By: R. Joyclyn Wea
MONROVIA-Within the course of four years after the controversy harmonization exercise, legislative budget has dramatically grown to US$74.7 million at the disadvantage of the ordinary people.
By the end of 2022, taxpayers would have spent about US$174.7 million —from FY 2019/2020 to FY22— on the Legislature.
The disclosure was made over the weekend by NAYMOTE’s Partners for Democratic Development at the release of the first edition of the ‘legislative digest’, a quarterly publication that assesses the Liberian Legislature in the performance of its three core functions of representation, lawmaking and oversight, as well as accountability and level of transparency.
This maiden edition of the digest reports on the activities of the legislature for the period January 2018 May 2022. The publication is aimed at fostering Legislative Openness, Responsiveness and Accountability.
“Since the harmonization, the legislative budget has increased by triple; they took money from the people and invested in themselves and gave the people handout. Now people are building universities when the University of Liberia does not have a chair, NAYMOTE Executive Director Eddie D. Jarwolo indicated.
He mentioned that the after the harmonization, the legislature budget grew from US$38.6 million to US$44.6 million saying the entire process was to benefit the legislature and not the ordinary people.
Considering the value for money, Jarwolo says, the lawmakers have done very limited in terms of their duty.
Jarwolo contented that the US$174.7 million spent on legislators could be used to provide basis social services to benefit the people on grounds there are lot of things the country is lacking of including school, roads, among others and the legislature needs to redirect their attention to those things that are more beneficiary to the citizenry.
“It is not to turn the legislature into a welfare center, if you want to give scholarship, open national scholarship program and job opportunities so citizens can have direct impact of their resources.
During the reporting period, the institution further captured a huge number of secret hearings conducted by the legislature on the 173 legislations passed.
The House of Representatives held 416 sessions, however, nearly half (41.58%) of those sessions were Executive or Secret sessions meetings of the legislature that are not accessible to the public and the press, the report revealed.
This huge number of secret sessions, Jarwolo holds essentially shielded the legislative sessions from the public and made it impossible for citizens to follow the debate and hold their legislators accountable for views expressed and decisions made in those sessions
During the same period, Jarwolo asserted that the House of Representatives passed 173 bills, 36 percent of which were Executive bills submitted from the office of the President, only 71 public hearings were organized (including budget hearings), on bills and the budgets.
However, he said the legislature has not presented reports on its finances and expenditures, and demands from the public for an independent audit of that body has yielded no result.
The report notes that in spite of the huge financial support to the legislature, the body has no official publication on its activities or an official website for public information. The assessment did not also find any voting record, making it nearly impossible for citizens to track the legislative and voting decisions of their elected representatives.
Similarly, Jarwolo indicated that it was impossible to access reports of ministries and agencies at the legislature mainly because the ministries and agencies have not been submitting periodic reports to that body since 2018. This further indicates that the legislature has been derelict in exercising its oversight responsibilities over the Executive branch.
The institution believes that a strong and functional legislature is crucial for the advancement of democracy and development, but the state of affairs at the current legislature, as the report shows, is wanting of crucial reforms.
Based on the findings of the assessment, the institution recommends that the legislature implements immediate institutional reforms to strengthen its various oversight committees, and establish the appropriate systems for transparency, accountability, including limiting executive or secret sessions to only matters with serious implications for national security and defense as required under the law.
The institution as a member of the Parliamentary Monitoring Organization strongly believes that inclusive, accountable, accessible, and responsive legislative institutions are the key to democratization, because of their constitutional responsibilities to enact legislation, represent citizens and oversee executive policy implementation and performance as well as reflect citizens will and interests, and calls on the Liberian Legislature to foster openness of its activities and work in their interest of those who elected them.