– In Stand-Alone CSDF Law
Eight implementing Liberian civil society organizations (CSOs) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative (LAVI) have launched a singular advocacy, urging the government to establish an Escrow Account for all funds pertaining to the County Social Development Fund (CSDF) in order to encourage access to funds and promote infrastructure development in the 15 counties.
The CSOs want all funds allocated in the budget to be sent directly to the National County Social Development Funds, in the tune of US$3m (US$200,000 for each county), and any other fund collected in the name and on behalf of the county, directly or indirectly, must be in the Escrow Account.
The USAID-funded LAVI partners also want members of the House of Representatives and the Senate not to chair the CSDF sittings, so as to avoid political influence and encourage increased citizens’ participation in economic and fiscal decision-making.
Mr. Harold Aidoo, the Executive Director of the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD) on behalf of LAVI’s partners, told journalists and other partners over the weekend during a one-day media engagement that the CSOs will be submitting to the Legislature for approval a Stand-Alone proposed law, which will include the eight CSOs’ proposals on the Escrow Account, and the prohibition of lawmakers to be CSDF sittings chairman and other issues.
The draft law will be known as the “County Social Development Fund of 2019.”
The other seven LAVI’s partners include the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Liberia Media Center (LMC), Citizens United to Promote Peace & Democracy in Liberia (CUPPADL), Development Education Network-Liberia (DEN-Liberia), Platform for Dialogue and Peace (P4DP), Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP) and NAYMOTE.
The Act intends to affirm the government’s commitment to ensure citizens’ participation in the management of the National County Social Development Fund (CSDF) and to ensure that funds allocated to counties are properly managed, accounted for, and applied in accordance with the County Development Plan.
The Act also aims to ensure full participation of local inhabitants in planning, development, and implementation, to minimize direct political influence and to ensure value for public funds allotted to the counties as CSDF.
The law also followed reports of lack of access to funds; for example, Nimba County District #8 lawmaker Rep. Larry Younquoi reported through the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning that the government owes Nimba County over US$4m from the CSDF, while Margibi County District #2 Representative Ivar K. Jones also revealed that since 2014, Margibi has not had CSDF sitting until November 2018.
According to the new CSDF law, the CSOs are suggesting that allocation, disbursement, and utilization of the said CSDF in the Escrow Account, if set up, should be determined and expressed in a Resolution of, and by, the County Council.
“The County Development Account of each county is subject to all banking regulations and financial audits as provided for by Law. The authorized signatures on each county account shall be as follows: A1: The County Assistant Superintendent for Financial or Fiscal Management; A2: the County Superintendent; B1: the Project Management Committee Chairpersons and B2: the Project Management Committee Treasurer,” the Act said.
Meanwhile, the eight implementing partners of the USAID-funded LAVI’s partners are members of the Natural Resource Management (NRM) through USAID-funded LAVI and its partners to advocate for and monitor policy and accountability reforms for the CSDF in the country.
The CSOs, in their report, dubbed the Political Economy Analysis (PEA), the coalition of the eight CSOs said the underlying causes for CSDF challenges include corruption and political infighting, poor planning and oversight; weak institutions, especially at the local level, and poor collaboration, communication and coordination among government and civil society actors.
“Corruption, political infighting and weak institutions are deeply ingrained in Liberian governance and could require decades to improve,” the report said.