Liberia: Analysis – Who ‘Bribed’ Senator Abraham Darius Dillon?

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As Senator Abraham Darius Dillon struggled this week to explain his way out of a nagging controversy, some of his peers are quietly wondering why he went public about the money he says was legally acquired through all the right channels.The answer could be due to the Senator’s attempt to shine the light on his every move although , the revelation, some say may have done him more harm than good, despite what may have been an attempt to shine the light on his good deeds.

Monrovia – Senator Abraham Darius Dillon (Liberty Party, Montserrado County) trumpeted himself as “The Light” when he scored a popular victory in last year’s Special Senatorial Elections to fill the void left after the death of the late Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff.

“The Light” vowed to be the eyes and ears of a nation that had lost trust in a national legislature that has 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. 

In a week the Senator would most likely want to forget, he suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of his own medicine, a costly reminder of how quickly the tide can turn in the rugged and dirty game of politics – that holds no prisoners, except for the lucky few who rarely find a  window of opportunity for political redemption.

This did not begin with the current administration headed by President George Manneh Weah, it actually preceded him and the patronage culture which has been in existence since the days of President William V.S. Tubman, who ruled Liberia for 27 years, appears unlikely to see such practice end with the current government.

So, when a controversy emerged this week alleging that the Senator 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 last week, the saga drew a wedge between the Senator’s supporters and critics alike.

 ‘Legitimate Money’ Under Scrutiny


Addressing the issue Thursday, Senator Dillon told legislative reporters each lawmaker was given USD$ 6,500 from allotment made in the National budget as operational funds.


Senator Dillon insisted that the money was legal as it went through all the process of acquiring legal pay from 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.”


The Montserrado County Senator explained that a voucher was raised and sent to the Ministry of Finance and a check was raised by the Central Bank of Liberia under the Senate operational fund budget. We received that money and have made intervention in the county by helping storm victims reroof their homes after they were destroyed by the storm.”


Despite the Senator’s explanation, many are questioning the timing of the release of the money, at a time when nurses and doctors have been complaining about the lack of PPE’s and gloves to care for COVID-19 patients. Even the Senator acknowledged that the timing did give reason for the barrage of questions that have followed the controversy.


Responding to questions about the difficulty faced by health workers and how that amount could be used to make some intervention, Senator Dillon explained that  the timing of the money was wrong especially when the country is faced with a national health crisis, but said the voucher for the amount was raised two months ago.

On social media, the issue has become a polarizing and potential re-election debacle for the Senator, who is up for election in the upcoming Mid-Term senatorial elections later this year, or probably the next depending on how long the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic lingers.


Divided Views Over Dillon

“The Light” may have been turned off on this one. “I think your motive was right, but your decision was an error of judgement! My conscience tells me that. you have set yourself apart! That is the price you pay when you try to maintain your integrity.”

Patrick Honnah, Talk Show Icon

Garmondeh Clinton suggests that the ongoing saga extends beyond Senator Dillon. “This is not an Abe Darius Dillon problem, it’s a legislative problem. Dillon is taking the hit because he carries himself as the “Light.” The expectation is he will kick against these missteps and not indulge. The justification cannot be the money is legally appropriated for. Well, wasn’t the 15k salaries that he advocated against legally appropriated for? You also need to know the constitutional spending power of the Legislature is in appropriation. The Executive then implements. It is not for the Legislature to appropriate and spend money on programs. Implementation is an Executive function. That’s why there are Executive agencies like Disaster Relief etc.”

Talk show icon Patrick Honnah, an ardent supporter of the Senator feels “The Light” may have been turned off on this one. “I think your motive was right, but your decision was an error of judgement! My conscience tells me that. you have set yourself apart! That is the price you pay when you try to maintain your integrity. Pick up yourself, do not get demoralized and continue the journey, learning is a continuous process, you cannot fail, I believe you will not. The 29 other Senators’ decision to accept is “a normal thing” for them without being checkmated! All in all, be very careful to avoid traps with money! Money is one of the key weapons used by the adversary! A good name is better than great riches!”

Cooper Kweme wonders why the uproar against the $US180K given to 30 Liberian Senators is more vicious against Senator Dillon than the missing $103M (LD16 Billion) and the $25M scandalous mop-up operation.

Abdullah Kiatamba pondered: Have Liberians resigned to expecting nothing good from other senators, that they don’t question their actions anymore? “Have you set higher expectations for Senator Dillon above the rest? Shouldn’t you focus on legislative reforms on pay and other benefits as the best solutions?

Supporters of Senator Dillon feel he is being wrongly maligned for all the wrong reasons. 

Boakai Jalieba, writing in Senator Dillon’s defense, suggests that the National budget when passed by the legislature and signed by the President becomes a law. Thus, “appropriations or line items in the budget including but not limited to the payment of salaries, acquisition of supplies, procuring equipment or operational expenses are all bound by the law. To change anything in there, the budget has to go back to the legislature for review in a process called recast! That’s why we head the terminology recast budget.”

 
Notes Jalieba: “Liberia’s budget year begins from July 1 of a current year and ends on June 30th of the next year. So, the country’s 2019/2020 is valid for the period covering July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. Any budget item in there is in keeping with the law. If the legislature has in there “funds for operations “, any disbursement from the Ministry of Finance for that purpose is lawful. But before that, it’s important to narrate, the President has the right to refuse the signing of a budget when passed. He can also decide to send it back to the legislature if he disagrees with items in the budget. That process is called VETO. If he decides not to veto the budget but decide to concur with the legislature, that piece of signed instrument is LAW.  Therefore, any payment made as a result of an appropriation is a lawful and cannot be called corruption. Those trying to make that claim should be directed to this post for reading and understanding.”

 
The Lower House Question


Lost in the question over why Senator Dillon’s light came off this time, is who put the alleged US$180,000 on the table for the 30 Senators?

More importantly, did members of the lower house also receive their share?

Multiple sources confirmed to FPA Thursday that members of the lower house who appear already resigned to rid the body of Speaker Bophal Chambers, were up in fumes upon learning that the peers in the upper house received US$180,000.

The Lower House members are said to be unhappy with Chambers for not looking out for them and are said to have gained just another reason to boot him out of the speakership in the near future.

A ranking member of the upper house, speaking to FPA on condition of anonymity Thursday agreed with Senator Prince Y. Johnson’s comments earlier in the day, that members of the Senate received the amount to speed up the endorsement of the Liberian leader request on the State of Emergency, a situation he said was done by all senators, including Senator Dillon.

In fact, one Senator said Thursday: “Any money paid to the legislature besides salary for any project must go through the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE). They did not want it to be accountable, so they pass it through operations,” regarding the US$6,500 paid to Senators.


The Dillon saga is also raising new questions about a reported US$350,000 paid to Senators for the passage of the recent nominees to the National Elections Commission. Senators reportedly received hefty envelops to ensure the passage of all the nominees although the controversial Nigerian, Cllr. Ndubusi Nwabudike, whose missteps and inconsistences proved too costly and risky for Senators to take.

As Senator Dillon struggled this week to explain his way out of a nagging controversy, some of his peers are quietly wondering why he went public about the money he says was legally acquired through all the right channels.

The answer could be due to Senator Dillon’s attempt to shine the light on his every move. However, the revelation, some say did more harm than good, despite what may have been a good attempt to shine the light on his good deeds. “I had no interview with the paper, I disclosed it on a local radio when I appeared that we senators received USD$ 6,500 as operational fund and I announced that my office would make intervention in Montserrado to help storm victims,” Senator Dillon said Thursday.

Dillon, Victim of His High Bar Set?

The controversy appears to have put Senator Dillon on the defensive, much to his own doing. 


“The Light” has raised the bar so high for even himself – and this is not the first time. Last September, the Senator was also embroiled in another 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.

The saga has not only shone the light on Senator Dillon but also raises more questions about the other 29 Senators, who were also recipient of the money. More importantly, who approved the US$180,000 for distribution through operations rather than LACE?

Missteps aside, Senator Dillon has no doubt shone some light on the lack of transparency and accountability in the upper house, ceremoniously disclosing the allowances and basic salary in the tone of US$15,325 and L$29,700 respectively for members of the Senate, something that has been hidden from the public for more than a decade.

How he recovers from what could likely be a potential blip en-route to his re-election will no doubt prove pivotal to the Senator’s learning curve in the Senate. With only one year to prove his worth, the Senator may have scored a pyric victory by shining the light. “I made a commitment that I will be the light and will inform the public about things that are unknown. I want checks and balances at the legislature. The story that senators received kickback to sign unto a resolution is untrue.”


The saga has not only shone the light on Senator Dillon but also raises more questions about the other 29 Senators, who were also recipient of the money. More importantly, who approved the US$180,000 for distribution through operations rather than LACE?

These are questions currently being drowned at a time when serious questions are being raised about the lack of adequate protective gears for healthcare workers on the frontlines of the deadly Coronavirus pandemic.

In a week the Senator would most likely want to forget, he suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of his own medicine, a costly reminder of how quickly the tide can turn in the rugged and dirty game of politics – that holds no prisoners, except for the lucky few who often find a rare  window of opportunity for political redemption.

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