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EDITORIAL: Ensuring Accountability and Transparency on Capitol Hill

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On Tuesday, March 9, 2010, members of the Liberian Senate summoned the Minister of Finance to appear before that body to clarify the delays by the Ministry of Finance in remitting their allowances and other benefits. Surely indeed, the Minister did respond to the invitation by the honorable senators. During their interactions in the Chambers of the Senate, there were hot exchanges between the Minister and Senators concerning the payment of their allowances and other benefits.

The main issue which instigated the exchanges and threats was the request by the Finance Minister to the Honorable Senators for their performance report.The Senators were further aggravated by the Ministry’s decision to deposit salaries and allowances of their staff into their personal accounts, other than those of the Legislators.

For us, whether or not the senators believed the Ministry’s request was an affront to them, the issue of accountability and transparency in the financial transactions of the Legislature was paramount.
We believe if the Executive and Judicial Branches of the Government can adhere to those tenants of good governance, which we all continue to preach daily as another way of fighting corruption in Liberia, the Legislators should not see themselves as demi-gods on this matter.

Though we were cognizant of the fact that the intimidations and threats which characterized the March 9 meeting between the Finance Minister and the Senators would subject him to their selfish will, at least he made them to understand that everyone in government was accountable to the people of Liberia and others who also pay taxes.

More troubling about this ranging is the report that the Finance Ministry’s demand may have emerged out of the growing suspicion that personnel in the offices of the Legislators on government’s payroll were not the actual number receiving those salaries, allowances and other benefits deposited into the accounts of their bosses.

For example, if the Ministry of Finance on a monthly basis, pays into the accounts of a Legislator, the salaries and allowances of fifteen personnel employed by each Legislator, only half of that number receives such. This means, out of the fifteen employees, only seven are actually employed in the office or sub-office of a Legislator. We believe what happens to the rest  has been  the concern of not only  the authorities at  the Finance Ministry, but all well meaning Liberians who favor either the eradication of corruption or its minimization.

Our thinking is that it is because of all of these”dedebas” and other maneuverings that these honorable people always try to use their contempt powers to intimidate or psychologically terrorize other public officials, most especially those of the Ministry of Finance, General Auditing Commission and Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission to disregard all attempts aimed at ensuring accountability and transparency through audit, asset declaration or submission of their performance report.

We are of the fervent belief that the people who these legislators represent, would like to know more about how their Speaker and President Pro Tempore are expending the thousands of US and Liberian Dollars appropriated for their respective offices, as well as other financial transactions in the Legislature, including personnel cost.

If the honorable men and women, our true representatives who should be leading us through examples could have themselves placed above the laws, we are deeply worried that our efforts to ensure good governance in Liberia will just be like “wasting water on duck’s back.”Though we share the concerns and fears of the Ministry of Finance and General Auditing Commission, may we also like to warn them against subjecting themselves to the whims and caprices of the demi-gods on Capitol Hill.

While asset declaration is not compulsory, Finance and the GAC must insist on performance report from the Legislature and a comprehensive audit of that honorable body and abandon the fear of being jailed for forty-eight hours. These institutions must continue to persevere and never despair amidst these vices which continue to corrode our national image. Accountability and transparency must be ensured on Capitol Hill in the cause of the people and the nation.

Trust us, the realization of this on Capitol Hill will instill fear in other public officials who may even try to dream about stealing public money, as well as exploiting those working with them.

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