Liberia: When A Legislative 5G Passage Comes Back To Haunt

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IN A TIME of a major health crisis such as the COVID-19, transparency and accountability is necessary to erase doubts from the minds of a citizenry unsure and often kept in the dark about what is unfolding in government.

FOR MANY YEARS now since the end of the Liberian civil war, members of the National Legislature have built for themselves a sad reputation of looking the other way and signing without reading when it comes to serious matters concerning the people of Liberia. Simply put, the various constituencies responsible for giving them a job.

THIS WAS EVIDENT in May 2013, when the London-based watchdog group, Global Witness, conducted an audit of lucrative resource deals in Liberia and discovered that almost all the concessions awarded by the government since 2009 were not compliant with the law.

IN THE REPORT commissioned by the Liberian government, international auditors found that only two out of 68 resource contracts worth $8bn (£5.1bn) were conducted properly. Concessions granted in agriculture, forestry, mining and oil – including a lucrative deal with oil company Chevron – were either wholly or partially flawed.

CHLOE FUSSEL, of GW, said at the time. “These are problems that we have known about for a long time – but the fact that only two of 68 concessions were fully compliant with the law is just mindblowing. Some of the most damning material in the report concerns logging permits that cover one quarter of the country and were given out illegally.”

SEVEN YEARS AFTER that report rocked the fabric of Liberia, those very issues are resurfacing again.

ON MONDAY, a member of the national legislature, Rep. Samuel Enders(District No. 6, Montserrado County) alarmed on the social media Facebook that he was unsure whether the US$25 million allotted toward the feeding program was actually a loan which the lawmakers did not sign off on. Said Rep. Enders: “It is also misleading and very troubling  to read that the US$25 million is a loan. I cannot remember signing a loan agreement for such. We need to know how much loan was taken and who authorized the loan during the COVID-19 period with specific reference to the recast.”

THE LAWMAKER’S ASSERTIONS are as troubling as it has been for many Liberians, since Africa’s oldest republic embarked on its latest attempt at pursuing democracy.

THE BUTT of the joke is often left on members of constituencies relying on those who stood under the sun and rain to campaign.

THE SYSTEM OF Checks and Balances under which the Constitution divides the Government into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial is often regarded as key to ensure that specific powers to each branch of government should serve as the bedrock of democracy.

THIS SYSTEM is perhaps the greatest contribution to the world by the French political philosopher,  Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu and Sir William Blackstone, the British jurist, from which most modern democracies have modeled after.

IT IS THE CONCEPT which influenced the framers of constitutions the world over. From the US, British and France to countries like Liberia and many other African countries with three branches of government.

MONTESQUIEU, BLACKSTONE and others in their time, saw checks and balances as essential for the security of liberty under the Constitution.

THE 5G passage of legislations and nominations to important jobs only serve a temporary interest that often find a way of blowing up in the face of those who turned a blind eye to the realities of a nation and those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder

JOHN  ADAMS, the Second President of the US once said: “It is by balancing each of these powers against the other two, that the efforts in human nature toward tyranny can alone be checked and restrained, and any degree of freedom preserved in the constitution”.

IN LIBERIA, checks and balance has been closed to non-existent in the national legislature and the judiciary branch has not been faring any better.

THUS, FOR years now, the Executive branch of government has had its way with the other branches of government.

SO MUCH SO, that a member of the House of Representative, who probably never read the fine prints of the stimulus package is only now just realizing and expressing concerns whether it was a loan or a grant?

SADLY, THIS ONLY came to light in the wake of allegations that the World Food Programme is charging the Liberian government US$9 million to distribute food to Liberians during the COVID-19 lockdown.

WHEN CONTACTED for clarity Monday, James Belgrave, Communication Officer for the WFP in Rome, dismissed suggestions that the WFP is charging Liberia US$9 million to distribute food to Liberians during the COVID pandemic lockdown. Instead he said, the WFP is charging only a small percentage, “around six percent.

SAID BELGRAVE VIA EMAIL: “WFP is not charging US$9 million to the Government of Liberia – any suggestions to the contrary are totally unfounded. In Liberia, the Government-led COVID-19 Household Food Support Program (COHFSP) has a total budget of US$30 million. This comprises the cost of the food basket (rice, beans and vegetable oil) as well as the costs of storing, transporting and delivering the assistance to vulnerable households targeted under the programme. A very small percentage of the budget (around 6%) goes towards meeting essential minimum costs for WFP to deliver its life-saving assistance – this is standard across all the countries where WFP works and is in line with international standards of aid delivery.”

THIS WFP’S clarification contradicts what Commerce Minister Professor Wilson Told the Senate Plenary last Friday, tthat of the USD$30 million, USD$20 million will go to food cost while USD$9 million will go toward the operational cost. This is the plan and distribution will begin this weekend. WFP has informed this committee that because of the road condition they will use sea transport to get to the southeast,” he said.

ACCORDING TO BELGRAVE, the WFP’s top priority is meeting the food security and nutrition needs of the most vulnerable and needy communities in Liberia. “WFP distributes food in a fair, gender-sensitive, accountable and transparent manner, to ensure that the most urgent needs are met in an equitable way, and that the highest standards of assistance are applied, providing value-for-money to our partners who support our vital work in Liberia.”

IN A TIME of a major health crisis such as the COVID-19, transparency and accountability is necessary to erase doubts from the minds of a citizenry unsure and often kept in the dark about what is unfolding in government.

THOSE ELECTED TO SERVE the people must always program themselves to ask the right questions, to press the other branches of government to do the right thing.

THIS WILL ENSURE that each and every branch of government will be on their toes and strive to do right by the people.

REP. ENDERS’S ALARM, albeit late, should serve as a poignant reminder to those in the national legislature how important it is to read everything put before them.

THE 5G passage of legislations and nominations to important jobs only serve a temporary interest that often find a way of blowing up in the face of those who turned a blind eye to the realities of a nation and those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.

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