The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler, has proposed the allocation US$73M in the 2014/2015 National Budget for direct district impact projects across the country. Our Legislative Reporter Keith Morris was listening keenly as the Speaker, whose mother and father hail from rural Bomi County and Arthington, Montserrado County, respectively, explained his proposal.
“The intent,” he told the joint opening session of the 3rd sitting of the 53rd Legislature, “is to fund roads, schools, clinics and other meaningful projects at local government levels in order to foster developmental activities in rural areas.” Speaker Tyler urged his fellow Representatives and the Senate to see the need to allot such critical resources to the 73 electoral districts. Contrasting his proposal with the County
Development Funds (CDF), he said this was “one of the ways we believe that much needed development resources can be decentralized.” According to him, appropriating the necessary funding would tackle several challenges facing the country’s interior, including, “deplorable roads and bridges, poor health facilities and schools lacking the most basic facilities, which can be found in most schools around the world.”
This is in contrast to what the Speaker referred to as the Executive Branch’s US$5 million allocated in the 2013/2014 national budget for direct district impact projects.
His current proposal, he said, will directly benefit the people, “some of whom, I dare say, have never before in their entire lives, felt the influence of their government, going as far back as 1847, and the founding of the Republic.”
Few would argue with Speaker Tyler, most especially on his last point, that so many of our people in rural Liberia have never felt the impact of their government. Believe it or not, this is one of the tangible reasons why many Liberians lack the urge to be patriotic. You love one who loves you; but how can you love in return when you never feel the impact of the other’s love?
So Speaker Tyler has made a very strong point: there is need to pay particular attention to rural Liberia, district by district. But will it take more, or less than US$73 million? Where did the Speaker get his figure from? That is the first question.
The second is, where will this new money come from, given the current economic downturn facing the country, as reflected in the rapidly disappearing Liberian dollar? The Legislature will seriously have to engage the key financial players in the Executive Branch, including the Finance Minister and the Central Bank Governor, to determine how new money can be raised to rescue rural Liberia.
Third question: whatever amount is eventually allocated for rural Liberia, who will control it? The Legislature, or the Executive? We have seen what happened to the County Development Funds (CDF)—how the
Legislators scrambled over it, many demanding that the lion share be given to them individually. As in the famous case of Montserrado County lawmaker Edward Forh and former Montserrado County Superintendent
Grace Kpan. Supt. Kpan secretly recorded Rep. Forh as he told her how they could divide US$400,000 among themselves. Rep. Forh is heard saying on tape, which has now become a famous saying around Monrovia:
“I eat some, you eat some and the Minister eats some.”
Fourth question: who is to determine how whatever money is allocated will be spent, district by district? Who conceives the development plans? Who determines the priorities—aid to farmers, clinics, schools, roads, water, electricity, housing, health and sanitation?
And finally, when the money is allocated and the projects defined, who gets the contracts to do the implementation—foreigners, who will no doubt take the lion’s share of the money back to their countries, further diminishing the Liberian dollar? Or locals. If locals, how sure are we that they can DO THE JOB SATISFACTORILY AND ON TIME? Or will the projects end up another Jallah Town, Monrovia road that frustrated President
Sirleaf in the incipience of her administration?
These are serious questions to ponder as the Legislature commences its debate on Speaker Tyler’s robust proposal.