“Wrong, Inexcusable, Return the Money” -Cummings Condemns Dishing of $15K to Each Legislator; Dillon Concedes, Turns Money Over to LACE

Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon twice defeated the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) back to back primarily based of his uncompromising anti-graft crusade which highlighted the poor state of the economy, amidst the wanton misuse of state funds reportedly by state actors while the bulk of the population suffered neglect. At one time, Senator Dillon even declared never to accept more than $5,000 from his salary. But on June 10, 2021, surprisingly, Senator Dillon who gained renown for his unparalleled openness in exposing legislative dealings, unleashed a statement that elicited a cankerworm of reactions from all sides of the political aisle when he announced receipt of US$15,000 from the Senate via the Ministry of Finance for Legislative Engagements/Projects, while assuring that the amount would be utilized for the intended purposes. Among the cacophony of condemnations that Senator Dillon’s statement caused, Alternative National Congress (ANC) political leader and Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) ex-chairman, Mr. Alexander B. Cummings, has chided all of the legislators including his own CPP stalwart Senator Dillon for spending money to take care of the political interests of those at the top, while forgetting to provide for the livelihood of those at the bottom who need to be helped the most, especially when the country faces serious threat from Covid-19.

Though many pundits might see his statement as a tough political decision, Mr. Cummings is obviously not prepared to sacrifice the interest of the country at the altar of political friendship or expediency.

“I have a lot of friends in the legislature, many I know mean well for our country. The intent is not to disparage or ridicule them. In fact, I face the same difficulty like everyone else, as I publicly disagree with friends. But if Liberia is to truly become better, we must not just look to change individuals, or correct only our opponents. We must change our mindsets, our systems, and correct our friends, when they too, go wrong. A wrong is a wrong whether it is done by a friend or a foe. I believe that if I cannot speak honestly to a friend about a wrong, I lose the right to speak honestly to an opponent about the same wrong,” Mr. Cummings frankly averred.

“Our economy is under severe stress. The government is begging for budgetary support from friendly nations, including to meet its payroll obligations, as the productive sector of the economy collapses. Businesses are shutting down, cost of living is rising, and our people are suffering. Reports are pointing to a rise in confirmed cases of Covid-19, and Liberia could be at the dangerous onset of a new wave of transmission of the virus with increasing health risks to Liberians, and further risks to the crumbling economy. Liberia is not prepared for a new wave, and could lose more lives and livelihoods,” Mr. Cummings blasted in an official statement released Wednesday on all ANC official social media portals.

Without mincing words, Cummings lamented, “Under these conditions, no responsible government would be spending wastefully, and with no accountability. It is why it is wrong and inexcusable for the Liberian Government to be spending money to take care of the political interests of those at the top, and not provide for the livelihood of those at the bottom who need to be helped the most, especially as the threat of Covid-19 hangs over the nation. I join my voice in condemnation of this continued irresponsible behavior of the Weah-led Government.”

Who Audits the Legislative Watchdogs?

Mr. Cummings further questioned the legality of the $15K disbursement, terming it as a violation of Liberia’s Public Financial Management (PFM) Law.

“Without the possibility of audit and any acceptable means of accountability, the disbursements and receipt by individual legislators of USD15, 000.00 (Fifteen Thousand United States Dollars), violate the Public Financial Management Law. The PFM Law provides that all disbursing and receiving entities, and individuals, must account for public monies disbursed, received, and or entrusted into their care. This continues to not be the practice. To date, while this is not the first of similar disbursements, there is yet to be an audit and accounting of these “constituency development” or “legislative engagements/projects” for which public monies are being continuously disbursed. Additionally, the disbursements, as packaged and explained, provide a chance to legislators to showcase personal and or political accomplishments. This is political corruption. Here, political corruption is the use, or misuse, of public office to achieve personal political gains,” Cummings fumed.

The ANC leader cautioned the government to ensure that each village and political district is provided with schools, clinics, hospitals, roads, electricity, safe-drinking water, and the basic necessities of life.

“Legislators, representing the people, have a duty to ensure that these are provided for and prioritized in the national budget. However, to allocate monies to individual legislators in the name of attempting to do for the people what the government should be doing for them, so that legislators are personally and politically credited for doing so, is political corruption,” Cummings blasted.

Way Forward

In providing a solution to the $15K debacle, Mr. Cummings recommended that the legislators return the money to the national coffers for the provision of basic services to the people, and authorize such payments for constructions to the relevant public entities, like LACE, which are clothed with public accounting responsibilities.

He further advised that the lawmakers refrain from budgeting and accepting any such monies for lawmakers. “Authorize the audit of the Legislature,” Cummings cautioned sternly in his statement.

“Finally, I know that changing our country, and the way we have always done things, believing them to be right when they are wrong, will be difficult. But we will only get the same results of backwardness, mismanagement and corruption, if we do not manage ourselves better, and be more accountable. It means not just doing the right things, but doing them the right way,” the ANC political leader stated.

Senator Dillon U-turns

Meanwhile, Senator Abraham Darius Dillon in a press conference held Tuesday confirmed turning over the $15K to LACE for the construction of a public library for Montserardo County.

Senator Dillon’s concession comes in the wake of Mr. Cummings’ statement calling on lawmakers to return the money and have government agencies like LACE do the construction of legislative projects for accountability purposes.

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