Delegates express frustration, disappointment
After about three or more years without meeting in a County Sitting, Nimba County finally held its County Sitting, which ended on a sour note with scores of people expressing frustration and disappointment in the election process that saw another group of people on the Project Management Committee (PMC).
The County Sitting is an assembly of representatives of various constituencies at district and clan levels to discuss and reach a consensus as to what to prioritize in terms of development in the use of county and social development funds. The Project Management Committee (PMC) is that body comprising the Chairman, Treasurer, and Comptroller, which implement projects that are agreed on by delegates of the County Siting with the consent of the county legislative caucus and the county authorities.
Recently the Government of Liberia made available not less than US$1.55 million to Nimba’s account as a part-payment of approximately US$6 million that the government owes the county in social development fund provided by ArcelorMittal Liberia. The government provided this amount to Nimba after District #5 Representative, Samuel Kogar, raised the issue in plenary, stressing that the government was stalling development in the county by not paying the social development funds due the county. He had threatened to take legal action against the government for depriving Nimba of its share of the social development funds.
The provision of said amount, therefore, facilitated the county sitting, following three years of the absence of such stakeholder’s meeting.
This year’s county sitting, however, seems not to have gone well, especially as regards the election of members of the strategic PMC. Now, some eminent citizens, including some lawmakers, are planning to take the case forward to the Supreme Court for redress.
The discontentment of some lawmakers and citizens began when, instead of using secret ballot voting for the PMC members, the vote was conducted by head counting; something the aggrieved party claim would intimidate and coerce the voters to vote for candidates of interest to Senator Prince Johnson, whose influence notoriously overshadows political activities in the county.
According to our correspondent, while most of the citizens were expecting vote casting to be done secretly, to avoid any form of intimidation from any of the lawmakers or to give the voters the chance to express their franchise freely, the delegates and all those in attendance were shocked when the election was held hurriedly through head-count and without candidates introducing themselves; thereby giving victory to the candidates favored by Senator Prince Johnson and Representatives Roger Domah of electoral district #7 and Gonpue Kargon of district #5.
The election was conducted by Senator Johnson who abruptly called on the candidates to come out before the delegates and ordered the delegate to raise their hands to vote for the candidates of choice to occupy the Chairman, Treasurer and Comptroller positions on the PMC.
The aggrieved parties contend that conditions under which the election was conducted do not manifest the true essence of democracy, but were autocratically influenced by Senator Johnson who supervised and conducted the election, and who most people fear of him spotting them as not being in his favor.
“In every election there should be a winner, but the way the election was conducted, we were not given the chance to speak to delegates like it was done in the past PMC elections,” said Mr. Osundu Gompa Dahn, one of contestants of the chairmanship position and also a former comptroller of the PMC.
“While in office preparing my report, I was called that the election was about to start, but before I got there, the election of the PMC chair was already done and finished,” he added.
From the beginning of the County Sitting, rumors had circulated that the election would be manipulated by Senator Prince Johnson in favor of Harry Yenamee, who is one of his office staff, who contested and won the PMC chairman position.
In order for the election to be free, fair, transparent and void of coercion and intimidation, three members of the 54th Nimba Legislative Caucus, including Rep. Larry Younquoi, Rep. Prince Tokpah and Rep. Kogar had called for a secret ballot, where the delegates would be allow to cast their votes independently.
According to them, if head count as was done, some chiefs who will refused to vote for Senator Johnson’s choice candidates, would be placed on a blacklist by the Nimba political godfather and their jobs would be threatened.
Representative Prince Tokpah said: “Don’t vote under the influence of another person; the election of the new corps of officers for the PMC should be done under a secret ballot for the sake of transparency.”
Quoting article 56 of the Liberian Constitution, Rep. Larry Younquoi said election of chiefs, city mayors and others is supposed to be done through a secret ballot. Therefore the PMC election should also be done in the same way.
Senator Prince Y. Johnson, in his opening statement as Chairman of the Caucus and Chairman of the County Sitting, said the importance of the PMC election before was not known to him, but as the case was now, he was anxious to remain in the county sitting until everything is over.
“Looking at the importance of the PMC election, I am going to be here until everything is over and no distraction will take me away to boycott the meeting, like I have been doing.”
His statement, according to observers and delegates, threw some dark cloud over the PMC election process, with his critics accusing him of trying to manipulate the process.
On the agenda, former officials of the PMC were to make their reports after lawmakers were through with their remarks, but while they were getting ready, Sen. Johnson, who was chairing the county sitting, called for an adjournment of the meeting on August 21, 2020.
On the next day, delegates were expecting reports from line ministries and major institutions including Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, ArcelorMittal Liberia, Jackson Fiah Doe Memorial Hospital, Nimba College University, and Jungle Water Group of Investment, followed by the election.
The County Sitting did not start at 9 a.m. as was announced. It wasn’t until 2 p.m., when Senator Johnson and some lawmakers entered the hall, that the process began.
Meanwhile, the drama surrounding the PMC election in Sanniquellie last week led Rep. Younqoui, Rep. Kogar, and Rep. Tokpah to seek the court’s intervention to halt the process with a writ of injunction. However, while making their way to the Circuit Court, Senator Johnson and his collaborators hurriedly carried on the election by head count within 10 minutes, leaving many disappointed and frustrated.
However, the sitting concluded on Sunday, August 23, 2020, and those controversially elected were inducted into their respective offices to steer the affairs of the Nimba County for another three years.
Those elected include Mr. Harry Yeanamee (Senator Johnson’s office staff), PMC Chairman; Mr. Sam Ta-Kruah (Rep. Gonpue Kargon’s office staff), Treasurer; and Richard Nyengar (Rep. Roger Domah’s office staff) Comptroller respectively.
Representatives Younquoi, Kogar and Tokpah, as well as other citizens, are arguing that those who are already working in offices of lawmakers should give chance to others, more importantly, that the process should be done under secret ballots to curtail manipulation and intimidation.
Those who also contested but lost include Armstrong Gobah Selekpor and Gompa Osundu Dahn, contesting for the PMC chair; Gboe Mehngonzeh and Micheal Nuahn for treasurer, and Levi Zansi for comptroller.
According to the budget law, there should be election of PMC of officials, including the chairman, treasurer and comptroller, respectively, but did not clarify how that election should be conducted, whether by head-count or secret ballot.
In Nimba County, all the previous PMC officials were elected through head-count and some of them were elected on the merit of the same lawmakers with no bickering.