MONROVIA: The Liberian Senate on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 reconvened its 2nd segment of the 6th Session of the 54th Legislature presided over by President Pro Tempore Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, where the senators in attendance unanimously agreed that the issue of bad roads especially in the southeastern and northern parts of the country could disenfranchise Liberians from exercising their constitutional right in electing their next corps of leaders in the ensuing October 2023 presidential and general elections.
Setting the agenda for the contending issues of bad roads and the insufficiency of registration centers that marred the just-ended BVR exercise, Senate Pro Tempore Albert Chie expressed gratitude to the National Elections Commission for conducting the BVR exercise without major glitches. He also applauded the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning for funding the process; the Ministry of Justice for providing security, as well as local and international partners. However, Senator Chie decried that the final BVR process might fall short of expectations in some counties.
“At this juncture, I express gratitude to the National Elections Commission for overseeing the process; the Ministry of Finance for Development Planning for providing the funds appropriated by the Legislature to NEC amidst many equally important competing priorities; and the Ministry of Justice through its security apparatus, the National Police and the Immigration Service for ensuring a very peaceful process.
“Nevertheless, the final results of the BVR process may not be what we had anticipated in some of the counties due to the challenges of having limited centers far away from towns and villages, hence the inability of many of our citizens to reach to voting centers, which in many instances are miles, at times three to four hours walk.
“Cognizant of election being a nationally-owned process, we commend the efforts and contributions of our local and international partners in ensuring a successful election. However, their assistance should take into consideration the aspiration and the real needs of the voting population. Over and over, our citizens in the rural areas have asked us to request NEC to create additional voting centers to enable them register and exercise their rights to vote. Unfortunately, NEC informed us that it was unable to create additional centers due to financial constraints.
“In view of the above circumstances, these challenges may have a negative impact on the outcome of the BVR process prior to the recently held census through which enumerators reached every nook and corner of the counties they counted all persons. Despite improvements that were being made in strengthening the developed systems through reforms, we have engaged our partners international and local to consider contributing financially to buttress our efforts of increasing these centers in enabling easy access for our people in the rural parts to register without the torment of travelling far-to-locate centers in order to register. Hopefully, said assistance will be considered to improve the democratic process and systems at NEC, especially the pronouncement of millions of dollars being contributed to the process that some of our partners through the UNDP and other international organizations,” Senator Chie intoned.
Speaking on the issue of the just-ended BVR exercise, Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon called for a concerted effort, working along with the National Elections Commission to ensure that the final voter roll from the voter registration is updated, cleaned and set ready to go for elections.
Dillon also addressed the issue of legislative responsibilities, as opposed to voters’ perception, which he attributed to lawmakers not exercising due diligence, as a result the citizens end up holding them accountable for what the Executive branch of government is constitutionally mandated to do.
“We demand the printed version of the 2023 national budget, especially the first quarterly budget performance report. We should also ensure that the legislature receives the final version of the Census report. We need a status report on the US$11 million that was budgeted for rice subsidy. We need a status report on the RIA road.
“The entire national budget is US$778 million, but the country is talking about US$65 million for the legislature, which is last year’s budget. Yet, the country is only concerned about US$65 million. Why is the country not concerned about US$713 million? It is because this body has dropped the ball on seeking transparency, accountability and performance from the people that we appropriated US$ 713 million to.
“You give the health sector US$84 million; almost US$8 million goes to JFK, when there is no paracetamol. Yet, we never ask about what happened to the almost US$8 million to JFK. We gave the education sector more than US$90 million, US$40 million out of which is for teachers’ salaries.
“We have a national road fund that is collecting money to construct roads, to rehabilitate roads and bridges. But in the national budget we passed a budget where the Ministry of Public Works got US$69 million. They took US$30 million for salary and personnel cost and US$29 million to purchase road and earth moving equipment. When there is a pothole somewhere, they ask the lawmakers what are we doing. The following year, we gave the same amount to Public Works without asking why you bought earth moving machines and equipment from the last budget. And we keep giving these bulk figures with no performance report, no accountability,” Dillon intoned.
“I will not build any clinic that will charge the people in my community and in my county, and the figure we’re charging them, I am going to the bank privately. That’s not my function. My function is to make sure that clinic is in a district and the county through the national budget. It can only happen if we do it collectively. I am on all of us, especially on opposition lawmakers, with the new ones added; let’s increase our number and shake this place,” Senator Dillon stated emphatically.
As for Maryland County Senator James P. Biney, the Weah government, which is primarily led by Southeasterners, is not serious about the bad roads that impede progress and development in the region and the country.
“I had the opportunity to go back home, register and return. In actuality, there is no road to the Southeast. Since 10th grade I have been on that road at least twice a year, except for the time I was a refugee in Côte d’Ivoire. I have never seen anything like that. The road is absolutely impassable. The Speaker, the third person in the country with the best of vehicles, could not get to Southeast by the road. He had to go through Cote d’Ivoire and return through Côte d’Ivoire. You have women and children sleeping by the road side, not having any hope of getting to their homes. Their goods spoil on the road because the roads are impassable. I have never seen anything like that. And we say the country is doing very well.
“It cannot be because we are not exercising our oversight; that cannot be the problem. We brought the Public Works minister here several times. It’s either the Executive lacks the capability or they are just negligent. What else can you explain after six years?
The budget originates from the Ministry of Finance that is presided over by someone from the Southeast. The budget is discussed from the Senate perspective presided over by someone from the Southeast, Senator Albert Chie; from the House’s perspective, by Speaker Chambers, co-presided by Fonati Koffa. The overall president who approves the budget is from the Southeast, unprecedented, and their people are sleeping by the road side for days. Life in the Southeast is dependent on the road. We are not saying do what the Unity Party government did. The Unity Party government paved the road between Harper and Fish Town, that used to take us days. All we’re saying, just remove the mud, let the people pass. For six years you failed to do that. If that’s not gross incompetence, what is it?
“The only jobs in the country are those the Unity Party created. Which major private sector investment have we attracted to the country? None, including MOPP, Golden Veroleum, and the electricity we enjoy today. What have we done?” Senator Biney stated angrily.
Conspicuously absent from the deliberations were key senators from the Southeast including River Gee County Senator Conmany Wesseh who is reported to have sent in an excuse stating that he would miss the sitting as he was still stuck in the southeast due to the deplorable road condition.