES. “The truth about the leader in Abe Darius Dillon is he listens to his people by analyzing their requests and acts in a way that keeps everyone at the dinner table and stable.”

WHILE SOME WERE FULL of praise of Senator Dillon on the social medium Facebook, others were equally critical.

MR. MATTHEW NYANPLU labeled the Senator as a disgrace. “A leader who flops on principles he advocates is nothing but a folly. I have been quite busy with other things; but I listened to quite a few radio shows today and I see a sort of spinning going on in Dillon’s favour. But it is sheer nonsense.”

 ACCORDING TO NYANPLU, Senator Dillon was elected as the light; “a different character who will dare to be different even if his cohorts are in cahoots with the Executive. We know the Legislature receives bribe payments on many occasions under many other names to soften their position when the Executive has a motive.”

MR. NYANPLU SAID Senator Dillon was supposed to be the one upholding the integrity and public interest card. “Today, he is embroiled in the fourth scandal, howbeit, as he always says with good intention.”

NYANPLU’S ARGUMENT BORE some similarity to the likes of Mathias Bernard who argued that Mr. Dillon was not elected to carry on projects but rather, to make laws and represent his people. “This is not the function of a lawmaker. Have you forgotten so soon? Your then messages inspired me but, you are damaging the integrity I have for you. Return the money ($15k). $15k cannot build a modern library. Small shame is better than big shame. One sin leads to another.”

NOT ALL of those in the Senate appear happy with Senator Dillon’s decision .

MS. TUKU AMA HARRIS was amazed over the silence within the opposition Collaborating Political Parties(CPP) “The other day I was speaking to someone about the CPP and this was my point. Good governance does not begin whe  you are in power. Even as an opposition bloc there are actions you can  take that encourage good governance. If the CPP cannot do what is right by the Liberian people over a paltry sum of 15000 dollars. When will they ever act? That’s is why my belief in change in Liberia is based on my own individual contribution and that of a few like minded friends.”

SENATOR EDWIN MELVIN SNOWE(Independent, Bomi County) rejected the calls to return the money. “This overdue 15k legislative engagement money has turned to 2023 campaign platform? I really wished it was more because I am using the entire 15k on the unfinished auditorium the late former Rep. Tarnue H. Cooper started in Tubmanburg. Those of you that don’t want yours please give it to Bomi County. We have good use for it.”

CRITICS OF THE US$15K payment to lawmakers say, it is in clear breach of the Public Financial Management Law. “Without the possibility of audit and any acceptable means of accountability, the disbursements and receipt by individual legislators of USD15,000.00 (Fifteen Thousand United States Dollars), violate the Public Financial Management Law,” Mr. Alexander B. Cummings, leader of the Alternative National Congress(ANC).

MR. CUMMINGS NOTED in a statement this week that the PFM Law provides that all disbursing and receiving entities, and individuals, must account for public monies disbursed, received, and or entrusted into their care.”

THE ANC LEADER SAID: “To date, while this is not the first of similar disbursements, there is yet to be an audit and accounting of these “constituency development” or “legislative engagements/projects” for which public monies are being continuously disbursed. Additionally, the disbursements, as packaged and explained, provide a chance to legislators to showcase personal and or political accomplishments. This is political corruption. Here, political corruption is the use, or misuse, of public office to achieve personal political gains.”

FOR SENATOR DILLON, the end appears to be justifying the means, to his own detriment. Both supporters and critics of the Senator fear that he may be pushing himself too hard to be right and please all of his supporters.

SOME LIKE PATRICK TARR argue that perhaps turning the money over was premature. “The money is legal, the money is in the law, the money was approved by the Liberian people. Abe Darius Dillon should stop overplaying this “good boy” thing.”

WHILE SOME LIKE Richard T. Howe believes that Senator Dillon has done the right thing, his peers in the Senator should do the same. “Where are our Maryland County Lawmakers?  Senator James Baney,  Senator Gbleh-bo Brown, Speaker Chambers, Rep P. Mike Jurry will you guys show strong integrity and return the money to the executive branch to execute projects in the interest of the people of Maryland County?  Will you guys finally allow yourself to be audited?”

JESSE FAHNGON AGREES. “Yes, we told Sen Dillon that he should have rejected the $15k.  Now, you go and tell George Weah that it is wrong for him to have used public resources to built compounds for himself. Fair enough?

THE FACT THAT Liberians are heavily engaged in a decision affecting the integrity of the national legislature speaks volumes. It however raises the stake for those eyeing political offices in Liberia.

FOR SOME LIBERIANS, integrity matters. While others, driven by sycophancy, appear to be content with what has become societal norms, the fact of the matter is that, not everyone is happy with the way things are proceeding in Liberia.

LOVE HIM OR HATE HIM, Senator Dillon, minus the missteps, at times, political immaturity and occasional stray away from unexpected controversies, has brought a sudden sense of interest in matters of transparency and accountability regarding the workings of the national legislature.

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