THE MONTSERRADO DEBATE – How the Candidates Fared: A Bird’s Eye Perspective on Their Performance

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Organized by the Liberia Media Development Initiatives (LMDI), with support from USAID and Internews, the Ducor Debate on Friday, November 27, 2020 pitted incumbent Montserrado  County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon of the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) against Montserrado  County District # 5 Representative Thomas P. Fallah of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) in a no holds barred intellectual exchange that left little impression on the minds of the public due to the rancorous and unruly behavior of the largely pro-Thomas Fallah audience that filled the Bentol City Hall in Bentol City, the administrative capital of Montserrado  County. As The Analyst reports, although businessman Sheikh Kouyateh who is running as an independent candidate for the Montserrado  County senate also participated in the Ducor Debates, public attention was mainly focused on Senator Dillon and Representative Fallah, both of whom are considered the frontrunners for the Montserrado County senate seat.

The Issues

The Ducor Debate kicked off with the three candidates introducing themselves and educating the public about their platforms, followed by each candidate making a presentation on topical local and national trending issues that included the growing wave of general insecurity; the parading street gangsterism; the recent mysterious deaths and armed robberies in Montserrado  County in particular and Liberia in general; the increase in drug and substance uses and abuse by youths in Montserrado County; education, academic and vocational for Montserrado County youths; accountability in the use of the Montserrado  County Social and County Development Funds; the impeachment of former associate justice Kabineh Ja’neh and his subsequent external acquittal by the Ecowas Community Court of Justice and the effect on Liberia’s current financial standing and general economy.

Developed in consultation with the electorates, candidates and stakeholders of the county, other topics included the candidates’ 90-day urgently needed deliverables; their views of the national referendum and its three main propositions; agriculture and food security; the rise in gender based violence, rape in particular; candidates’ views on reconciliation and a war crimes court – why would they prefer restorative or retributive justice; how would they tackle corruption and improve the national economy of Liberia; and what would be their action plan to address the issue the influx of refugees fleeing political tension in Guinea and the Ivory Coast, in terms of addressing the national coping mechanism and what can candidates contribute to such coping mechanism.

Following their respective presentations, the candidates were allowed to parry three questions and two rebuttals at each other, with allowance for questions from the audience.

SENATOR ABRAHAM DARIUS DILLON

  1. Platform: Reform
    (Maximum delivery time: 5 minutes. Completed in 4 minutes, 30 seconds)

Selected as the first debater to make a presentation based on the official listing from the National Elections Commission, incumbent Senator Abraham Darius Dillon informed the public that he has been married for 30 years, and that his platform is simple but courageous – to keep the light on through reforms.

“My platform is simple but very courageous – to keep the light on. Last year I asked you for your vote so we can turn the light on, and you listened to me, and you gave me your vote. Today, I am asking you to allow us to retain our seat so that we can keep the light on. Our platform is based on reform. If we don’t reform where we are, we will have no standing and courage to reform outside so that the people can benefit. Even the Bible says, take the speck or the cold from your eyes, so you can be able to see, to tell another person that they have a cold in their eyes, to clean it.

“The legislature is the place for check and balance and not a place for yes sir or yes mam. The legislature is a place for constructive engagement. Some people think constructive engagement means saying yes to everything, then it means you’re constructive. Constructive engagement with courage also means saying no when it is time to say no, when it is in the collective and best interest of the country and the people. The legislature, especially the Liberian Senate, is where the last vetting committee of the Republic for people to enter into public service at a certain category under the confirmation hearing authority. It needs people who have courage, to say yes, this person can go, or no, this person can’t go, on good grounds, not just partisan sentiments.

“My platform is to ensure that we do check and balance. Without check and balance, you will have dictatorship in the Executive. And in a democracy, there is no room for dictatorship. Our platform is to ensure that the system works better than the individual pocket. Systems should work so that the people, the citizens can benefit from the country and the resources of the country through the system, only because they are citizens, not because of whose feet they are kissing, or which political party they are affiliated with. Our platform is to build systems, to ensure that these systems work with integrity, credibility, hard work and honesty, discipline and passion, so that the country can start to turn around and the people can start to grow and develop so our country can be a better place,” Dillon said.

  1. Local and National Trending Issues
    (Candidate presented within the allotted 10 minutes)
  2. Security

According to Senator Dillon, there is a very high level of insecurity and fear in the country primarily because the Liberian security sector is manned by “regime security” rather than “state security” personnel.

“When it comes to the issue of insecurity and fear in the country, it hinges largely on the fact that we have regime security rather than state security. Regime security protects only people that kiss the feet of the government; state security protects all, regardless of who is in power. Example of regime security was displayed last Saturday when you had EPS people wearing berets of CDC, the ruling government party,” Dillon said.

He opined that while some of the mysterious deaths could actually be from natural causes, the government’s failure to properly investigate has left for speculations, rumors and lies.

“When people are dying, some of these deaths could be natural, unrelated to anybody killing them. But when you have a government that fails to investigate properly and bring at least some logical conclusion to some of these deaths, you will leave room for speculations, rumors and lies. And when more people start to die, the way people are dying, it sends fear. We have a country today where the government has not imposed curfew, but people are doing self-imposed curfew because they are afraid to be out in the night after 8:00.

“We want to urge our government to do more and better, and the way our government, especially the Executive can do that, is when you have a courageous legislature that can say check and balance is the hallmark of our being here. When we have a legislature that can hold public officials accountable from the executive, the fear of a growing wave of insecurity will cease,” Dillon stated.

  1. Drugs, substance abuse by young people in Monsterrado

Senator Dillon admitted that the issue of drugs and substance abuse is an ago-old problem that has worsened under the Weah administration.

“It’s a social issue that was not the creation of this current administration. But this administration has worsened it. We need to take action. That is why my office is winding down on the rehabilitation center,” Dillon said.

iii. Impeachment, removal of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh

Without mincing words, Senator Dillon launched a direct attack on those he sees as direct causes of the impeachment and removal of former associate justice Kabineh Ja’neh from the Supreme Court Bench.

“It was done by reckless conduct of corrupt politicians, led by the president of Liberia, aided and abetted by Thomas Fallah and the rest of the gang at the Liberian legislature and presided over by the chief justice. And thankfully, a foreign court has intervened to restore the rights of Kabineh Ja’neh, that he could not benefit from in his own country, under his own constitution,” Dillon vented.

  1. On his 90 Days Deliverables

Against the backdrop of his reform platform, Senator Dillon said he would continue drafting bills to accelerate his reform agenda at the National legislature.

“Within 90 days, having been reelected, in addition to my bill, a draft act that is already in committee room, setting the salary of lawmakers to $5,000 in keeping with Article 36 of the constitution, I have two more draft bills. For me I am out for reform. One of the bills will look at the Code of Conduct that the current administration has no regard for. We should not only declare assets. We should publish it. Asset declaration should not be secret. We should publish it for the public to know so that the public can be able to audit our time in office. Secondly, in my view, the Code of Conduct is too unfair for people in the Executive to be made to resign two years to election. It is my view that we should amend the Code of Conduct. That very provision, to say that if you are in the Executive and you want to contest in an election, when you submit your nomination to the Elections Commission and it is approved, at that point you can resign; not two years to elections,” Senator Dillon opined.

  1. Agriculture and food security

Regarding what he would do to enhance the agriculture sector and promote food security if reelected, Senator Dillon warned the current administration should stop paying lip service to the Agriculture sector and do what is necessary to enhance the sector in terms of national policy.

“Agriculture is always said as a cliché, that it is the bedrock of the economy. The vision of the administration for agriculture must be funded, supported by the legislature. The agenda of the administration is what the legislature will seek to promote or correct. If the president and his agriculture minister come forth with their agenda for agriculture growth and food security, we are constructive enough to give our vote to those,” Dillon stated emphatically.

  1. The rise in gender based violence

“Our belief in this country is that we don’t have laws. We have plenty of laws. That is why I am not focusing too much on bills and laws. We have enough laws but we are not implementing them. And because of our lack of will and courage to implement the existing laws, it makes it appear as though the existing laws are either weak or non-existent. For instance, some people are saying we should kill rapists because we are not prosecuting people. Firstly, the executive and the legislature for 15 years, from Madam Sirleaf till today, where my colleague Thomas Fallah sits, they have had no courage to implement or talk about the statutory rape law. Thomas Fallah’s colleague, a representative from Grand Gedeh, was accused of tampering with a 13-year-old child. The existing law on statutory rape is that once you are less than 18 years old, even if you agree for someone to have sex with you, it is rape. First thing, what we need to do is, when you have these children bearing children, anybody below 17 who goes to the hospital for delivery, find the father. Grab him for statutory rape, because that child is beyond 18. And a 13 year child was said to have given birth by a lawmaker allegedly. They didn’t go to investigate him, so that matter is still left untouched. The children who are under 18 in this country should be protected under the law. And the way to see about sexual gender based violence is simple. Let the law be blind. When the law starts to see, that’s when it can be selective,” Dillon averred.

vii. War crimes court – restorative or retributive justice

“I want a war crimes court today. I don’t want restorative justice. People are not sure to be repentant in this country. I want people to pay for their crimes against this country and humanity,” Dillon stated passionately.

REPRESENTATIVE THOMAS P. FALLAH

  1. Platform: ZERO
    (Maximum delivery time: 5 minutes. Rambled about his 15 years legislative achievement for 5 minutes, 5 seconds without explaining his Platform when the gong rang for time out)

Speaking exclusively about his 15 years of legislative experience, Representative Thomas P. Fallah ran out of time when the gong rang at five minutes, five seconds, leaving him with no time to explain his platform to the electorate.

“I am the most qualified, amongst my peers and colleagues. We have come in keeping with our functions and responsibilities, given my experience in this legislative business over the years. In keeping with our 3 statutory responsibilities, as a would-be lawmaker, representation, oversight and lawmaking. Permit me as a guru in this business to help my colleagues to understand the fourth component that we consider the social contract theory to our people, our electorates. We have come here today in solicitation of your support and vote, and if we should enjoy that confidence a few days from now, we owe it to you as the electorate. So we introduce the social contract component…” Representative Fallah rambled.

  1. Local and National Trending Issues 

(Candidate overran his allotted 10 minutes and failed to present his 90 Days deliverable)

  1. Accountability in management; strategy in tackling corruption

On how he would fight corruption and uphold integrity and accountability in governance, Representative Fallah said Liberia has sufficient laws on the books and institutions to tackle corruption. He said once he ascends to the senate, he would enhance the work of anti-graft institutions by ensuring that public officials are held accountable more than ever before.

“In terms of our social and county development funds specifically, there are rules on the books. We are lawmakers. Whenever you pass the budget, there are issues attached to the usage of social and county development funds. It is good that this question came up today. Sometimes we hear our friends talk about the usage of the social development fund. There are procedures that govern the usage of the county development funds. There are integrity institutions. When those funds are mismanaged or misapplied by a representative or a senator, we have anti-graft institutions like the LACC, the GAC, that can reprimand any individual that misapplies. We as lawmakers, if I am elected senator, we are going to add additional teeth to those laws in making sure we hold public officials’ feet to the fire,” Representative Fallah promised faithfully.

  1. Increase of drugs abuse

Promising to tackle drug and substance abuse among the Montserrado County youths, Representative Thomas Fallah said he would build a rehabilitation center to help wayward Montserrado youths rediscover themselves and become useful citizens in their communities, county and the republic.

“These are social issues. I come here with a voice of experience, not to knock on my chest. As a lawmaker we will lobby with our colleagues to give additional teeth, to make sure our kids that are in the ghettos that have been abused by drugs get help. Firstly as a senator, I have to give counseling, because I normally talk to my people in my district. I came from a ghetto community. You as a leader must first traumatize, give your success story, in order to be able to change someone. The issue is not only government alone. Government has a role to play, you as a public figure have a role to play. We are going to change the lives of our young kids. We will teach them the importance of their own lives to make sure they can gravitate and become people in society tomorrow.

“There are a lot of leaders including myself who came from the slum and ghetto communities that have turned into national leaders because we believe we were not made to remain there. But we can triumph over societal ills and become important people in society. So we’re going to build institutions, not like what my colleague did. He talked about building one rehabilitation center, up till now he cannot finish it, he cannot accomplish it. But when Fallah says something he does it. If we develop you, we will build a rehabilitation center to help this government improve the lives of our kids,” Representative Fallah stated clearly.

iii. General insecurity, gangsterism parading the streets, especially looking at the mysterious deaths

Representative Fallah promised to address the issue of growing insecurity and mysterious deaths by working with his colleagues at the legislature to provide more budgetary support to the security sector so that they can ably combat crimes.

“This issue has been discussed time without numbers. I listened to my brother talk about reducing security. I wonder when he was serving at the level of the justice ministry at the time, serving under T.C. Gould, why he did not. Because similar things that are happening today, happened during those days. The killing and disappearance of citizens were happening then. We will not blame him for that because he brings limitation to this discourse. But what I will do is to increase the budget of the national security so that our security sector can be able to tackle and handle some of those issues. While it is true that the justice system needs to improve, while it is true that our police character needs to improve in terms of their workings, but we will make sure to give them budgetary support because that is within out authority in terms of appropriation of state resources to line ministries and agencies of government,” Representative Fallah promised.

  1. On Ja’neh’s removal and the Ecowas Court verdict

Not willing to commit himself or the CDC government to outcome of the ECOWAS Court ruling against the government of Liberia in favor of impeached and sacked associate justice Kabineh Ja’neh, Representative Fallah appeared dodgy in his presentation.

“I will not deal with the legal issue that has to do with the ECOWAS court. Our decision was a political decision. My colleague tried to buy sympathy from the public, he tried to trivialize this issue. No, we should not,” Representative Fallah said. When pressed by moderator as to whether the government should pay the fines to Cllr. Ja’neh as demanded by the ECOWAS Court, Representative Fallah evaded the question, stating he could not speak to the issue.

  1. Agriculture and food security

“I am a farmer. Agriculture is something that this government takes key as one of the pillars of the PAPD. The Green Revolution was introduced so our people can maximize productivity when it comes to food. As a sitting lawmaker, buttressing this government effort, I am involved in farming. We are going to attract investors, buttressing this government to do mechanized because subsistence farming is not enough. We will empower the cooperatives with resources. Our small farmers must be empowered so that they can give produce that our government can buy and give back to our people,” Rep. Fallah promised

  1. Referendum

While he does not support postponement of the referendum as it has been clamored for by a large segment of the Liberian society, Representative Thomas Fallah, however, said there is a need for adequate awareness on the referendum so the citizens can really understand the issues pertaining to the said referendum. The paradox of Representative Fallah’s position of the pending referendum is the limitation of time to conduct a national awareness campaign on the referendum when the election is slated to be held within seven days.

vii. Sexual and Gender Based Violence

Describing rape as an “epidemic” Representative Fallah called for enforcement of the rape law, promising to add additional teeth to enforce the law.

viii. 90 Days Deliverables

Again Representative Thomas Fallah failed to explain what he would do during his first 90 days in office as a Senator of Montserrado County, if elected. Due to time factor, Representative Fallah could not disclose his plans for his first 90 days in office.

SHEIKH MOUSTAPHA KOUYATEH

  1. Platform: READ (Reconciliation, Empowerment, Accountability, Development)
    (Maximum delivery time: 5 minutes. Delivered in 4 minutes, 57 seconds)

The lesser known of the three senatorial candidate debaters, Sheikh Moustapha Kouyateh informed the audience and the electorates of Montserrado County that his platform is based on the acronym READ.

“When the Torah was given to Moses, he was told to read. When Jesus Christ was leaving his disciples, he said to them, ‘read’. When the Koran was given to Prophet Mohammed, he instructed his followers to read. We have come to share with you the word READ. R stands for reconciliation. E for empowerment, A for accountability, and D stands for development. As we realize, our country has scarcity of reconciliation. We are all aware that we are divided, not as Liberians or non-Liberians; we are being divided as ruling party and opposition. And I believe that the responsibility of a senator is to reconcile your people. So when I am elected on the 8th of December as senator of Montserrado County, my first priority will be to reconcile the Liberian people through reconciling the senate; where the senate will not be a CDC senate, or RN senate but a Liberian senate. Secondly, when it comes to empowerment, I realize that 60% of our population comprises young people, and the victim of our democracy is the youth. So we have decided also to have a bill prepared, to be known as the National Youth Service Bill. This bill will restore the integrity of the young people where the government will bring about compulsory education, job security and coexistence. Further to that, we come to A – accountability. Our country has been defined as the poorest country in the world. We are not poor, because Liberia has natural resources. We are not poor, because we have maximum population who are young people. We are poor because of poor management. What leads to poor management is lack of accountability. So we will be introducing a bill called Assets Verification Bill. When this bill passes, it will bring about three things. Revenue generation, accountability and transparency,” candidate Kouyateh said.

Explaining the “D” in his platform READ platform, Kouyateh said from 1847 up to present, Liberians are being victimized by their own government.

“Liberians have been spectators for so long. They have not been participating in their nature resources, neither have they been included in the government development plans. We are saying, why should we continue to have concession agreements that continue to enslave our people and keep them as strangers? So we say there is a need for land reform. Through our colleagues we will sponsor a bill called Corporate Agreement that will empower Liberians in the development of our country, mostly in the mining and agriculture sectors,” Kouyateh stated emphatically.

“A senator is not one who has the power. You have the power. A senator is a messenger. I am your messenger. I am not the best; you are the best. I am not the most educated, you are the most educated. I need your job. On this note, I petition you to entrust me with your confidence to serve my beloved county,” Mr. Kouyateh implored.

  1. Local and National Trending Issues
    (Candidate presented within the allotted 10 minutes)
  2. Accountability in management

To enhance accountability in public office, Candidate Kouyateh promised to introduce an Assets Verification bill as soon as he is elected into office.

“When that bill is passed into law, it will compel every citizen, including the president to give account of his earning. For example, where President Weah has 45 houses being built in one year; he will be able to give account for that. For example, where Darius Dillon bought new car for himself when he said he wasn’t going to ride expensive car, he will give account for that. This will help us to install accountability in our country,” Kouyateh said.

  1. Increase in drugs usage and substance abuse amongst young people

“The issue here is that the reason we have most young people in ghettos is because of the war; because they have been denied opportunities. This is why we are introducing the National Youth Service Bill. When that bill is presented and passed into law, every young person, whether a bitter ball seller’s child, will have the same rights and same privileges as a minister’s son.

iii. Growing insecurity

Kouyateh blamed the high level of insecurity in the country on the past and present governments, saying Senator Dillon and Representative should explain to the Liberian people the mysterious deaths of individuals when they both served in the past and current governments.

“Interestingly, both candidates are guilty of this wave of growing insecurity. Dillon comes from the past government. Fallah comes from the present government. The two of them are responsible for the insecurity. Where is Harry Greaves? If Harry greaves cannot be accounted for, we should be asking, ‘where are the four auditors’? Well, the Minister of Justice sat down and said that people were in airconditioned car and they died of heat. In the country, o so sad. So the two of them will have to tell exactly what happened?

  1. Corruption

Kouyateh said his Assets Verification Bill will solve the problem of corruption.

“We have an anti-corruption bill that is the Asset Verification Bill. You will not fight corruption when don’t have account of what people earn for themselves. When John Brown is being paid $3000 and when he builds a house for $100,000, if he cannot give account of that house, that house will be taken from him; and if he’s in the private sector, he goes to jail for one year, if he’s in the public sector, he should be denied for lifetime not to serve in government. This will put stop to corruption,” Mr. Kouyateh stated emphatically.

  1. Agriculture and food security

“Both are the same. Without food how do we sustain ourselves? Agriculture is the security for our people. Let’s go back to the soil. Let’s take advantage of what is given us. Liberia is not a poor country. As  a senator of Montserrado County, I will collaborate, I will convince my colleagues that we will increase the budget for Ministry of Agriculture where we will be able to buy equipment and give to our farmers; where business people in agriculture will be empowered by the government to grow food and other sectors will empowered for packaging of the produce,” Mr. Kouyateh promised.

  1. Referendum and dual citizenship

“Every citizen wants to have referendum, but it is untimely. How can our people vote referendum when we have not been informed them? They have to be informed. Nobody is against the tenure of the president to be reduced from six to five years. That is a very good idea. But the question is, in the beginning, it was six to four. Why is it that it has gone to five?” Kouyateh wondered.

vii. On Justice Ja’neh Issue

Businessman Kouyateh also blamed his two contenders for the fate of Kabineh Ja’neh.

“Interestingly, Fallah who was the co-campaigner of Ja’neh’s impeachment said the process was not legal, it was political. When a lawmaker says a decision was taken based on political reason that is scaring. But again, when I heard Senator Dillon saying that this government should be held responsible, that it is an irresponsible government, the question is: is he not part of the government? The Liberian senate has 30 members. Nine from CDC and 21 from CPP. So who impeached Ja’neh? It was the CPP that impeached Kabineh Ja’neh because they have more members there. So both groups are responsible for the injustice against Kabineh Ja’neh and the government of Liberia will accept Ecowas recommendations, to pay him his just fare,” Kouyateh said.

viii. On drugs and substance abuse by youths

The outspoken Montserrado County said both the ruling party and opposition politicians have “beretized” the youths instead of empowering their brains, evidenced by the established of militarized youth brigades indulging in the chanting of party slogans and battle cries.

“The young people have been “beretized” by CDC and CPP. They gave our young people berets instead of brains. The National Youth Service bill will take care of this,” Kouyateh promised.

Performance Analysis of Senatorial Debaters

Gauging each candidate’s performance, The Analyst has chosen this section to rate the candidates based on several factors outlined supra. Below is the candid opinion of our reporter who covered the event, and in no way represents the editorial position of the paper.
SENATOR ABRAHAM DARIUS DILLON

  1. Body Language: relaxed, confident, calm and composed,
  2. Presentation: Expressive in speech, mannerisms, gesticulations
  3. Fact Check: Dillon dealt with issues without stretching the truth
  4. Time Check: Completion within allotted time
  5. 5.     Rating on platform, local and national trending issues: 9 out 10

REPRESENTATIVE THOMAS PANGER FALLAH

  1. Body Language: overly confident, boastful and cocky
  2. Presentation: Expressive in speech, mannerisms, gesticulations
  3. Fact Check: Fallah misquoted Dillon by stating that Dillon said he would reduce security.
  4. Time Check: Completely oblivious to time. Ran out of time twice during his presentations due to his continuous ramblings on achievements
  5. Rating on platform, local and national trending issues: 7 out 10

BUSINESSMAN SHEIKH MOUSTAPHA KOUYATEH

  1. Body Language: high strung but confident
  2. Presentation: emotionally charged sermon-like delivery, mannerisms and gesticulations on point
  3. Fact Check: Kouyateh dealt with issues without stretching the truth
  4. Time Check: Completion within allotted time
  5. Delivery on platform, local and national trending issues: 8 out 10

THE AUDIENCE
Members of the audience, comprising mostly supporters of Representative Thomas Fallah, were unruly, rude and could not permit the lead moderator to expertly control the question and answer session of the debate. Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Tamba Koijee, seated front row, was seen heckling Senator Dillon whenever he questioned Representative Fallah on integrity and credibility issues.

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