Citizens Angry Over Stimulus Package Non-Delivery -As Lockdown Bites, Many Question Delays in Execution

MONROVIA: To tackle spread of the deadly Coronavirus pandemic and address the accompanying economic hardship facing the citizenry, the National Legislature on April 17, 2020 passed a Joint Resolution approving a State of Emergency that gave the George M. Weah government exclusive executionary powers covering a period of 60 days. Within the scope of the SOE, the legislature approved for the Executive to proceed with available funding from the World Food Programme to provide food support to Liberians across the 15 political subdivisions. The Legislature also approved for a World Bank/IMF funding assistance to be used to address the country’s health needs, especially for health workers, including their hazard pay.

Well, two weeks after passage of the COVID-19 State of Emergency, in the wake of a stringent lockdown that confines the movements of individuals and hampers the chances of ordinary citizens fending for themselves; and as the fate of health workers remains bleak with regards to receiving their hazard pay, The Analyst is monitoring clamorous dissatisfactions amongst the citizenry about what many term as the lack of political will on the part of government to deliver on those incentives outlined under the SOE stimulus package.

Abraham Doedeh is an avowed critic of the George Weah administration. Doedeh minces little words about his frustrations with delays in execution of the stimulus package.

“Where is the stimulus package for our people as was promised, or is it scam? Why aren’t there any signs of a single citizen benefiting as of yet? What is the government waiting for? I thought the government got $15m from the World Bank for aid towards COVID-19 activities prior to announcing a stimulus package. Where’s the money? Why can’t the $15m be put to use while waiting for the stimulus package? Or is the government playing delay tactics waiting for COVID-19 to be over then the $15m and the stimulus package become history of an elephant meat for cronies of the regime?” wondered Doedeh.
Curtis Jackson, Sr., for his part, believes the government is insincere in the handling and management of COVID-19 funds.

“Where is the money donated to fight against COVID-19 in Liberia? The government is authenticating some of our arguments that the surfacing of COVID-19 in Liberia is a scam employed by the government to source funding from donors for their pockets. When Liberia announced her first case of COVID-19 on March 16, 2020, many institutions such as World Bank (US$15M), United Bank of Africa (UBA – US$150,000.00), Groupe Ndoum Bank (GN Bank Liberia – US$20,000.00), Saars Insurance (US$50,000.00) and others have donated, in addition to Government’s initial contribution of US$500,000.00 in the fight against COVID-19,” Jackson stated.

Mr. Jackson further warned that until government starts utilizing the funds donated to fight COVID-19, the public will consider all COVID-19 cases in Liberia as scam by government to get money from donors.
David P. Manley too wonders when will the stimulus package start working for the masses. “It’s long overdue since the government announced that they were going to provide all these services to the people. When you talk about it, they consider it as cheap propaganda against the administration. But as long as we continue to remain silent on issues that affect Liberia, our country will always remain like this,” Manley lamented.

Legislative Blunder?
Passage of the Joint Resolution on the COVID-19 SOE, though seen initially as welcoming by a broad spectrum of the Liberian public, did not come without specific criticisms; as blames continue to fall squarely at the doorsteps of the National Legislature, mostly targeting the opposition bloc.

Accordingly, critics of the passed Joint Resolution are frowning on the Legislature for putting its stamp of approval on a document without first obtaining an SOE operational framework from the Executive.

“Two weeks have passed and nothing is done. There are warehouses already in Liberia that are full of food supplies. What is the government waiting for to start distribution of the food supply?” wonders Toby Kaung Edward Wleh.

As for Anthony Mason, the government only wanted a legal reason to use whatever funds available. “And you guys blindly succumbed to the scam,” he blasted via social media.
“You see, the Government (Executive), played a smart game on the Legislature. Key members of the Executive are now confirmed COVID-19 positive. So, because of this no more gathering as government officials As it is, you (Legislature) can’t call the Executive to checkmate them,” says Tobiah E. Weah.
Operational Funds Backlash.

The negative public reaction to delays in delivery of the stimulus package outlined under the approved SOE comes hot on the heels of a controversial disclosure fingering each of the 30 Senators for receiving $6,500 as “operational funds” during passage of the Joint Resolution on COVID-19.

A good chunk of the public outcry over the “insensitivity” of the legislature’s receipt of such operational funds during the COVID-19 pandemic seemed targeted mainly at Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon. Justifying his receipt and usage of the said operational funds, the tough-talking senator who had long since been under the radar of the ruling establishment for his unwavering stance on transparency, good governance and accountability, however found it difficult to shake the cobwebs of doubt that now shrouded his untainted image as a lone crusader of transparency within a system entrenched in age-old corruption.

Senator Dillon’s earlier signing of the Joint Resolution in the absence of the Executive presenting a well-laid out implementation action plan had not helped the situation either. Even with his reassurance and justification that the Legislature would checkmate the Executive in the implementation of the stimulus package, and that he had signed because he did not want to be seen as an obstacle to implementation of a plan that would benefit the citizenry in the long run, the doubts had started to set in.

As if to validate public outcry over the hasty signing of the Joint Resolution, Senator Dillon’s terse remarks over the weekend clearly outlined his frustrations with government’s delay in delivering to the terms and conditions of the stimulus package.

“Today is exactly two weeks since we approved the State of Emergency authorizing the Executive to proceed with available funding from World Food Program for feeding and World Bank/IMF for medical needs including additional incentives especially for health workers. Since then, and sadly too, not much has been done. No purchase of needed medical items to fight the disease, no food distribution to our people, no “free electricity”, etc. Had we not signed to approve; the Executive would be pitting the people against the Legislature by now!” Senator Dillon fumed.

“And then, no one is allowed to ask questions. If you do, then ‘you hate the President’ or ‘you are politicizing COVID-19. But we will continue to ask the questions and demand actions, no matter what!” Dillon lamented.

Evidenced by the barrage of negative comments that followed Senator Dillon’s latest rant over the apparent delays by the Executive branch of government to deliver on the stimulus package outlined under the Joint Resolution on the COVID-19 State of Emergency, it seems the public is unwilling to buy into the Senator’s latest argument.

“And by coincidence, it has been two weeks since you pocketed the $6.500. Don’t throw the rocks, and hide your hands. In such troubling times of our country’s history, the actions of all of you continue to strangulate and undermine all efforts to combat this pandemic. You are no different so please just shut up! an angry Deedeor D.S. Sarpee wrote on his social media platform.

Says Joecephus W. Boegbah: “Out of 25M, you guys have gotten $200K. I can assure you my senator, the balance is for the executive branch. I am sorry to say this; because it will never reach the masses, watch and see for yourself.”

For his part, Joe Faithcarrier Comehn believes that by Senator Dillon affixing his signature to the Joint Resolution makes him a supporter of all what President Weah is doing to the Liberian people.
“The signs were all over the place. It would have been better if you had not signed. How do you explain to people who are going to bed hungry? How do you explain to those who are being flogged? No excuses Honorable man,” Comehn stated.

From the get-go, Harry Neufville had been hyper-suspicious about the approved SOE. Making his misgivings known over the weekend, this is what Harry has to say about the Legislature’s ‘4G’ passage of the Joint Resolution on COVID-19 without erecting the necessary checkpoints:

“When you signed, did you ensure to have commitment on timeline for delivery of key services to the people you represent? If yes, what did the executive tell you? What were the questions you asked during the deliberations for the records? Did you ask to see and review the procurement strategy for the stimulus plan? What were your inputs to that plan? Did you see the monitoring framework for accountability? If yes, tell us about it and what were your inputs. Did you see the financial management framework for execution? If yes, what were your inputs? Before signing did you ensure to review the feasibility of delivery with market analysis on what could be done domestically and what would be done internationally? What were the pros and cons on both sides? If you didn’t do these things and asked these questions before signing, you are one of the reasons we are here today and you bear equal responsibility; even higher responsibility, because you should have provided oversight.”

Continuing, Neufville further queried Senator Dillon: “Two weeks? Senator, since you throw light on a lot of things, can you also inform us how long does it take to procure goods and services for items approved according to the PPCC regulations and other donor-procurement regulations like the World Bank? We need to better understand the delays. From my professional experience, I think it is unfair to use two weeks as time frame for delivery of goods and services that are mostly internationally procured especially given the high competition for similar goods in the global market space. The best the government has done (which you are included) is to allow UN agencies assist with critical procurement and provide technical services. They have advantage in the global market space during crisis like this. Unfortunately, because of the high demand from manufacturers and suppliers from powerful economies, small economies like ours are below the list. Our population size and quantity demanded are not attractive enough for major suppliers. Secondly, the scale of the pandemic as per the country’s data is moderate in terms of severity for global high level consideration. The economic common sense that can be applied here is to mobilize domestic supplier and manufacturers. In our case, we don’t have the economy to quickly adapt.”

As the citizens continue to bandy their frustrations with what they perceive as the slow pace in delivery of the stimulus package; and as others continue to question the rationale of the National Legislature passing a Joint Resolution on the SOE in the absence of the Executive branch of government presenting a detailed implementation action plan, pundits are wondering, for how long can an impoverished population withstand the rigors of a lockdown without any stimulus package in sight.

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