Bong County has begun the first County to elect a nine-member County Council to decide on development projects funded under the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF) in the County’s 13 electoral districts.
The County Council, which was validated on May 4 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), is part of the Local Governance Act (LGA), designed to give citizens greater say in how to spend funds allocated from concession companies for mining gold, diamond, iron ore, rubber, oil palm and other resources from the community. Before the LGA, the Project Management Committee, legislators, County Superintendents and other local officials decided on how the CSDF was spent.
Two Bong County civil society organizations, Foundation for International Dignity (FIND) and DELTA Human Rights Foundation (DELTA-HRF), partnered with the USAID Liberia Civil Society Activity (CSA) to raise awareness about the LGA, especially the role of the County Council and to mobilize CSOs to participate in the council electoral process.
Under the LGA, the nine-member County Councils must include citizens representing civil society (two), women (one), youth (two), persons with disabilities (one) and traditional chiefs (three). Aaron Sackie-Fenlah, Bong’s Council Chair representing civil society organizations, said CSA’s support was key in boosting the implementation of the LGA and the election of the County Council. Sackie-Fenlah is executive director of MALHOK Foundation in Bong.
In addition to Bong, DELTA-HRF and FIND, in partnership with CSA and funded by a grant from USAID, are also advocating for the establishment of County Councils in Margibi, Nimba, Bomi and Grand Bassa.
“CSA gave us an edge in advocating and rolling out the County Council,’ Sackie-Fenlah said. “CSA helped us engage citizens.’’
Citizens in Bong’s 13 administrative districts nominated their representatives, and those nominees were elected in an electoral process supervised by magistrates from the National Elections Commission and representatives from the MIA.
Last year, Bong County civil society organizations sued the County Administration for failing to set up the County Council to plan development projects. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the civil society organizations and that led to the process of electing the County Council.
‘‘As a civil society organization, we have been holding the government’s feet to the fire,’ Sackie-Fenlah said. “We monitor development activities. We found out that a lot of money was infused into the development fund, but we were not getting it. There were a lot of unfinished projects.’’
The other members of the Council include: Quita A.S. Tokpah (civil society representative); Marveline M.H. Lepukoi (youth representative); Tenneh G. Francis (women representative); James S. Gontay (representing persons with disabilities); Jartu Wennie (representative from the traditional chiefs); Kerkula Kponokokey (representative from traditional chiefs); Isaiah S. Harris (traditional chiefs’ representative); Miller Bondo (youth representative).
Jesse Cole, Executive Director of DELTA-HRF said CSA’s support enabled his organization
to mobilize local officials and civil society organizations to advocate for the establishment of the County Council and educate citizens. USAID’s CSA grant enabled the production of jingles to promote the County Council in English and local languages. The grant will also fund a series of talk shows on community radio stations in June to educate people about the role of the county councils.
“The CSA support is helping us to do advocacy work,’ he said. “We are telling people that the Project Management Committee has been dissolved and replaced by the County Council.’’
Aaron Juakollie, Executive Director of FIND, said CSA is supporting his organization to do advocacy work in Margibi, Bomi and Grand Bassa. “We are creating awareness and engagement in these communities,’ he said.
FIND will work with local officials, citizens and civil society organizations on the process of electing citizen representatives to the County Councils in the other targeted counties.
The Bong County Council case motivated the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) to mandate superintendents nationwide to begin the process of electing county councils, said Olayee Collins, MIA’s Deputy Minister for planning and research.
Collins began visiting the 15 counties to monitor how local officials were setting up the County Councils. Based on his assessment, Bong’s process was transparent and within compliance with the law. He praised FIND, DELTA and other civil society organizations in the County for the advocacy and awareness campaign. In addition to Bong, Grand Gedeh and Grand Bassa have also elected and validated their County Councils. The MIA is working with other counties to finalize the process, he said.
“We encourage them to follow the process based on the Local Government Act,’’ he said. “Most of the counties are in the process of completing the paperwork.’’
The Bong County Council is working with the MIA to plan the Council’s induction ceremony. Bong’s first county sitting was held on April 11, 2023, when the council met to elect officers. Sackie-Fenlah was elected Chair and Madam Marveline M.H. Lepukoi is Co-Chair. The second county sitting will be held after the Council’s induction. Under the LGA, County Council sittings are open to the public.