Liberia: Lawmakers Receive Another US$15k for Personal Project Despite Public Rebuke

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MONROVIA – Members of the Legislature have begun receiving the remainder of the US$30,000 budgeted for legislative engagements despite public outcry and rebuke for receiving the first half of the amount last month.

Like he did with the first US$15,000, Margibi County Senator James Emmanuel Nuquay in a statement shared to Facebook disclosed that he received a check of US$15,000, which according to the statement, would be used to fulfill some of the promises he made during the political campaign when he contested the Senate seat in 2020.

Last month, the Liberian Senate came under harsh criticisms for dishing out the amount to individual Senators in cash in the midst of escalating cases of the new variant of Covid-19 in the wake of a challenged health system.

The Criticism

The Alternative National Congress (ANC) political leader, Mr. Alexander B. Cummings, was very vocal in his condemnation of the receiving of the US$15,000 last month. He stated that every public fund should be subject to audit.

In his criticism, Mr. Cummings stated that no responsible government going through the current challenges which range from difficulty in funding payroll to ably meeting the demands in the health sector to fight Covid-19, “no responsible government would be spending wastefully, and with no accountability.”

He added that it was wrong and inexcusable for the Liberian Government to be spending money to take care of the political interests of those at the top, and not provide for the livelihood of those at the bottom who need to be helped the most, especially as the threat of Covid-19 hangs over the nation.”

Cummings: “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. 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. This continues to not be the practice.”

The Senate’s Justification

In its quest to provide clarity on the money after the public backlash, the Senate in a statement indicated that the money in question is legal and was budgeted for.

The Senate explained that the US$15,000 received recently by each Senator and Representative is from an allotment under Legislative Engagement Line of the 2020/2021 National Budget and does not go into the pockets of the members of the Legislature. Instead, the money, according to the Senate, is geared towards the support to their initiatives in their various counties. With the leadership structure in their respective counties, the money is decided upon and invested as deemed necessary by the Senator and his county leadership.

The Senate noted that Lawmakers come from every district in every county in this country. Hence, both the members of the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate represent every single citizen in every part of Liberia.

“Over the years, Central Government has been overwhelmed by major developmental projects – focusing more on building of roads, agriculture and other infrastructure while at the same time boosting healthcare which has continued to do a tremendous job in curtailing the spread of the coronavirus – a pandemic that world has been battling for over a year,” the release continues.

The Senate at the same time stated “that no government, we know, has the financial and human capital to reach out and support the needs of every district and county in this country. While our people in these deprived areas continue to suffer untold suffering and hardship, they look up to their Senators and Representatives for the provision of schools, clinics, market, roads, and even direct personal support. Lawmakers have over the years, without hesitation, tried to meet these needs at their own expense.”

The Senate maintained that this fund could go towards helping in the fight against covid-19 in the county, construction of a bridge, road, library, hospital, school, payment of school fees, building of a modern public latrine or to help with some charitable undertakings, etc. This is how the counties get directly impacted with the little but needed developments.

“We find it disingenuous that Mr. Cummings would believe that this fund is intended to support the political interest of any Senator when the Senate comprises members of all political parties. Clearly, this is not intended to give any single Senator an edge because s/he is from the ruling party or the opposition parties,” the Senate added.

Accepted at First, Rejected Now

Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon and others in the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) were also criticized in particular for receiving the first US$15,000 outside their legal earning.

Senator Abraham Darius Dillon took to a press conference at the time to address concerns raised by his supporters over his acceptance of the money.

He said, “This money is not personal benefits for lawmakers, it is not added to our personal benefits. It is budgeted for. The budget item has not been given for the past three years, this is the first time it’s being provided. This is the first time it’s being announced for the public to know about it – that is not the justification for doing wrong if it is wrong.

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