MONROVIA –A National Executive Committee (NEC) member of the governing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) Representative Acarous Moses Gray has provided justifications for his brand new vehicle purchased from his portion of the nearly US$5M budgeted for lawmakers in the current Fiscal National Budget as benefits.
Lawmaker Gray is representing the people of electoral district # 8 in the 54th National Legislature.
From the total amount, US$45,000 was budgeted for each lawmaker to purchase a car for the FY 2022.
Representative Gray was among the first group of lawmakers to receive the money and went ahead and purchased a Chevrolet Tahoe 2021 model vehicle. Photos of the vehicle went viral on the social media last week.
But speaking when he appeared as guest on State Radio ELBC recently, Representative Gray admitted to arranging the payment of additional money for the purchase of the vehicle.
“The budget appropriated US$45,000 for each lawmaker to go and take a vehicle. The question on whether the Senate has taken it or not, I know that I have done mine. I got my vehicle and it is worth a little over US$45,000 and I did a payment plan. You can make a payment plan to go above that.”
Representative Gray pointed out that lawmakers did not receive the amount for vehicles as a result of the huge financial constraints which engulfed the country as a result of the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in Liberia few years ago.
He said though the law calls for the amount to be apportioned, the money was not captured under previous budgets.
He stated that he made no commitment to his constituents and others to reject or ride any vehicle less than US$30,000, as was committed by Senator Abraham Darius Dillon to the people of Montserrado County.
Representative Gray maintained that members of opposition political parties serving in the National Legislature were also among those who voted for the US$45,000 to be allotted for the purchase of a vehicle for each lawmaker in the current Fiscal Budget.
He noted that it is “pathetic” for supporters and partisans of opposition political parties to continue to criticize lawmakers from the governing CDC for using their fair share of the allocated amount to purchase their vehicles.
He observed that the Liberian Senate comprises of members who are key opposition figures, including Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence and Daniel Naatehn of the Liberty Party and Alternative National Congress respectively who were also part of processes which led to the passage of the National Budget.
According to him, these lawmakers did not make any objection to the appropriation for lawmakers during the initial stages of the budget.
“Senator Dillon said he was not going to ride US$30,000 car; now there is US$45,000 for vehicle and everyone voted for that. So sometimes when I see the opposition crying, it makes me sick. When (opposition) political leaders or their members became to question the ruling party lawmakers that is pathetic because everyone voted and there was no rejection. No single lawmaker voted against the budget and that means it is legitimate.”
Representative Gray stressed that leaders of opposition political parties and their members should take actions against their lawmakers who voted for the passage of the budget instead of castigating legislators from the ruling party.
He said these opposition actors do not have no “moral ground or standing” to question the rationale or move being made by CDC lawmakers to receive all of the just benefits enshrined in the national budget.
I didn’t commit to anyone
Representative Gray, however, vowed to continue to receive all of his legitimate benefits as a lawmaker, despite the barrage of criticisms from some of his constituents and others.
“I didn’t commit to anyone that when just benefits are given to lawmakers and legally captured in the budget, I am going to reject that. Those who talked about rejection and those who have their political leaders who voted for the budget and some of them are even on the budget committee-they have don’t nothing towards what their partisans are crying about.”
He emphasized that these opposition lawmakers must be held accountable by their people and desist from “discussing Representative Gray and step up the courage to chastise and take action against their own.”
He recalled that the CDC, during its opposition days, took stringent measures and actions against sitting lawmakers for going against the party’s decisions or policies, but the current opposition has miserably failed to act in similar manner as a mean of checkmating its members.
Since the news of Representative Gray purchasing an extravagant vehicle broke out, there have been mixed reactions from citizens on the social media.
Many believed that the purchasing of extravagant and flashy cars for lawmakers during these difficult times in Liberia is uncalled for. But on the other hand, others believed that lawmakers are entitle to their just benefits as compare to their counterparts across the African continent.
“We will send this to our American counterparts to see how their money is spent”, Tamba J. Kalbah stated.
Eric F. Massaquoi: “Let them continue, now we getting the true meaning of pro-poor government. CDC didn’t provide any platform and we voted for them. Acarious Gray, there is one day when people give account of their deeds.”
“Gray time in the Legislature is number! Liberia is bleeding in the hands of CDC. 2023, we need changes”, Seleke S. Dukuly noted. But Cooper Kweme came in strong support of the CDC lawmaker and said: “those who vote are not complaining.”
Cost of vehicle questioned
The actual cost of the vehicle recently purchased by Representative Gray is being speculated by some members of the public.
Others claimed that the vehicle worth about US$80,000, though Representative Gray claimed that he spent a “little over US$45,000” for it.
However, FrontPage Africa managed to establish that a Chevy’s new 2021 Tahoe full-size SUV cost ranges from US$55,000 to US$63,000.
Joe P. Sumo stated: “Whoever told you that a 2021 Chevy Tahoe cost US$80,000? Even a 2022 one is not that cost. So I really don’t see where you’re taking your numbers from just to prove a political point
Ansu L. Sesay: “Nearly 15 years as parliament member and leader you think Hon. Acarous Gray cannot afford US$45k to buy car? You got to stop this mehn”.
The controversial allotment
Many members of the National Legislature have justified that the provision of the US$45,000 to them is part of their just benefits and entitlement.
They maintained that as lawmakers, they deserve to ride flashy cars as compare to other cabinet ministers and presidential appointees in a post-conflict nation where bulk of its citizens go to bed on empty stomach.
However, citizens have been complaining that the money is too much in the wake of the harsh economic constraints they continue to encounter on a daily basis.
They have called for the amount to be drastically reduced and deducted portion diverted towards other sustainable developmental initiatives across the country.
For several decades now, members of the National Legislature have not been audited in Liberia.
Though there have been mounting calls for the conduct of a comprehensive audit of the first branch of the Liberian government, past and current leaderships of the Legislature have downplayed those requests made by some of their colleagues, civil society actors, and foreign dignitaries, among others.
One of those who was very vocal for the Legislature to be audited during the administration of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the current Speaker of the 54th National Legislature Bhofal Chambers from Maryland County.
But his longtime quest has been buried since his ascendancy even though some of his colleagues have consistently justified the need for the Legislature to be audited.
The vehement show of no interest towards an audit has compelled lawmakers to have a “free flow”, expending taxpayers’ monies at their will and pleasure without any accountability.
Currently, members of both the Liberian Senate and House of Representatives have not been held accountable for the proper usage of the US$45 allotted to each of them in the current national budget for the purchase of a vehicle.
In some instances, a Representative or Senator may schedule a payment plan with a vendor for the purchase of a vehicle that is above the US$45,000 budgeted just to appease their comfort or luxurious lifestyle.
Some lawmakers may divert or use their share of the US$45,000 allotted for vehicle for different purposes, while others may buy vehicles that are way lower than the actual US$45,000 allocated in the National Budget. Though these acts amount to corruption, nothing would be done to bring to book these legislators that are involved.