Monrovia — THE MEDIA REPORTED last week that the Liberian Senate has passed a bill setting the registration fees for senatorial and representative candidates at 7,000 and 5,000 United States dollars, in that order.
These increases, which represent 833 and 900 percent over previous fees, are already accordingly not only sparking debates on Capitol Hill and raising opposition, they are also engendering consternation within the lower house of parliament where the Senate is seeking concurrence. The debates go like this:
SENATE PRESIDENT PRO-TEMPORE Gbehzohngar Milton Findley's favors the increase. In his view, while the increase may likely pose temporary inconveniences for candidates, the benefit outweighs any likely inconvenience. According to him, the increases will create political bonds and contracts between candidates and constituent sponsors. "By citizens demonstrating their financial commitment to funding campaign of a politician or political party, it will political show that such individual, or political organization is obligated to them upon ascending to the Legislature," the Senate Pro-temp remarked last week.
More besides, he believes, any derived reciprocity will sustain genuine democracy in Liberia by helping shape the political landscape from patronage to collaborative and participatory. That sounds a perfect basis for the increases.
BUT REPRESENTATIVE ACAROUS Moses Gray [CDC, Mt. D #8] thinks the increases, voted for by lawmakers who paid lower registration fees, represent the height of political hypocrisy, snobbishness, and downright callousness. "I'm disappointed in the Pro-tempore of the Liberian Senate for those comments, requesting electorates to rally funds for their respective candidates if Liberians feel the candidates' registration fees are high," Rep. Gray remarked last week. For him, such radical fee increases in a postwar country with struggling economy undermines the political process and the Political Parties Sustenance Bill that seeks to create a level playing field for political actors. In his view, the increases are likely to transform the National Election Commission into a de facto revenue-generating agency of government and put at disadvantage, candidates from deprived electoral districts. He marvels as at how the senators, who paid 750 United States dollars registration fees, could approve such colossal increases.
HAVING WEIGHED BOTH arguments circumspectly and conceded some of Rep.
Gray's standpoints - stated, made, and implied - we think the Senate President Pro-Tempore's position holds a lot of water. This does not mean, though, that we agree with him one hundred percent. We support the increase in registration fees; but we disagree that the increase has to be as astronomical in order to help transform Liberia's long-discredited patronage political system. We agree with Rep. Gray that there is no point for increases of such magnitude given, especially, that NEC is financially state-sponsored and must remain so for obvious reasons.
There is no point given also that NEC's role is to foster participatory democracy, not to hinder it by appealing to unnecessary bottlenecks. We will therefore favor moderate increases that will encourage mass participation but that will also prevent charlatans from acceding to state power on borrowed, commandeered, or stolen returns and holding our young democracy hostage in efforts to repay their creditors or to pay royalty to their patrons or political godfathers. Liberians are seeing how this creditor-candidate allegiance has compromised the quality of legislative debates and frustrated constituents' demands upon their representatives. They cannot allow it to be reinforced furtively by a law that upholds nominal fees under the guise of fostering participatory democracy. Compared to the discredited patronage system, the candidate-constituent political contract system, which circumspect increases in registration fees will encourage, is investment that tests citizenship and compel compliance for societal, not individual good.
FOR TOO LONG since the Tubmanist days, Liberians have been having their electoral politics, and thus their hopes and aspirations, held hostage by creditor-candidate allegiance politics. It is therefore high time Rep Gray and others like him, who are playing the political victim and purporting to advocate titular or levy-free electoral inclusion, to realize that with citizenship, the need for transformation, and the blessings of democracy come civil responsibility. It is time to close the door to patronage politics - which breeds official snobbery - and open the conduit to politics of constituent-candidate system in which elected officials will guarantee the hopes and aspirations of the Liberian people. The Liberian people want a politics of mutualism in which all are stakeholders and therefore are mutually accountable, not one of "honorables" and commoners, in which the former, while claiming to represent the latter, holds the latter in perpetual contempt and exclusion. The time for spectator politics is no more. Yes, times are hard in Liberia, but the people are ready to take their destinies into their hands by standing up as respected participants, not mere pawns, in the game of electioneering politics. Those seeking elective offices, therefore, have no choice but to comply and begin making contacts and arrangements for constituent collaboration. No doubt, times are hard, but a proud voter is a one who has a stake - citizenship notwithstanding - in a candidate. Conversely, a reliable legislator is one who is indebted to his constituents, not one who had pulled him- or herself up, through hook and crook, by his or her own bootstraps wears an air of vanity.
WE HOLD THAT the legitimacy and support of candidates from "poor" electoral districts are enhanced, not diminished, or undermined, when the constituents voluntarily pitch in their widow's mints to support the platforms and candidates that they trust and believe in. Rather, it is diminished and undermined when unsuspecting voters are showered with carouse parties and told simply to queue up and vote. Zombie voters do not produce good representatives or presidents.
FINALLY, WE ENCOURAGE members of the House of Representatives to work with the Senate in arriving at compromise registration fees that will compel political office seekers to forge symbiotic relations with their constituents that will transmute into strong political bonds. The Senate, especially Senate President Pro-Tempore Findley, deserves praise for standing up to reactionary forces at this time of pathfinding. We bid them move forward, never turning back.