Liberia: US$15k For Lawmakers’ Legislative Projects amid Economic Meltdown Draws Massive Condemnations


MONROVIA – It’s been a long week of criticism for the Legislature since the disclosure of US$15,000 given to each lawmaker for legislative projects. In the view of the public, dishing out such amount of money among a handful of lawmakers while many sectors in the country remain in shambles is a waste of taxpayers’ money. 

By Selma Lomax, [email protected] and Henry Karmo, [email protected]

The US$15k is given to each lawmaker by the Executive through the leadership of the Legislature to facilitate their development projects in their various constituencies. However, many believe that the such money for development in various communities must be channeled through the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE).

The People’s Concerns

For a citizen like Alieu A. Swaray, handing out such amount of money for politically-driven projects is “legalized corruption”. He stated, “This is so wrong. This is legalized corruption. Giving US$$15,000 of taxpayer’s money to 30 people that have refused to be audited? How will such money be accounted for? In a country that’s struggling to pay healthcare workers and teachers on time, we are wasting taxpayers’ money and polishing corruption. This is what Sen. Abe Darius Dillon spoke against previously and it was based on that we supported him but this is no different from what the others have been doing, let no one come here with “but thank God the man published it”. Sen. Dillon has always spoken about the system working for the people; so why can’t he lobby with his colleagues for the funds to be given to the Ministry of Public Works to implement designated projects in every district/county. In this age and time, we shouldn’t be giving 15,000 to Senators for “Legislative Engagements/projects. They are paid to engage with the people. It’s wrong!”

Emery David Swen Jr.: “In all honesty my senator, 15000×30 senators is a waste of resources.”

Derrick Nyenpan: “I don’t think the Government have any idea on what to do with the people’s money if not to share it amongst themselves for so-called projects. US$15,000 is a lot of money – multiply that by the number of senators and invest that amount in public healthcare, JFK, and see what it will do.”

Cummings: Return the Money

The political leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), Alexander Cummings, has urged members of the national legislature to return the USD$15,000 given them by the government, and authorize such payments to the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE), which is clothed with the responsibility of undertaking legislative projects.

Cummings believes to allocate monies to individual legislators in the name of attempting to do for the people what the government should be doing for them, so that legislators are personally and politically credited for doing so, is political corruption.

He said 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,” Cummings added.

“I have a lot of friends in the legislature, many I know mean well for our country. The intent is not to disparage or ridicule them. In fact, I face the same difficulty, like everyone else, as I publicly disagree with friends”.

“But if Liberia is to truly become better, we must not just look to change individuals, or correct only our opponents. We must change our mindsets, and chastise our friends, when they, too, go wrong”.

“A wrong is a wrong whether it is done by a friend or a foe. I believe that if I cannot speak honestly to a friend about a wrong, I lose the right to speak honestly to an opponent about the same wrong”.

“I know this may not make me popular. I have been told that this is not smart politics. But it sets my conscience free and keeps my principles intact. They say, it is impossible to be committed to your country, your principles, and your friends, all at the same time”.

“While it’s not my intent to lose friends, I will not bend principles or compromise the interests of our country, only to keep friends”.

Cummings also stressed without the possibility of audit and any acceptable means of accountability, the continued disbursements, and receipt by individual legislators of US415,000 every six months, violate the Public Financial Management (PFM) law.

According to him, 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, Cummings said, continues to not be the practiced.

Cummings added: “Our economy is under severe stress. The government is begging for budgetary support from friendly nations, including to meet its payroll obligations, as the productive sector of the economy collapses. Businesses are shutting down, cost of living is rising, and our people are suffering”.

“Reports are pointing to a rise in confirmed cases of Covid-19, and Liberia could be at the dangerous onset of a new wave of transmission of the virus with increasing health risks to Liberians, and further risks to the crumbling economy. Liberia is not prepared for a new wave, and could lose more lives and livelihoods”.

Under these conditions, Cummings said, no responsible government would be spending wastefully, and with no accountability. 

“It is why it is 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”.

To date, while this is not the first of such disbursements, there is yet to be an audit and accounting of these “legislative projects” for which public monies are being continuously disbursed, Cummings said.

The ANC political leader said the government must work to ensure that each village and political district is provided with schools, clinics, hospitals, roads, electricity, safe-drinking water, and the basic necessities of life.

And he added that legislators, representing the people, have a duty to ensure that these are provided for and prioritized in the national budget.

“The way we have always done things, believing them to be right when they are wrong, will be difficult. But we will only get the same results of backwardness, mismanagement and corruption, if we do not manage ourselves better, and more accountable. It means not just doing the right things, but doing them the right way,” Cummings said.

Dillon Turns over to LACE

Meanwhile, On Tuesday Senator Abraham Darius Dillon took to a press conference to address concerns raised by his supporters over his acceptance of the money.

Dillon: “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.

“I like the fact that the barrage condemnation is being thrown at me, it tells me that the country is looking up to us with hope that it will used us as a compass for integrity in the public service. Now that it has angered the public, we can now go back on the drawing board to do it better.

“I have decided that as disappointing it may sound to some people, we will not return the money. We will turn the money over through a communication to Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment and ask them to work with the office of the Superintendent to find an ideal parcel of land where we will begin the process of a public library. That land will not be in my name, but in the name of Montserrado County and it will become a property of the county.”

Senator Dillon acknowledged that he has followed views and concerns of the public some of which he said are legitimate while other are sentimental. “We too we are concern. If we hurt you by taking this money we are sorry, but the money wasn’t taken with any attempt to go home with it. The people are suffering we know that but if our actions will give something to the county let’s do it,” he said,

Last week, Senator Dillon through Facebook informed his followers that his office had received US$15,000 from the Ministry of Finance for Legislative engagement/projects and promised to ensure that the amount is utilized for the intended purpose.