— Want proponents redo approach
Members of the Joint Committee of the House of Representatives, scrutinizing the Act to establish the National County Social Development Fund (CSDF) or ‘Stand Alone Law,’ have expressed its displeasure about the Draft Law, which seeks to minimize the involvement of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Representative Thomas P. Fallah informed representatives from the three Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) as well as those representing the USAID-sponsored Liberia Accountability Voice Initiative (LAVI) in the first public hearing of the 2019 CSDF Law on Friday, March 8, that the draft law hunts to lessen the political involvement of the lawmakers, who have the constitutional mandate to make laws, including the appropriation of funds in the budget. This made the fiscal budget a political instrument, including lined times, such as the County Development Fund (CDF).
“As chairman of the Joint Committee, I am not convinced, for instance, the law is minimizing political involvement. We need more time for consultations, because the law needs broader participation,” Rep. Fallah said.
The stipulation of the CDF for each county is US$200,000 in the fiscal budget, and the Social Development Fund (SDF) involves payments emanating from concession agreements.
The CSDF Law is designed to avoid political influence, and encourage citizens participation in economic and fiscal decision-making.
Rep. Fallah is the chairman on the Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning Committee of the House, and also the chairman of the Montserrado County Legislative Caucus, representing the county District #5 at the Legislature.
Prior to making a concluding statement, the acting presiding officer of the Joint Committee, Nimba County District #1 Representative Jeremiah Koung, said the CSDF Law does not have a mechanism in any of the sections, “even when the law is passed, it will not refrain the Executive from using county money deposited in their respective escrow accounts.
“There is nothing in here that is saying something or really protecting county money that supposed to be protected in the escrow account. There are lot to be done, so we need to be convinced that if we pass this law, it will not back fire,” Koung said. He co-chairs the Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning at the Lower House.
The House chairman on Judiciary and co-chairman to the Joint Committee, Representative J. Fonati Koffa, said the CSDF should take into consideration political priorities, and must not conflict with existing laws.
Sinoe County Lawmaker Matthew Zarzar, buttressed Koffa’s position, saying it should tackle lapses. Rep. Koffa the people of Sinoe County Electoral District #2 in the legislature.
Representative Francis Dopoh of River Gee County District #3, argued that though the law seemed good to be a Stand Alone, expressed the fear of creating conflict against the already approved Local Governance Act.
Lofa County District #5 Representative Beyan Howard frowned on the CSDF being given exclusive right to women to form part of the County Sittings, saying that most of the laws ignored physically challenged women.
Nimba County District #8 Representative and sponsor of the bill, Larry P. Younquoi and Montserrado County District #2 Representative Jimmy Smith pledged their support to the bill.
Harold Aidoo, executive director of the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD), who expressed support for the passage of the CSDF Law, said the law is a revolution for Liberians, “because for the first time in 160 years, Liberians are deciding what to be constructing.”
Aidoo said the bill, if approved, will ensure the effectiveness in the utilization of the CDF, and the Social SDF, which are jointly known as the CSDF.
Meawhile, House Plenary voted to send CSDF’s Stand Alone Law to the Joint Committee on Judiciary and Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning for “critical review, and will thereafter report to Plenary within two weeks.”
“We want the House to expeditiously pass the document into law to enable the desired impact of the CSDF dawn on Liberians lives as was initially envisaged,” Mr. Aidoo said.
Augustus Zayzay of LAVI, informed the lawmakers that the CSDF Law will promote accountability, women participation, CSOs representation, and monitoring roles, guidelines as well as strengthen Legislative oversight.
In separate statements, Sampson Williams, National Program Assistant of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), and Lorma Baysah, executive director of the Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP), said their organizations were part of the advocacy and the investigation, which showed that most Liberians want the CSDF amended as a “Stand Alone Law.”
According to the CSDF Law, the foremost standing amendment in the CSDF’s Stand Alone Law, is that “all funds allocated in the budget directly to a county as National County Social Social Development Funds (NCSDF), and any other funds collected in the name and on behalf of the county, directly or indirectly, shall first be transferred to an Escrow Account.
The chief advocacy of accountability of the CSDF is the USAID-funded project, LAVI. LAVI has recruited eight CSOs as partners to advocate for and monitor policy and accountability reforms for the CSDF. The CSOs include: IREDD, Sustainable Development Institute, Liberia Media Center (LMC), Citizens United to Promote Peace and Democracy in Liberia (CUPPADL), Development Education Network-Liberia (DEN-L), Platform for Dialogue and Peace (P4DP), Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP) and NAYMOTE.
The eight implementing partners of the project are members of the Natural Resource Management.