The Liberian Senate sharply reacts to call by the leader of the opposition Alternation National Congress Mr. Alexander Cummings to senators to return US$15,000 received for personal projects saying, it is taken aback by the display of self-glorification by Mr. Cummings, who is intentionally bringing the Legislature to public disrepute by his recent statement on the Legislative Engagement Fund for his obvious political agenda. On Tuesday, June 15, the ANC political leader joined a public chorus here, condemning lawmakers for taking the money, while calling on them to return same.
He said the mere distribution of US$15,000 each among 102 lawmakers without the possibility of audit and any acceptable means of accountability violates the Public Financial Management Law. 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 continues to not be the practice.
Liberia, the world’s poorest country currently has 29 sitting Senators with 73 Representatives bringing the total to 102 lawmakers and multiplying this by $15,000 brings to total, the sum of USD1, 530,000 (One Million, Five Hundred and Thirty Thousand United States Dollars) distributed among them at the time the country is appealing to friendly nations for budget support in the face of increasing COVID-19 positive cases.
Thus in his condemnation and call for the return of the money, Mr. Cummings, whose party is part of four Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) observed that the action by members of the Legislature was not right at this time particularly when the country’s economy is under severe stress, while the government is begging for budgetary support from friendly nations to meet its payroll obligations. But the Liberian Senate deems Mr. Cummings’ criticism of the Senate and the Legislature as a whole as an attempt to put the people of Liberia against their lawmakers for his own political gains.
“This kind of harmful politicking would only continue to leave our country in shambles. It must be condemned by all well-intentioned Liberians”, the Senate says. The release further indicates that Lawmakers come from every district in every county of Liberia hence, they represent every single citizen.
“Over the years, Central Government has been overwhelmed by major developmental projects – focusing more on the building of roads, agriculture, and other infrastructure while at the same time boosting healthcare which has continued to do a tremendous job in curtailing the spread of the corona-virus – a pandemic that world has been battling for over a year.”
The Senate at the same time clarifies that no previous Liberian government had the financial and human capital to reach out and support the needs of every district and county, saying “While our people in these deprived areas continue to suffer untold suffering and hardship, they look up to their Senators and Representatives for the provision of schools, clinics, market, roads, and even direct personal support. Lawmakers have over the years, without hesitation, tried to meet these needs at their own expense.”
It further argues that Mr. Cummings who thinks he is a better option for the leadership of Liberia does not have an inner idea of the needs of the indigenous people and how those needs can be worked around. The Senate further clarifies that the US$15,000 received by each Senator and Representative is from an allotment under the Legislative Engagement Line of 2020/2021 National Budget and does not go into pockets of individual lawmakers, as being perceived.
It says instead, it is geared towards supporting initiatives in their various counties, and with the leadership structure in the respective counties, the money is decided upon and invested as deemed necessary by each Senator and his county leadership.
The Senate maintains the fund could go towards helping in the fight against covid-19 in the county, construction of a bridge, road, library, hospital, school, payment of school fees, the building of a modern public latrine or to help with some charitable undertakings, as a way of directly impacting needed developments, however little.
“We find it disingenuous that Mr. Cummings would believe that this fund is intended to support the political interest of any Senator when the Senate comprises members of all political parties. Clearly, this is not intended to give any single Senator an edge because s/he is from the ruling party or the opposition parties.”
The Leadership of the Senate believes that Mr. Cummings’ quest for power is leading him to sow seeds of discord among the citizenry, calling on well-meaning Liberians not to lend credence his (Cummings’) statement on the Legislative Engagement Funds that is coded 0563 in the National Budget. Editing by Jonathan Browne