-For combining Senate elections with referendum
Montserrado County senatorial aspirant, Bernard Benson, Jr., has sharply frowned on the National Elections Commission (NEC) and government’s decision to combine the national referendum with the Special Senatorial Election.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer recently, Benson, popularly known as “DJ Blue”, said the decision from the government to the NEC to concomitantly conduct the senatorial mid-term election and the national referendum is wrong and may not lead to independent and well-informed voters’ decisions.
“I think the referendum should have been exclusive of other elections and a different constitutional process. I say so to mean that a referendum is set aside to help amend the Constitution and, as such, there is a need for adequate civic awareness,” DJ Blue said.
According to him, there has not been enough education across the country among the voting population on the propositions considered for the referendum and said action or inaction will rob many people of their consciousness to know why or why not they should vote yes or no for each of the propositions.
He said the Legislature, which is the first branch of government, should have appropriately advised the Executive branch of government (headed by the President) to allow the Special Senatorial election to be held alone in this time of voting.
“This is why I am blaming the government. And sadly, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has not also advised the government against holding the two voting processes at the same time and on the same date,” he said.
Although Benson argues against the conduct of the referendum on the same date as the Senate election; he, however, supports the idea that tenures of all elected officials, including the President, should be reduced.
“I wish the tenure for President and Vice President is put at four years instead of the five years. The fewer amount of time people have to work, I believe, the more efforts they will apply to deliver on their campaign promises,” he noted.
Benson further noted that Senators should have five or six years, while Representatives have four years as the President, to work.
Until there is an amendment, the 1986 Revised Constitution of the Republic of Liberia mandates a six-year term for the President, Vice President, and members of the House of Representatives while Senators have a nine-year term.
As a proposition, President George Weah and his supporters are campaigning that the tenure for President and Vice President, and Representatives should be taken from six to five years, while Senators get seven years instead of nine years tenure.
On dual citizenship, DJ Blue said he welcomes the idea that Liberians living abroad, who have become naturalized citizens of their host countries, should not be denied of their Liberian citizenship which is naturally their gift from God.
“Why should we feel so comfortable wanting to become American citizens or citizens of other developed and improved countries, but we hate the idea that they should become citizens of our country? It sounds not pleasing to my ears because the world is a global village and development can only come when we welcome and appreciate diversity,” he expressed support to Dual Citizenship.
Benson referenced Ghana and many other African countries who are fast developing because they have allowed other nationals to become citizens and their own properties.
Having said all of his thoughts about the referendum, DJ Blue said he is not interested in campaigning for or against any of the propositions as there is not sufficient time for any message to resonate with the voters.
As the proprietor of HOT FM, a twenty-four-hour entertainment-based radio station, Benson said Liberia is lagging behind because tourism has been ignored, even though it is the most viable medium of improving economies and expanding the employment circle in any country.
“It is not about how soon we can get money for ourselves. This is the wrong perception of our Legislators and the rest of our national leaders. We need short, medium, or long term plans in order to attract investment in the tourism industry. This will change the narrative and increase in huge amount our national fiscal budget,” he said.
Benson added that Liberia has more tourist destinations in Africa than any other country, and taking advantage of the available spaces to invest in tourism will fast track national development including road connectivity, provision of electricity, and safe drinking water.
“When Lake Piso in Cape Mount County, for instance, is operating as a tourism site, money will come and the road leading to that part of our country will be paved. The residents there will have access to electricity and their lives will improve because many of them will get employment,” he added.
Benson alleged that from 2015 up to 2019, the Legislature has allotted and used over US$70 million on purchasing cars, fueling them, and maintaining them. Such amount, he thinks, should have been used to develop one or two tourism sites.
About his decision to contest the December 8 Special Senatorial election, Benson said he believes that he can win, considering his past record in participating in elections in Montserrado as a candidate.
It can be recalled that in the 2018 by-election, Benson came second only to now Montserrado Senator, Saah Joseph. That by-election was held to replace former Senators George Weah of Montserrado and Jewel Howard Taylor of Bong County, upon their election to the posts of President and Vice President of Liberia respectively.
“I didn’t participate in the July 2019 Senatorial by-election that brought to the Senate Darius Dillon because I had to allow my business to continue, mainly having contested the 2018 Senate by-election. I have been and continue to be an independent candidate. Entering a political race is cost-intensive and I have no political party or outside financial support,” he explained.
Benson said his return to contest for the Senate seat in Montserrado is a fulfillment of his promise to his supporters who believe that he can be a better Lawmaker.
Salary and benefits of Lawmakers
The entertainment giant said his wish is that Lawmakers make fifty percent of what they currently earn.
“If a Legislator is presently getting US$15,000, I think US$7,000 or US$7500 is enough to get him or her going. We are a rich nation but poor because the national cake goes into the pockets of individual leaders rather than impacting the lives of the suffering masses,” Benson said.