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US$195,000 for operation or compensation?

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While Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon revealed here Tuesday this week that senators on Capitol Hill received US$6,500 each as operational fund after they endorsed the State of Emergency and stimulus package submitted by President Weah, Senator Prince Yormie Johnson rather says the amount is compensation for extra-sitting in the wake of their Easter Break.

The Liberian Senate netted a total of US$195,000 (not 180,000 as earlier) this week for 30 senators, at the time health workers, doctors and nurses on the frontline of the fight against the novel coronavirus are crying for Personal Protective Equipment, including nose and facial masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers, among others to keep safe.

Senator Johnson told Truth Breakfast Show Thursday, 23 April that he personally received US$6,500.00 of the amount, which he describes as “chicken change”, defending that this is normal legislative practice in many parts of the world, including Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, respectively.

He says when lawmakers had left for break and the President calls them for urgent business, they are entitled to compensation and that’s what the money received is meant for.

Uganda’s parliament has come under scrutiny after legislators allocated themselves a total of $2.6 million to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the BBC. Lawmakers say the funds are being used to feed constituents. But the High Court may order them to return the money.
Early this month, Uganda’s parliament passed a supplementary budget of $80.2 million meant to support the fight against the spread of COVID-19, which included $2.6 million in pay to legislators, or about $5,250 to each member.

Sen. PYJ branded fellow Liberians as jealous people, for widespread criticism that legislators are heartless and selfish. Many say such money should have instead, been directed to the health sector or used to pay civil servants, who are currently under a 14-day “Stay-At-Home” or lockdown, to buy food for their families.

About 20 health workers have tested positive of the virus, while a former senator walking out of quarantine Wednesday, 22 April after 21 days, said the 14 Military Hospital, which is the government’s main quarantine center for COVID-19 patients, lacks Intensive Care Unit (ICU), standard laboratory, Oxygen and X-ray machine, among other vital tools.
Former Maryland County senator John Ballout was discharged from the 14 Military Hospital on Wednesday along with several others after 21 days surveillance.

Sources had earlier claimed each senator received US$9,000, but speaking to Joy FM Tuesday, Senator Dillon clarified each senator actually received US$6,000 and that the amount is intended for operational cost for lawmakers.

There are speculations that members of the 54th Legislature signed the Joint Resolution because of the financial package attached, but Dillon said, based on his conviction, the stimulus package and the State of Emergency are helpful for the citizenry and the State.

When asked if the money did not amount to clear bribery, he defended that it was for speedy passage of both documents. The opposition lawmaker, who is seeking re-election, maintained the amount has nothing to do with bribery, instead; it is meant for operation.

However, he failed to explain what sorts of operational cost lawmakers have incurred or they expect to incur during the coronavirus pandemic. Story by Jonathan Browne

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