Liberia: Sen. Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence Outlines Reasons For Snubbing Pres. George Weah Tour In Grand Bassa County
MONROVIA – The Political Leader of the opposition Liberty Party (LP), Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence, has termed as “massive tricks and deception” the construction and subsequent dedication of numerous projects by President George Manneh Weah in various counties as part of his ‘County Tour’.
Senator Lawrence is representing the people of Grand Bassa County in the Liberian Senate on the ticket of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
She has been consistently criticized by her critics and some officials and members of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) for “boycotting” the recent visit of President Weah to the county.
Senator Lawrence was accused of allegedly undermining the developmental agenda of the county, and harboring “hate” for the Liberian Chief Executive even though he visited the county to make an impact on the lives of the citizens.
But in a comments posted on her official Facebook page on Monday, April 26, Senator Lawrence pointed out that she did not attend the event because, she was not officially invited by the President, through the office of the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs or the Minister of Internal Affairs.
According to her, a “letter of information” sent to the Grand Bassa County Legislative Caucus, did not clearly specific or invites her or any of her colleagues to attend various ceremonies or programs marking the President’s visit to the county.
She claimed that the visit of President Weah to Grand Bassa was only intended to divide citizens of the county, instead of ensuring the actualization of developmental initiatives.
“Some of us are more interested in the unity and actual development of the country and improvements in the lives of our people to be caught involved in dividing them or deceiving them”.
“Even with this consideration, in respect of my leadership role in the county, had I been officially invited by the President’s Office through the Ministry of State or the Ministry of Internal affairs, I would have attended the Official Program to receive the President into the county. However, this was never done. I felt excluded because a letter was sent to specifically inform the Chair of the Legislative Caucus of Grand Bassa County about the tour and as I recall, not all legislators. There is a big deference between information and invitation”.
Senator Lawrence maintained that following a President on county tours or to the airport uninvited does not form part of her priorities.
She added that such undertakings are usually done on invitations or to enhance coordination.
“Where the impression is to denigrate the First Branch of the government, like all legislators, I have a sworn duty to act in ways to preserve and uphold the integrity of the Liberian Legislature, and to pass on, in time and in keeping with the wishes of our people, as honorable a Legislature as I came to walk its hallowed halls – if not more, than certainly not less”.
It remains unclear whether or not members of the first branch of the Liberian government-the National Legislature- are officially extended an invitation before they are allowed to form part of a presidential trip or event being hosted in their respective districts or counties.
Most often, only members of the ruling party are given absolute privilege to have access to presidential trips or programs unhindered.
Senator Lawrence recalled that in 2017, she received an official invitation from the Office of ex-Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and a followed-up phone to accompany her on a “Thank You Tour” to mark the closure of her tenure.
“I was specifically requested to attend and participate in the President’s inspection of legislative projects in Grand Bassa. During another visit by President Sirleaf to Bassa, I was not invited, but already in the county, I invited her to commission the brand new 700 hospital beds and 3,000 boxes of medical supplies that I had brought to Liberia for the use of the county. President Sirleaf accepted, and I was grateful that she did so”.
She clarified that though President Weah was continuing his county tour, his previously announced trip to Grand Bassa and its constituents has been postponed at least twice.
She disclosed that she informed her colleagues from the Caucus that she was ill and she would be travelling for about two weeks-a situation that “might” not enable her to be in the county when the President pays a visit.
“Not so surprisingly, my absence awakened the government’s propaganda machinery. A few screaming headlines included: Sen. Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence Ran Away From The President; Sen. Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence Rejects Development in Grand Bassa County”.
“Secondly, the branches of our government are three co-equals. They are meant to coordinate but be kept separate. No senator ought to therefore bend the structure of our government or act to lend support to the erroneous impression that legislators work at the will and pleasure of a president”.
Senator Lawrence justified that county tours by a president are organized and executed by the Executive domain and its agencies, and as such, legislators should not invite themselves into such executive function unless invited.
County tour descends to political maneuvers
She further observed that the ongoing county tour of President Weah has a political motive.
“When the county tour descends into political maneuvers for reelection, it naturally invites political divisions and differences rather than a focus on the developmental needs of our people”.
“Weah Projects” replace “Legislative Projects”
Several projects being undertaken in the country presently are being dubbed “Weah Projects” by hierarchies and supporters of the CDC led-government.
Some of these projects include: the installation of street lights, construction of market buildings and housing units for less fortunate citizens, installation of damaged or stolen transformers, among others.
Senator Lawrence observed that the once legislative projects which was sponsored by appropriations made by the National Legislature during the administration of Madam Sirleaf have been renamed “Weah Projects” for the President alone to be glorified.
Under the regime of Madam Sirleaf, budgetary allocations were made to the 73 electoral districts under the County Development Fund (CDF) to ensure the actualization of meaningful developmental projects for the benefit of the citizens.
Citizens normally attend a District or County Sitting in keeping with the Public Financial Management Law of Liberia to decide on the specific projects needed in their respective districts, with the offices of the respective Superintendents spearheading these projects, while legislators play an oversight role.
But the CDF short-lived its true essence and usefulness following the inception of the Weah led-government,
Senator Lawrence emphasized that though these projects provided direct support and development to the citizens, the CDC led-government has allegedly diverted the true meaning of these projects.
“As Senator, President Weah’s constituency benefited from these budgetary allocations. However, since becoming President, despite the continuation of the budgetary allocations, not a penny has been released to LACE, the government-run implementer of the projects”.
“All national undertakings and projects in the country including international efforts have come to be unwittingly named “Weah Projects”. This is not just wrong but politically deceptive. I am strongly opposed to it, and refuse to lend my presence to such deception of our people, certainly not while they have entrusted me to be their representative to the government”.
She continued: “Not once did President Sirleaf refer to any of the Legislative Projects or the beds and medical supplies as “Sirleaf Project”. The same cannot be said of President George Weah”.
Senator Lawrence further observed that President Weah is using his county tour to “excuse his failures and shortcomings” by condemning legislators who normally sit in those gatherings or programs, or accuse them of stalling developments.
Senator Lawrence further observed that the entire Budget of the Liberian Government is a recurrent one in which all monies for government operations and to undertake national development projects are squashed, except “cosmetic projects with little or no impacts on the lives of the people”.
She attributed the situation to budget shortfalls which are usually declared in the absence of an audit and budget performance report.
“Hospitals and schools budgets are not spared from being slashed to nothing. Rather than the massive trick and deception on these tours, look closely at our schools, hospitals and clinics. Many are non-functional or barely functioning”.
The hard questions
Senator Lawrence further questioned the rationale behind the county tour just barely few years to the conduct of the 2023 general and presidential elections.
“After three years, did Mr. President get to visit and see the hospital the people he “loves” come to when they are sick? Did he get to visit any clinic in any district in and out of Bassa? Did Mr. President see the volunteer teachers who have been on my personal payroll because the Government is not paying them? I have better things to do with my time then to join in the deception of our people”!
“But like they say, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”.
Street lights, others supported by budget
She claimed that the decision taken by the opposition block within the Liberian Senate to insist the specifying of the beneficiaries prior to the passage of the supplementary budget is now enabling counties to have street lights and school benches.
According to her, lawmakers from the Opposition Block took the decision to help ensure accountability and transparency.
“The street lights in Bassa are from this decision and appropriation by the Senate, from the national treasury. Disappointingly, instead of the Government buttressing our efforts to increase the 50 street lights that my office installed in Grand Bassa County, it has “smartly” decided to place the street lights directly in the same space as ours, to light what is already lit rather than extend to other dark spaces, as seen in the pictures below. What can one say to this? Acknowledging and embracing the developmental efforts of others in the interest of the country is leadership”.