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Liberia: Margibi County Senator Withdraws Lawsuit Against County’s Legislative Caucus

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Monrovia –  FrontPageAfrica has reliably gathered that Margibi County Senator Oscar Cooper has withdrawn the lawsuit against members of the county Legislative Caucus and other authorities of the county.

Senator Cooper, along with some residents of the five electoral districts of Margibi County, in August 2019 filed a writ of injunction on a resolution by his colleagues and the County’s Administration to expend US$750,000 from the County Social Development Fund (CSDF).

Senator Cooper claimed in his complaint that the county officials were violating the budget law when the county Superintendent Jerry Varnie and some members of the Legislative Caucus convened a special county sitting in Monrovia.

The meeting was held on June 13, 2019, and presided over by Members of the County’s Legislative Caucus and chaired by District #4 Representative Ben Fofana. 

The money was part of the US$4 million that China Union agreed to pay in fulfillment of the company’s mineral development agreement to the Liberian Government. The 25-year agreement allows the company to extract iron ore from the country.

The then Justice in Chambers, His Honor Joseph  Nagbe granted Senator Cooper’s request, and ordered that all matters relating to allocation and disbursement of the county development and social development funds for Margibi be halted until the petition be looked into. 

However, our source confirmed that there have been frantic efforts initiated by Margibi County Legislative Caucus’ Advisor, Rep. Tibelrosa Summoh Tarponweh of District #1 for an out of court settlement. 

Rep. Tarponweh and Senator Jim Tonorlah said an out-of-court settlement would be in the best interest of the County’s Leadership and its people.

These discussions resulted into a joint meeting held on September 20, 2019 at Rep. Tarponweh’s residence, along the Marshall Highway.

The County’s Caucus and top County’s officials including Superintendent Jerry Vanney, Alloycious Namue, Assistant Superintended for Fiscal Affairs, and the Project Management Committee Chairman, Thomas Nanah were in ttendance.

During the meeting chaired by Rep. Ben Fofana (Margibi Co. District #4), Chairman of the Caucus, it was gathered that the lawmakers requested Senator Cooper to withdraw the case from the Supreme Court for a subsequent county sitting.

The Caucus’ Chairman, Reps Ben Fofana, Ivar K. Jones (Margibi District #2) and Clarence G. Gahr (Margibi District #5) maintained that the decision taken by majority members of the caucus and county authority to expend the money was justifiable.

What’s in the Resolution?

According to the resolution, the officials agreed that the US$750,000 should be spent on project overhead and development priority projects that would be identified by the five electoral districts after holding the district council sittings.

Superintendent Varnie signed the resolution on behalf of the County Administration, while Rep. Fofana signed for his district and the leadership of the caucus.

The resolution, copy of which is in FPA possession, outlined that officials agreed on a special allocation of US$50,000 or five percent of the total amount to be made to communities most affected by the mining activities for projects that will enhance the recovery of lives and damages caused by the mining operations.

They also agreed to allocate US$108,000 to ‘project overhead’ which includes a US$57,000 allocated for members of the Project Management Committee and US$38,000 for the County Administration.

Other appropriations include a US$8,000 Special Allocation to Mboo Statutory District and US$5,000 for support to the local media. The officials further agreed to allocate US$168,400 of the remaining amount to each of the county’s five electoral districts.

This amount will be used on projects and program implementation of which 15 percent, constituting US$25,260, will go to the county’s scholarship program, five percent constituting US$8,420 will go to disaster management program and the balance 85 percent constituting US$134,720.

The superintendent, according to the resolution, was also authorized during the sitting to ensure that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) transfers the amount to the county’s account.

The County’s Authorities, Caucus’ Reliance

According to the Margibi County’s Legislative Caucus, excluding Senator Cooper, the decision for the special sitting outside of the county was in line with ‘Count 4’ of the November 14, 2018 County Resolution.

‘Count 4’ of the resolution states: “Any other issue arising from the county while the resolution is already in implementation shall be handled with urgency in a joint sitting of the County’s Administration, Caucus and heads of delegation present to this county sitting. Such urgency shall be communicated into an interim resolution to the county superintendent for implementation as if it has been adopted by this sitting.”

Senator Cooper’s Contention

However, Senator Cooper, in a communication to the Caucus, prior to his lawsuit, contended that ‘Count 4’ was misinterpreted and called on the caucus and county authorities to revert to status quo.

He noted that ‘Count 4’ calls for heads of delegation present during the county sitting to be a part of such matter of urgency that needed to be addressed. But besides Electoral Districts #3 and 4, all other heads of delegations were absent.

He said the move by his colleagues was intended as an interim measure to receive the money and later on have a formal County Council Sitting to do exactly what the Budget Law says.

Contrary to that, his colleagues have told the people of Margibi County that the interim measure was final, leading to public condemnation on local radio stations in the county.

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