‘Devilish’

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Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

-Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf describes legislators (including some from her own party) during her 12-year administration

If you had ever thought that the high death rate is the only nightmare that has plagued or created dark cloud over the National Legislature, then, you might need to reconsider, as there seems to be a problem that is of more essence and worrisome. It is the problem of lawmakers apportioning huge salaries and perks for themselves, while the masses drown in abject poverty with basic necessities such as food, education, healthcare and others trickling down, at best.

And former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has described the tendency of lawmakers, especially those of the 52nd and 53rd National Legislatures, which spanned her twelve-year administration, as always seeking personal gains at the detriment of the people — “devilish”, she called it.

In a brief commentary first published originally in the Daily Maverick, a South Africa-based news outlet, Madam Sirleaf said Liberia had been seriously affected by corruption and dependency as a result of the 14-year civil war.

The commentary is titled: “Liberia: Lessons learnt after moving the poster child of death and destruction in the right direction.”

The former President accused the Legislature during her reign of not being supportive of the democratic process that would have ensured that much was done in good governance and economic growth—successes that would have had trigger down effects on the masses—as they (lawmakers) were mainly focused on retaining their own interests.

“My biggest surprise was how devilish they were, my own party included,” Madam said in the commentary, adding that her 12-year leadership in Liberia and the history that preceded her administration has made her to believe that the consistent application of governance can make a big difference and turn apparently hopeless cases around.

“I had wanted one term. But the things I wanted to complete were not finished at the end of that first term. Civil society was the key driver of democracy. The Legislature was not that supportive of the democratic process as they were mainly focused on retaining their own interests. My biggest surprise was how devilish they were, my own party included.”

The Senate had five Presidents Pro-tempore, while the House of Representatives had three Speakers during Madam Sirleaf’s 12-years administration. Those who served as Presidents Pro-Tempore were Senators Cletus Wortorson (Grand Kru), Isaac Nyenabo (Grand Gedeh); Gbehzongar Milton Findley (Grand Bassa), and Armah Zulu Jallah (Gbarpolu). The late former Bomi County Senator, Lahai Lasana, briefly acted as President Pro-tempore as well. 

The Speakers during her rule were Montserrado County District #6 Representative Edwin Melvin Snowe; Bomi County District #2 Representative, J. Alex Tyler; and Margibi District #3 Representative, J. Emmanuel Nuquay.

Efforts made by the Daily Observer to get responses from these former Legislative leaders since the publication of Madam Sirleaf’s commentary have yielded no fruits. Several emails sent to three former Speakers are yet to be responded to. Calls made to others were not answered. 

However, this is not the first time the former President has accused lawmakers of being “greedy” and always seeking self benefits at the detriment of the people.

She said in an interview while in the US in 2016 that lawmakers constantly ignore the dire needs of the country and its people while frequently setting high salaries and perks for themselves during budget appropriation periods. 

Justifying Huge Salaries and Perks

The lawmakers were also frequently criticized by the public over their huge salaries while neglecting the funding of basic necessities that would benefit the people. But the lawmakers have always defended their huge salaries with some saying that there was a need for addition. 

During a summer visit to the US in 2015, Representatives, Togba Mulbah and George Mulbah, both of Bong County, denied allegations that they made too much money while ordinary Liberians struggled daily to make ends meet.

Both of them told the Voice of America (VOA) that Liberian Legislators are “Victims of misinformation” and are being “demonized” because of their positions—also insinuating that Liberian lawmakers make very little compared to their colleagues in other neighboring countries.

“We make 14,000 Liberian Dollars as our basic salary. Then we have 2,000 United States Dollars as transportation allowance; then we have US$1,900. That is what comes to us directly in terms of physical cash. The rest of it goes towards other utilities that we use,” said Togba Mulbah at the time.

“We are victims, and I want you to underscore this. We are victims of circumstances. We are victims of misinformation. People squarely blame us for what we don’t have,” he said.

Togba Mulbah said Liberians find it easier to demonize their lawmakers by often accusing them of financial impropriety, even when there is no evidence.

George Mulbah said Liberian legislators make very little compared to their counterparts in other countries, especially Nigeria and Kenya, though he failed to provide comparative analyses on the economic strengths and vibrancy of those countries as compared to Liberia. 

Current Vice President, Jewel Howard Taylor, while serving as Senator of Bong County, defended the high salaries of Lawmakers—even calling for further increment.

Speaking as vice standard bearer at a Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) rally in the US in 2017, Taylor said Senators in Liberia were earning US$10,000 as monthly salary and US$2,000 for fueling their vehicles.

She said the amount is not enough because lawmakers often take up paying school fees, hospital bills, house rent, and undertaking funeral rites for their constituents—adding that the US$2,000 worth of fuel was not enough to support even three trips to her county.

While Ellen accuses the lawmakers of sucking the blood out of Liberia during her reign, her critics say she is the real devil while the lawmakers are her disciples or adherents. 

A 2016 Moore Stevens report discovered that the Legislature signed over 66 bogus concessions with multilateral companies, a revelation that received a barrage of criticisms from the public. And it was the President who affixed her signature to the bogus concessions, not making it legitimate and binding on the state but authorizing their operations. 

Veteran Liberian journalist, Jerry Wehtee Wion, who is based in the US, described Madam Sirleaf in a commentary as a liar—further referring to her as a master of schemes and scams.

“Only 2 out of the 68 concession agreements you Ellen bragged about were deemed good for the country, according to Global Witness. You are a liar, Madam.”

“You lied that you attracted $20 billion worth of foreign investments to Liberia, schemes and scams you perpetrated on our gullible people to drive them from their ancestral lands simply to plant palm trees for palm oil as your “foreign investments.”

Despite the infusion of millions of dollars into Liberia from Liberia’s international partners during and after Ebola, journalist Wion said the healthcare system the former President left behind is still not “worth to treat one’s dog.”

“Thus, you never had your blood pressure checked at any public medical center in Liberia while you were in power for 12 years. Instead, you ran to America each time for your annual medical care paid for with our tax dollars,” he said. 

At the mercy of Greedy Elites

Former Finance Minister, Amara Konneh, was nearly sent to jail by outraged lawmakers who said he had usurped their constitutional authority to decide tax and spending. This happened when the Minister was trying to balance the books after the devastating Ebola virus that practically brought the country to its knees and the economy totally ravaged.

The saga began with a letter in which Mr Konneh’s office pointed out to Senators that spending could not go on as before. The reasons were obvious. Liberia’s economy had been hit by twin shocks: First, the 2014 calamitous Ebola outbreak, which killed thousands of people and brought foreign investment to a halt, and the drastic drop in the global market prices of the nation’s prime commodities, iron ore and rubber.

As a result, it was projected at the time that the country would have a revenue shortfall of about US$70 million in its US$622 million budget and Mr. Konneh was asking the Legislature to trim its own budget by about 10 percent; part of across-the-board cuts he was imposing on all but non-essential items. It was when the Senators ordered his arrest on charges of contempt—a situation that the Supreme Court had to intervene in with a stay order.

It was no secret that behind the almost comical posturing laid a serious issue, the tendency of the elites to bask in wealth at the detriment of the suffering masses.

The running costs of the Legislature soak up more than 10 percent of the national budget.

Being one of the poorest states in the world with average income per capita of US$469, Liberia was paying lawmakers US$13,000 a month, not counting generous allowances for housing, petrol and other emoluments.

Grand Gedeh Senator, Alphonso Gaye, said in an interview that their compensation was modest compared to places such as Nigeria and Kenya. “When I visit my home I’m overwhelmed with requests for money. One will say the village hand-pump is broken, another will say that he needs help with school fees or medical costs or money for his roof.”

“These are the things they demand of lawmakers. You need some cash. Your respect in this country depends on your capacity to respond to people’s demands.” Mr. Gaye, whose defense had a ring of truth, said.

A 2015 study of public sector wage bills by the World Bank found that countries in sub-Saharan Africa spend almost 30 per cent of government revenue on public sector wages, nearly double the average in higher-income states. Yet public services, including schools and hospitals, are mostly dire.

The findings support the view that poor countries suffer from what economists call “extractive” institutions, which are poor at providing public goods but adept at enabling governing elites to extract income.

Senator Gaye’s points were also echoed by Nimba County Senator and notorious warlord Prince Johnson.

He said legislators were not overpaid, adding that some colleagues go practically bankrupt dishing out money to hangers-on. “The first law of nature is self-preservation. I have to survive before I can help someone else. I cannot be a Senator in this country and live in a zinc shack. I’m a big man. I’ve got to live big,” PYJ said in an exclusive interview with an international journalist.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Ellen needs to shut up! Who created these humongous salary structures for these so-called legislatures? Wasn’t it Ellen who, for the first time in the history of Liberia, rose the salaries of lawmakers to surpass those of lawmakers in wealthy western countries?

    She created this cancerous nightmare that the country will now have to reckon with for generations to come. She was a failed leader. She needs to keep her mouth zipped.

    I don’t know what sort of economics she studied in school that seems to belie all economic philosophies—-to pay people who sit and whine and bicker all day long huge salaries in an oasis of poverty was one the greatest political blunders that even his avow nemesis, Sergeant Doe, whom she fought to remove never thought it as a wise idea. The current salary structures of legislature are a subtle fulmination of violent conflict on the horizon.

    Regrettably, George Weah sees Ellen as her corrupt mentor whom he borrowed most of the corrupt tactics he is applying now. He boasts: “Ellen bought houses abroad; I am building mine in the motherland.”

    • Good morning my dear brother and friend Mr Jackson Neal. I will want to respectfully disagree with you when you say that former president was the one who gives those huge salaries to the lawmakers. Note that lawmakers are the ones responsible to decide which salaries should be given to president, vice president and other officials of the Liberian government and not t the other way around as you are narrating it.

      • Legislatures make salaries structure? Say that to a non-Liberian who has never lived in Liberia. The executive branch is a source of political power. It usurps and arbitrates the power of the two branches. It controls the finances and thus decides how to ration power in its best interest.

        When Ellen took power, she had so many debtors she had borrowed money to run her campaign for the presidency. She sent Harry Greaves, for example, to LPRC to reap funds and pay the Nigerian business man that Dew Mayson credited money from to run her ( Ellen) campaign. Greaves headed LPRC and raked several million dollars paying the business man and also siphoning funds in the tone of millions all in the name of paying the businessman.

        This move by Greaves got Robert Sirleaf and his mom, Ellen, angry to remove Greaves from LPRC, using the audit report as an excuse for their action.

        Under Ellen, legislatures received $1000.00 United States dollars each in BROWN ENVELOPES every other Friday, aside from the humungous salaries they were receiving every month. Did you not hear the phrase the “Oldma brown envelop coming!.”

        She has no moral compass to be critiquing others. She set this very collision course that the nation is sailing on–where legislative jobs are now a veritable goldmines.

  2. My .Pepo, my Fellow Revolutionaires, you have the power in your hands to change your destiny, with your vote on December 8th. Vote the right people into office, be they partisans or Independent.
    Our #PoliticalRevolution
    9 yrs + in that seat with no significant change in your life, not even pipe borne, running water, Clean Drinking Water for you and your family. Electricity paid for by the International Community and you are still in darkness. God will not do for you, what He has given you the power to do for yourself. Vote for your future and that of generations to come. Change must begin on December 8th.

  3. Thank you, Joan,!

    Our people neglect their power, they dash it out free of charge and later come ranting and whining around people’s ears.
    Stop voting for people because when s/he is a senator, they will buy you bags of rice, buy some nasty clothing for you, etc. Liberians, we like to identify with rogues and killers; we have real love for criminals.

    Look, let’s assume our senators are even paid $20,000 per month, it’s still not sufficient my people. Stop ranting about it!

    You have the power come December 8 to vote people who deserve to represent you. Senators and Representatives do more for the state then the president of the Republic. Senators are people who will always be in foreign capitals working in the interests of their country. The illiterate asses you people vote in Liberia do not do any lobbying for Liberia, and so you think they are well paid.

    Stop voting unproductive people and bunch of criminals. If we had had patriotic lawmakers voted, Ellen was NEVER going to have an easy ride to spew what she is saying around here. There is a beginning to everything; start the change this December 8.

    No more war in Liberia!

  4. Like they say in America….
    “Say that again brother Jackson Neal”. Some will even go on to say “Jackson Neal, say it louder or speak directly to the mic”.

    Johnson-Sirleaf knew darn well that:
    Public school students didn’t have enough textbooks. But she elevated the salaries of lawmakers and cabinet ministers to an unprecedented level. Because of those high salaries, today’s governmental payroll cannot be meant.

    Furthermore, as a consequence of mismanagement of the country’s meager financial resources by Johnson-Sirleaf, the lawmakers have become lazy, physically disfigured (because they chew 100lb bags of rice every week) and completely out of this world! Just go to the world of Ghana, and they’ll be there in order to pull a tooth. Of course, Weah has his own fault. But the problems that exist in Liberia were there before Weah got on board.

    Devilish? Please!

    • You are doing well my brother to correct your grammar. I never edit what I write because I am interested getting my idea across. I am never perturbed by my afterword grammatical errors. After all, these exchanges are more like text messaging to me. It is never a place to write any serious essay.

  5. She did not do anything about it for twelve years. No executive orders, nothing. Now she is crying wolf! Wow, LIB, no surprise here at all!

  6. Some are not religious, yet as Christians, keep the Satan far away (miles not feet) from me. Reason being that God also created Satan.

  7. Gone too to swallow my fufu and bush meat pepper soup. My first time laughing like this. aaa…000h….oooo….. Tell Liberians.

  8. Ellen can portray herself as a glass house she is responsible for the nightmare Liberia is going through. She wanted to cover her black hands so she single handedly picked an idiot and handed the country to him to cover her up. She shouldn’t add salt to injury.

  9. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, aren’t you ashamed of yourself talking all of this rubbish. “The 52&53 legislature was devilish, apportioning huge salaries to themselves”, but you were the president who signed these huge salaries into law, you’re not even mentioning the incompetent cabinet that you paid huge salaries to.
    You go around claiming to be a Harvard economist, but could not repair a burnt out floor of the executive mansion for 12 years, but spent millions of tax payers money on its repair, yet it is still standing there in ruins, and you want to shift blames for the rampant corruption under your watch?
    You ruled Liberia like it was your private plantation, and want to shift blames for the mess you made for 12 years?
    Pray God you pass on to the great beyond, before an economic and war crimes court is ever established in Liberia, cause we will prosecute you for the mayhem you brought to our country, You will end up dying in jail for your wicked ways.
    Do you think that the Liberian people don’t know that you and your immediate family stole the people’s money, and invested it all around the world? For the fact that you were afraid that your vice president would have audited you, you did all you could do in your wicked ways to make sure that you would install an inept, and incompetent government to state power after you. You’re now seeing how stupid that idea was, and has backfired and your friends around the world are laughing at you now, you’re trying to find a scapegoat for your failures for 12 years of missed opportunities, but you will go down
    in history as the architect of the mayhem that destroyed Liberia.
    You are the same lady that told jailed former president Charles Ghankay Taylor to destroy the executive mansion, and you would rebuild it, but failed for 12 years to repair a burnt out floor of the same executive mansion.
    Finally, you know what Madam president? You just need to shut up your lousy mouth from Liberia’s problems.

    Tolo Bonah Corfah

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