The leadership of the Liberia Media Center has over the past weeks, held three Legislative engagements in Monrovia aimed at getting buy-in from members of the 54th Legislature for the passage of the County Social Development Fund (CSDF) Stand Alone Bill, a release has said.
The Stand Alone Bill is currently in committee room for vetting at the Legislature.
The engagements, according to the release, were organized by the Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP), a member of the Natural Resources Management Coalition (NRMC). The gatherings brought together lawmakers, civil society actors, youth and women from Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Gbarpolu Counties.
At the dialogues held Wednesday, March 20, 2019, (Grand Cape Mount Engagement), and Friday, March 22, 2019 (Gbarpolu and Bomi Engagements), RHRAP program officers and county coordinators presented findings and recommendations from field assessments held in the three counties to each county legislative caucus.
The findings from the three counties generally revealed that citizens were not happy about the lack of transparency in administering the CSDF. The concerns raised by the citizens included: a majority of the people are not involved in how projects are created and funds handled; the existence of many unfinished projects; favoritism in selecting delegates to county sittings; and the unequal distribution of the CSDF.
Based on the concerns raised in the assessments, one female participant at the Gbarpolu Engagement remarked, “projects are not decided by us, but by our lawmakers.”
The presentation of the concerns was followed by recommendations from the assessments, which were dissemination of county sittings in local languages before their holding; passing of the Stand Alone Law by legislators to promote accountability, and local control of CSDF; delegating county sittings should be done at all levels; and supporting and allowing the District Development Council (DDC) to facilitate or coordinate district development planning at the local levels.
Some of the lawmakers attended the engagements for the three counties. Other participants were the chiefs of office staff of absent lawmakers.
In response to the presentation of findings from Grand Cape Mount, Representative Bob Sheriff of District #1, who was the only lawmaker from the county at the occasion, lauded the initiative.
He acknowledged that “some of the challenges raised by the residents are true;” and committed himself “to ensure the timely passage of the Stand Alone Bill to foster development in my county and country at large.”
For Gbarpolu County, the Co-Chair of its Legislative Caucus, Representative Joseph Matthews of District #3, also the only county lawmaker present, referenced one of the county sittings adding that the occasion “was a worthy engagement, seeing citizens free to express themselves about the subject matter.”
Matthews then hailed RHRAP’s initiative and noted, “I see the need for women participation at county sittings. They should be represented by at least 40%, and not 25%. I will support this bill and lobby with my colleagues to ensure the passage. It will help us as lawmakers to maintain our oversight responsibility and hold people accountable.”
Bomi County single lawmaker, Senator Morris Saytumah, Chair of the county Legislative Caucus in the forum received the findings; expressed appreciation for the efforts; and suggested that a working group be set up to work along with the Bomi Legislative Caucus to deal with the recommendations in the findings.
For about three years, the Liberia Accountability and Voice initiative (LAVI) with funding from USAID has been working with a group of eight national civil society organizations under the NRMC to foster transparency and accountability, specifically in the natural resource sector.
The NRMC comprises the Liberia Media Center (LMC), Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Platform for Development and Peace (P4DP), Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD), National Youth Movement for Transparent Elections (NAYMOTE), Development Education Network-Liberia (DEN-L), RHRAP and Partnership for Sustainable Development (PSD).
Though the CSDF has some government funding, it also includes money generated from the natural resource sector in the various counties. But there have been series of challenges and concerns about the poor management of the funds and projects under the CSDF. Against this background, the NRM Coalition made some recommendations to the national government. As a result of these recommendations, Section 9 of the 2018/2019 National Budget Law was amended.
But considering the importance of an exclusive law that will speak to the regulations of the CSDF, the NRMC believes a CSDF Stand Alone Bill exclusive of the National Budget Law will help mitigate some of the challenges presently associated with administering the CSDF.