EDITORIAL : The Economic Paralysis of By-Elections

IT IS NO EXCUSE that the government of Liberia is experiencing serious macroeconomic paralysis. The writing has been on the wall since the inception of the Weah-led government in January 2018. One does not have to be a super economist to rationalize the factors that are underpinning the rate of economic constraints confronting this administration.

FROM DEPRECIATION OF the Liberian dollar against the all-powerful United States Dollar, lowering prices of global commodity including iron ore, rubber and oil palm, rising inflation, and the wide-spread deficit between revenue generation and expenditure are all too obvious.

THE GOVERNMENT IS not sitting idly and watching it citizens suffer the burnt in these difficult times. Austerity measures ranging from slash in incomes of officials of government as well as a new IMF supported measures to ensure value for money spend is also underway. In spite of these macroeconomic stop gap measures, there is still a need to take steps around those little things that matter and could lead to possible savings for government.

THE RECENT WAVES OF by-elections in the country; though constitutional but not budgeted for is creating serious economic interruptions for the government in a tight fiscal space amidst of multiple priorities such as roads construction, health care and education.

THE FIRST START of the by-elections began when the senatorial seats of President Weah and Vice President Taylor became vacant. One of the contestants, in person of Hon. Saah Joseph, the then incumbent representative of District 13, Montserrado County won the seat thereby creating another round of by-elections for his vacant seat.

GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC PLANS have once again been interrupted by a new round of by-elections resulting from the deaths of former Montserrado Senator, Geraldine Doe Sheriff and former District 15, Montserrado County Representative, Adolph Lawrence. But as if the economic consequences on national expenditure resulting from the demise of the two legislators were not enough, the death of Hon. Dagoseh was announced – prior to the commencement of campaign activities for the two vacant legislative seats in Montserrado County. Thus, the fiscal space will further shrink as the results of this new vacancy created in one of the senatorial seats for Grand Cape Mount County.

ACCORDING TO AN insider at the National Elections Commission the total amount of all of these elections has been estimated around US$15 million dollars; a very big leakage to the revenue stream of the government. Imagine what US$15 million could do for the agriculture, health and energy sectors of the country. Importantly, electioneering experts have argued that NEC is constantly over-pricing or repeating most of the activities that are really not necessary for conducting by-elections.

GOING FORWARD, THE GOVERNMENT needs to address this problem by instituting several measures to ensure economic benefits to the ordinary people. A comparative analysis of how it is done in other countries is necessary for saving resources.

ONE SUGGESTION, IN the event of death would be for the Party that had the seat to nominate a candidate to fill the void until general or bi-elections are held. But what happens if the deceased lawmaker was an independent candidate? This suggestion leaves room for more debates or discussions which can possibly be resolved.

TAKING CUE FROM the US electoral process of replacement could be a good place to start except that the system of governance is different. For example, in an aftermath of death, the governor of the state will appoint an office staff of the deceased lawmaker to fill the void until elections. The argument to this is that Superintendents, who are the replicas of state governors in the US federal system, are appointed by the President and that doing same could give rise to political manipulations.

ANOTHER ONE PROFFERED by a political scientist was that the party that came second in a senatorial or representative race could fill the void in the event of death.  But such a suggestion has come under strong scrutiny from proponents that believe that elections are like pendulum; meaning that you could be popular today and the next day unpopular.

WHATEVER THE CASE, the Government needs to look into the merit of saving resources through a constitutional reform process. Spending money on by-elections takes away from serious national priorities that are more essential to the livelihood of the ordinary people of this country.

SINCE IT IS obvious that democracy is not carved in stone, it is highly recommended that the government design public policy and constitutional solutions to resolving this democratic issue which has become a burden to our already fragile fiscal space. All things considered, a referendum in the pending 2020 legislative bi-elections could be the first place to start.

THE ECONOMICS OF Public Policy: If citizens were to make a choice between having by-elections and cleaning Monrovia of garbage, paying teachers for after school programs, supporting the JFK and other referral hospitals, or even providing part time jobs for disadvantaged youths, they would choose the latter.

REMEMBER MR. PRESIDENT, and according to you, the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development is focused on moving Liberians from the peril of poverty to a paradise of prosperity. And one way of doing so, is to address this constitutional issue which is taking bread out of the mouth of your people.

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