Female lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Monrovia have justified the disbursements of fifteen thousand United State Dollars ($15, 000.00USD) to each member of the National Legislature. Lawmakers are been criticized for receiving 15 thousand each as allotment for legislative engagement in the national budget of 2020/2021. The three female lawmakers who spoke to this paper unanimously agreed that it is not right for them to implement direct projects supported by the national budget, but it was necessary to reduce pressure and intervene into urgent situations in their constituencies.
In separate exclusive interviews over weekend with Womenvoices Newspaper, Senator Botoe Kanneh of Gbarpolu, Rep. Moima Briggs Mensah of Bong County, Rep. Ellen Attoh-Wreh of Margibi County and Rep. Julie Wiah of Lofa County have provided reasons why they signed for the controversial 15k legislative engagement/project fund in the national budget of 2020/2021. The female lawmakers said the money would help them organize town hall meetings and undertake important projects that are needed to transform lives in their constituencies.
Senator Botoe Kanneh said she would use the money to reach out to her people in Gbarpolu County to gather views on national and development priorities of the county. She said her critics would make her stronger to do the right things. The female Senator said her county is underdeveloped and as such needs more development funds.
“When President Weah went to Gbarpolu, he told the people that lawmakers are responsible for development going to the county, so when development moneys are made available through the budget, I will take it to help my people”, the senator said.
The Senator said the legislative engagement budget is like the legislative project budget that the previous last administration introduced.
“It is actually a good idea. Gbarpolu County needs more money than 15k. The County lacks roads; people walk miles for eight to nine hours to access basic services like healthcare and education, and so this money will help in many ways to ease some of these tensions”, the senator said. The lawmaker said pregnant women and children who are critically ill are carried in hammock from far away distances to health centers in the county.
Though a specific project was not named, Sen. Kanneh said she would make full disclosure of any engagements the money is used to implement.
The Senate used the occasion to counter Mr. Henry P. Costa’s characterization of her being a poor dry meat seller who he said has fortunately escaped poverty to enrich herself through politics. The senator in reaction said though she is proud of her humble beginning but no poor women could win election and that she will continue to serve her people as she did when she sold dry meats, emphasizing that she will not allow anyone to use her humble beginning to intimidate her. The Gbarpolu Senator admonished women not to be discouraged about such attacks on their characters as more of such are expected.
Rep. Moima Briggs Mensah
Rep. Mensah has frowned at the politicization of the money, charging people to understand issues before criticizing it. “I hate people politicizing things without finding what the real issues, I thank you for reaching out to me”, Rep. Mensah told Womenvoices via teleconference.
The Bong County Lawmaker said her constituent needs the money for projects and engagement, and said she should be judged based on what she decides to do with the money if it does not benefit her people. “My position is my constituency needs the money for important projects, so I should be judged on the basis of the use of the money”, the female lawmaker said.
She said it is up to lawmakers to decide what to do with the money. “I am not returning the money; I am going to use it to complete a school project my predecessor left. Children in my District go to school in evening hours because of limited class rooms, so completing this school is very important to our people”, she said. Rep. Mensah promised to exercise due diligence to ensure transparency and accountability of the Money.
Rep. Ellen Attoh-Wreh
For her part Rep. Wreh said the money is intended to help lawmakers organize town hall meetings and create awareness on important bills. Rep. Wreh said she has been organizing town hall meetings, transporting and feeding meeting participants from her salary. The female Lawmaker, however, acknowledged that it is not lawmakers’ responsibilities to implement development projects in communities but rather the Executive, but she blamed her colleagues for wrongful appropriations. “It is not the responsibility of a lawmaker to implement development projects budgeted in the National Budget, but until right things are put in place, where moneys are provided to the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE) to implement legislative projects as the case has been until 2018, we will use the legislative engagement budget to reach out to our people and do urgent interventions”, she said. Rep. Wreh said she has been advocating for votes to be taken on each budget line instead of the blanket voting regime house currently practices. The lawmaker however, said if her constituency wants her return the money, she would do so.
Rep. Julie Fatorma Wiah
Rep. Julie Wiah of Lofa County who designated Gabriel T. Sackie, Chief of Office Staff, to speak on her behalf indicated that though it is not lawmakers’ responsibilities to implement projects from national budget, District # 2 in Lofa County needs the money to complete project that Rep. Wiah early initiated. The office of the Lawmaker said it is willing to be subjected to audit and will publish all reports on projects the money will be used to implement.
Political pundits have criticized lawmakers’ actions as usurpation of functions of the Executive Branch of Government, indicating that such actions can be equated to political corruption, where lawmakers are using national budget to implement projects for personal glorification. Some said considering the pressure on lawmakers, the money is a necessary evil for quick impact projects.
In related development, Health Ministry has instructed the Montserrado Health Team to return Senator Darius Dillon’s donation of $7,500USD from his controversial fifteen thousand legislative engagement fund. This is the second time a government institution has refused to receive money from the Montserrado Senator. LACE had early refused to honor request from the senator to construct a public library in Monrovia. It is not clear what the Senator will do next