... Minister of State Nathaniel McGill announces
“Let me assure you, Mr. President, ULAA will be in the next budget,” these were the precise words of Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, addressing the new ULAA leadership, led by its president, J. Shiwoh Kamara.
The program was the Inaugural program. Installation of new corps of officers and celebratory ball. McGill was invited as a special guest to launch the Union of Liberian Associations in The Americas (ULAA) development fund drive. The program was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 26.
“When ULAA is in the budget,” the Minister of State continued, “that is the best place for you to be. I think we should celebrate — for the first time in the history of ULAA, ULAA will now be in the National Budget.
“I will start with my personal contribution before I go to the government’s contribution. You know, two things we’re going to do here — we are going to make a personal contribution and I will make a membership contribution. The reason why I want to make a membership contribution is because I do not want to leave the government first before I make myself a member of ULAA. I want to start being a member of ULAA while I am still in the government; so when I leave, it will just make it easy and I will start making my contribution to the Pennsylvania branch. And I will do a similar thing on behalf of the Minister of Finance, Samuel Tweah, who will join from Atlanta.
“So I will start with a personal contribution as a membership drive of US$2,500. And another US$2,500 as the membership due for the Minister of Finance. And I will make a contribution of US$5,000 as my personal contribution towards tonight’s fundraiser. And I will pledge the same amount on behalf of the Minister of Finance, who has authorized me to do so. So for both [of us] that’s US$15,000 right there.
The ULAA is the umbrella organization of Liberians and their respective associations in various Liberian communities in the Americas. ULAA is a voluntary, nonprofit, and non‐governmental organization and was formed on July 4, 1974, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
And nearly every line from Minister McGill was followed by loud bursts of elation from parts of the audience. “The Government's own will be last because when I raise the Government’s own, somebody will go below,” he said.
McGill then called on other government officials, who formed part of his delegation, to make their contributions. First up was Gender Minister Piso Saydee-Tarr, who pledged US$1,000; followed by the CEO of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), Attorney Siafuah-Mai Gray, who pledged US$2,000.
“The President told me we have to raise a minimum of US$100,000,” McGill disclosed. After the NOCAL president made her pledge, McGill interjected: “All the government officials who [are] making pledges here, I am responsible to collect their money. So you don’t have to worry about money business.”
Mr. Wendell McIntosh, standard-bearer of the Change Democratic Action party, pledged US$1,500. Stanton Witherspoon, president of Spoon Network, pledged US$5,000. A representative from the Liberian Business Association pledged US$500 for LIBA and pledged an additional US$1,000 on behalf of his own enterprise.
And as Chief Launcher McGill scanned the audience, looking for prominent and familiar faces to invite to the podium to make their pledges, barely had he called for “any former Finance Ministers”, did one show up right in front of him. It was M. Nathaniel Barnes, Former Finance Minister under the Charles Taylor administration and former Ambassador to Washington D.C. under the Sirleaf administration. At the podium, Barners introduced himself as a presidential aspirant.
“I would like to take His Excellency up on an offer to make constructive criticism of our government before I make my personal pledge,” Amb. Barnes began. “Given the fact that our country is among the poorest in the world, I take exception — respectful exception, Excellency — that the Government of Liberia will offer to underwrite or make a donation to ULAA, which is an independent organization. More importantly, based on what I heard the new [ULAA] president say, ULAA is supposed to be providing assistance to Liberia. So why would our government provide financial support to ULAA, who has over the past provided through remittances from the Diaspora, better than half a billion dollars annually?”
Barnes added: “So I respectfully suggest that you, as an official of our government, reconsider. Maybe, instead of making a donation to ULAA, you might perhaps build a couple of more schools in Liberia — with all due respect, sir. Now, having said that, I hope it will be received in the spirit in which it was given. I, as a private citizen, a servant of my country and my people, on behalf of my family, will donate a thousand dollars. Thank you very much, sir.”
Barnes extended a handshake that took McGill several seconds to accept, which he eventually did.
In response, Minister McGill thanked Amb. Barnes for his remarks and his donation, then turned to the newly installed ULAA president, J. Shiwoh Kamara, and said: “Mr. President, when you spoke, maybe I didn’t listen very well. One of the reasons why you invited the government, the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, to come and launch your membership drive, is because as an institution, you want government support. I listened to your speech. You said you will engage the government of the United States and the Government of Liberia to support your [programs].
By this time there was a lot of murmuring in the audience. But a lady took the microphone and said: “I stand to be corrected, but I think the United States government does support private organizations that can improve the lives of the people.”
“Just because of that,” said McGill, who had now regained control of the mic, “next year's budget we will put US$300,000 in the budget for ULAA. Three hundred thousand [United States] dollars in the budget next year for ULAA,” he repeated. “And as they perform, we will continue to increase the budget.”
Another ULAA member, representing Ducor Liberia Investments, who pledged another US$1,000, used his turn at the mic to respond to what he thought Amb. Barnes meant.
“Sometimes, politics has to end at the water’s edge. ULAA is not an opposition party in exile. It is about time that we, as members of ULAA, begin to position ourselves as partners, because the future of Liberia is all of our responsibility. And what we are here to do is to promote this august body,” the Decor representative added.
McGill took another cue from this and said: “ULAA is not an opposition party. ULAA belongs to all Liberians. If you are from Unity Party, if you’re from CDC, you’re from ALP… put your party business outside and come do ULAA business here.”
“When we come here, we come here for ULAA business, we don’t come here for political party business. ULAA da Government of Liberia in the Diaspora. ULAA is responsible to protect all Liberians irrespective of political beliefs or their religious beliefs. So we are not doing politics here. If you have US$1,000 to give to ULAA, we tell God ‘thank you’,” Min.McGill noted.