Liberia’s legislative projects: The plunder continues?

The Capitol houses the Liberian legislature

By Seltue Karweaye

The people of Liberia have been severely impacted by lawmakers’ excessive greed. The country’s legislative budget has swelled from US$9.4 million in 2006 to an alarming US$67.9 million in 2023.

Shockingly, the approved 2024 budget is not accessible to the public, leaving us in the dark about the allocations to the national legislature. This lack of transparency is deeply concerning and demands immediate attention.

The Liberian  lawmakers are known for their rent-seeking behavior, with each senator and representative receiving a staggering US$30,000 from the so-called Legislative Engagement Fund in 2020, totaling US$3.6 million.

In 2021, an additional US$15,000 was allocated to each lawmaker for development projects in their constituencies.  

Despite widespread criticism, the Senate and the House of Representatives have consistently brushed off concerns about their expenditures and benefits.

Efforts by the media, civil society groups, and concerned citizens to obtain details of the fund have been met with obstacles.

The recent shocking revelations about the National Legislature inflating the 2024 budget by US$738.8 million and allocating an extra US$13.2 million for shady Legislative Support Projects and district development funds mark a grave abuse of public funds.

Under the Legislative Support Projects, each of the 73 representatives will receive US$100,000 for District Development Funds, while each senator will receive US$150,000.

The allocation of funds for Legislative Support Projects per county includes staggering amounts such as Montserrado receiving $2 million, Nimba $1.2 million, Sinoe $600,000, Grand Bassa $800,000, and Maryland $600,000, among others.

According to Speaker Fonati Kofa, the Liberia Agency of Community Empowerment (LACE) is entrusted to implement these projects.

At the same time, oversight lies with an appointed Oversight Committee led by Deputy Speaker Thomas Fallah for the House of Representatives.

At a time when millions of Liberians are struggling, it is morally wrong for legislators, as representatives of the people, to allocate such a substantial portion of the budget for themselves.

These unauthorized legislative support projects provide a channel for millions to be siphoned off by members of the legislature through contractors and other intermediaries.

Sadly, House Speaker Fonati Kofa defended the legislative decision, claiming that it supports grassroots development and inclusive governance.

I am sure Speaker Kofa is aware that the County Social Development Fund (CSDF), which was designed to facilitate grassroots development and inclusive governance, has been negatively impacted by legislators’ direct political influence. This has resulted in corruption, misapplication and the misuse of funds.

Moreover, there are concerning details about the US$30, 000 received by each senator and representative in 2020 under the guise of the Legislative Engagement Fund and the US$15,000 received by each representative for the legislative project in 2021.

It is clear that the Legislative Engagement Fund and the legislative project during the 54th legislature, when Fonati Kofa served as Deputy Speaker and Thomas Fallah as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives, have been linked to mismanagement and potential corruption.

Funds allocated for these projects failed to reach their intended beneficiaries, as they were either misappropriated or diverted into the personal accounts of politicians for their own gain.

In the United States, the allocation of government funds for local projects, also known as “earmarks” or “pork barrels,” has been a subject of controversy.

This practice aims to direct spending to a representative’s congressional district, but it has often been criticized for serving narrow interests rather than broader national priorities.

After a 10-year moratorium, Democrats reinstated earmarks in 2021, a move that was met with skepticism from House Republicans. Despite differences in how Democrats and Republicans utilize earmarks, it’s important to note that the process is open to public scrutiny and audit procedures, ensuring transparency and accountability.

The allocation of funds for legislative projects in Liberia’s 2024 budget is a matter of serious concern. There is a glaring lack of accountability in the implementation process, leading to potential misuse of funds and fraudulent activities. It is evident that these funds, instead of serving constituents’ needs, will be exploited for personal gain.

Furthermore, the current system allows the LACE to undertake projects only in districts or counties that are personally approved by the respective district representative or senator. This raises questions about the fairness and transparency of the process and undermines the intended purpose of legislative projects.

It is crucial to emphasize that the role of the National Legislature is to enact laws and provide checks and balances on the Executive rather than being directly involved in project design and approval.

Rather than exploiting legislative support projects for personal gain, lawmakers have the opportunity to redirect their efforts toward key areas that would enhance governance and benefit their constituents.

It is imperative that they prioritize effective oversight of the Executive Branch to root out corruption and ensure the responsible use of public funds, an area where improvements are urgently needed.

Furthermore, they should champion the enactment of laws addressing critical national issues such as drug control, security, healthcare, agriculture, and infrastructure development for the betterment of society.

The national legislature must prioritize engaging with its constituents to grasp their needs and concerns while fiercely advocating for policies that serve their best interests.

Under the leadership of Fonati Kofa and Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, the legislature should staunchly support anti-corruption initiatives and fervently push for government transparency and accountability by facilitating a thorough financial audit of the National Legislature.

The truth is over the years, the allotment for the legislature in the budget, including the legislative projects, have been misused as conduits for siphoning off the national treasury, perpetuating fraud and corruption, and often failing to align with the needs of the constituents.

Until concrete efforts are made to enhance transparency and accountability in their allocation and execution, these legislative projects should be scrapped. This can be achieved through the establishment of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, public disclosure of project details, and engaging civil society organizations in oversight.

These interventions are necessary to ensure that legislative projects serve their communities rather than serving the interests of politicians. I rest my pen