After nearly four years of advocacy by civil society groups under the umbrella of the Natural Resources Management (NRM) coalition, the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF) standalone bill. The bill, according to a release, has been sent to the Senate for review and action.
The bill seeks to provide greater accountability and transparency of the CSDF, a combination of funds that come from the national government and fees paid by concession companies extracting natural resources from local communities.
Some of the major companies that pay concession fees to government for resources extracted from the counties include ArcelorMittal (operates in Bong, Montserrado, Grand Bassa, and Nimba), China Union and M&G Gold in Bong County.
The proposed bill calls for the creation of an escrow account at local banks, so that the communities can have more control over the fees paid by concession companies for operating in the county; the three-member Project Management Committee (PMC) must be elected every three years; women must make up 25 percent of delegates to the County Sitting; Civil Society Organizations must monitor the County Sitting; Removal of PMC members must require a simple majority of County Sitting delegates; counties must submit financial report on how they spent previous funds; and county sittings shall be now be presided over by one of the delegates who shall be elected at the beginning of the sitting.
The NRM, a coalition of eight civil society organizations, has been working on CSDF reform since 2016. The coalition engaged legislators and citizens in Liberia’s 15 counties on the impact and challenges of the CSDF. During those engagements, citizens pushed for greater participation on the development of projects and more transparency and accountability.
In response to citizens’ concerns, the Legislature amended the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 National Budget Law and promised to continue working on the proposed standalone CSDF bill.
The bill was sponsored by Hon. Larry Nyanquoi (District 8, Nimba County), Francis Saidy Dopoh II, (District 3, River Gee County) and Edward Karfiah, (District 5, Bong County. Twenty-two representatives co-sponsored the bill, making it one of the most popular bills in the legislature, said Representative Dopoh.
“The key point of the bill is to ensure that the social development funds of the counties are not used by the central government as the case is,’’ Dopoh said. “We want all monies from the counties to be placed in an escrow account under the watch of the Legislative Caucuses. We are optimistic that the Senate will concur enthusiastically because this is the best thing to do.’’
Rep. Larry Yonquoi, the bill’s sponsor, has said that the amendments to the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 Budget law signaled that there is political will to pass the standalone CSDF bill.
Legislators who support the CSDF law say the NRM advocacy supported by USAID Liberia Accountability Voice Initiative (LAVI) was instrumental in the passage of the bill.
“The different talk shows and other engagements enlightened citizens about what they are entitled to, so they are putting pressure on these companies,’’ Yonquoi said.
The passage of the CSDF bill by the House of Representatives is a milestone for CSOs advocacy and a victory for communities nationwide, said Harold Aidoo, executive director of the Institute for Research & Democratic Development (IREDD), one of the NRM coalition members.
The bill addresses some of the governance challenges, especially fund management and implementation, that has plagued the initiative since it was introduced in 2007, he said.
“When passed by the senate and signed into law, the bill will grant CSOs greater role to monitor the funds management and project implementation,’’ Aidoo said. “The bill now provides a mechanism to address the challenge of counties accessing their social development fund money from companies through an escrow account while at the same time strengthening transparency and accountability systems.’’
The NRM Coalition is a combination of eight CSOs established in 2016 with support from USAID Liberia Accountability Voice Initiative (LAVI) to advocate reforms in the management of the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF). Members are: Liberia Media Center (LMC), Partner for Democratic Platform (P4DP), Institute for Research & Democratic Development (IREDD), Partnership for Sustainable Development (PaSD) Development Education Network Liberia (DEN-L), Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP) and NAYMOTE.