As persistent advocacy for increased engagement of citizens in managing their fiscal affairs continues, the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD) has held a one-day dialogue with seven Senators in furtherance of its quest to ensure that the Senate concurs with the ‘County Social Development Fund (CSDF) Stand-Alone Bill.’
The CSDF Stand-Alone Bill is An Act to Amend Section 4 of the Public Financial Management Law of Liberia to Establish a National County Social Development Fund (CSDF) which, among other things, will ensure the establishment of a framework for all Social Development Funds and County Development Funds allocated in the National Budget and any other funds collected in the name and on behalf of counties — directly or indirectly — to first be transferred or deposited into an ESCROW Account set up by each county before any money can be expended.
Social Development Fund and the County Development Fund have been controversial issues in post-war Liberia for some time now. Though intended to enhance development in the counties for the benefit of citizens, county authorities and lawmakers have been accused of misdirecting the funds for personal political benefit to perpetuate themselves in power.
The Act when passed, will seek to strengthen citizens’ participation in the management of resources allocated to each of the 15 counties within the National Budget framework and those remitted by concessions to promote local development. The CSDF Stand-Alone Bill has been in the Liberian Senate since March 19, 2020, after its endorsement by the House of Representative on March 10, 2020.
The seven (7) Senators present at the dialogue included: Sen. Henrique F. Tokpa (Bong County), Sen. Matthew N. Jaye (River Gee), Sen. Jonathan L. Kaipay (Grand Bassa), Sen. Augustine S. Chea (Sinoe), Sen. Peter S. Coleman (Grand Kru), Sen. George T. Tengbeh (Lofa) and Sen. Stephen J. N. Zargo (Lofa).
IREDD, along with the Natural Resource Management (NRM) Coalition, works with the Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative (LAVI) with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). IREDD envisages that a concurrence vote will be achieved before the Legislature’s annual break this August 2020.
Meanwhile, after nearly four years of advocacy by civil society groups under the umbrella of the Natural Resources Management (NRM) coalition, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF) Standalone bill in March 2020.
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 election of a three-member Project Management Committee (PMC) every three years; that women comprise 25 percent of delegates to the County Sitting; monitoring by civil society organizations during county sitting; Removal of PMC members by a simple majority of County Sitting delegates; submission of county’s financial report on how it spent previous funds; and county sitting to 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 in the development and implementation of projects and more transparency and accountability.
In the House, 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 CSDF Stand Alone Law is supported by the USAID Liberia Accountability Voice Initiative (LAVI).
“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.
With support from USAID Liberia Accountability Voice Initiative (LAVI), the NRM Coalition is a combination of eight CSOs established in 2016 to advocate reforms in the management of the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF). Members are: Liberia Media Center (LMC), Partners 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 Partners for Democratic Development.