13 November 2017

Liberia: Why Did Bong County Celebrated Lawmaker Lose 2017 Election

Gbarnga — District three Representative George Mulbah (People's Unification Party) who was once celebrated as the "voice of Bong County," won't be joining the county caucus when the 54th Legislature is seated in January.

The two-term lawmaker, who crafted the bill for the construction of the Bong County Technical College (BCTC) and promised to pave Gbarnga's roads, fell out of favor with Bong citizens after a series of missteps in his second term.

Mulbah is one of five Bong lawmakers who lost their seats during the Oct. 10, 2017 elections.

Voters rejected Mulbah in favor of Josiah Marvin Cole, of the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC).

Cole received 5,899 or 23.2 per cent of votes compared to Mulbah's 1,876 or 7.4 per cent. Of the district's 26, 200 registered voters, 25, 460 voted in the election.

Two days after the National Elections Commission (NEC) announced the final results confirming Cole's victory, Mulbah called Radio Gbarnga on his sponsored talk show, "Inside Jorquelleh," to congratulate Cole, the city's former mayor.

"The people have spoken, and democracy has spoken as well," Mulbah said. "Congratulations to Josiah Marvin Cole who will be my successor."

Since the election results were announced, Mulbah has also been touring towns and villages to thank citizens for their support over the last 12 years.

"Thanks to the people for the support given me over the last 12 years, to allow me serve as their lawmaker," he said Sunday during a community meeting in the Millionaire Quarter community in Gbarnga.

Mulbah, a first year student of the Louise Arthur Grimes School of Law, said he will use the time to focus on his studies with the goal of becoming a good lawyer.

He isn't ruling out politics, but for now, his focus is law school.

"I remain a politician. The result won't deter me from quitting politics," he said.

Mulbah was first elected in 2005. One of his major initiatives in the first term was crafting a bill in 2009 to repeal of 15.08 sub-section 3 of the Labor law.

The provision states: "the boss does not have the right to dismiss worker at will. Mulbah became a champion of Liberian workers when the bill was passed a year later.

Many employees working for foreign-owned companies

hailed Mulbah as a "progressive lawmaker" who cared for the working class.

Callers on a talk show program on ELBC where Mulbah appeared to discuss the bill praised him for his vision.

When the bill was passed, Mulbah returned to Bong County as a celebrity.

He was hailed as the county's "best lawmaker."

The Bong County Technical College, Mulbah's signature project, is unfinished due to allegations of mismanagement and embezzlement of the US$4M earmarked for the project.

Mulbah, who sponsored the bill creating the college, said the goal was to provide higher education for the "common people" who couldn't afford the fees at Cuttington College.

The bill was passed in February 2011.

"We are there to represent our people, so the onus is on us to create the enabling opportunities for all," Mulbah said in an interview while on the campaign trail 2011.

When President Sirleaf broke grounds for the college in December 2010, Bong citizens revered Mulbah, and nicknamed him, 'Imo lgeh," the Kpelle phrase for "what I say is what I do."

In the 2011 election, Mulbah received 82.1 percent or 13,655 of the 16, 633 votes cast in a three-way race.

During his second term, Mulbah promised to pave the streets in Gbarnga and complete the college.

The college project was targeted for completion in 2015, but President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf halted the work in June this year after Mulbah and other county officials were accused of taking kickbacks from the Chinese contractor working on the project.

Several audits produced by the General Auditing Services linked Mulbah as one of those responsible for the delay.

Mulbah denied being involved in the kickback scandal.

"Those audits were politically motivated," Mulbah said, responding to the allegations.

Charles Paye, a resident of district, said Mulbah's failure to deliver on the college was one of the major reasons voters rejected him.

"The college is dear to citizens and anyone who plays with the construction of the college will be voted out," King said.

Work on the street pavement started January 2016, but was halted four months before the 2017 elections.

East International, the company hired to do the work, said the county owed them more than half a million dollars.

The county budgeted $1,353, 751 for the project, which was supposed to be completed October 2017.

Ansu Kromah, of Gbarnga, said the street and college projects were enough reasons for citizens to vote against Mulbah.

Amos Barbu, a resident of District 3, said Mulbah failed to deliver on his promises.

"He promised to pave Gbarnga," Kromah said. "The street pavement stopped four months before the (2017) election. I didn't trust him anymore."

Mulbah also angered citizens when he reneged on promise to halt the sale of Oil Block 13 in 2009.

Initially, Mulbah opposed the government's plan to sell the oil block. He was a strong critic of the sale and citizens nudged him to maintain his stance.

A few days after he opposed the deal on the legislative floor, Mulbah traveled to America with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to attend an official trip.

Citizens encouraged Mulbah to rally his colleagues in the Legislature to oppose the sale, but the deal went through and Mulbah remained silent.

The trip to America, citizens said, was to buy Mulbah's silence. Mulbah denied it.

As these problems continued to affect Mulbah's relationship with citizens, some residents began paying attention to what Cole was doing as mayor of Gbarnga.

President Sirleaf appointed Cole in September 2016. Cole promised to give the city a facelift.

In compliance with city ordinance, Cole began destroying buildings close to Gbarnga's main road.

Citizens were divided over Cole's decision.

Some supported it, but those whose buildings were torn down opposed the plan.

Some said Cole acted outside of the law.

Those whose buildings were demolished asked for compensation, but Cole said the city did not have money.

Disagreements over the City Corporation's failure to compensate property owners prompted citizens to complain to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA).

Most of the property owners were Muslims.

Dr. Henrique Tokpa, head of the MIA, sent a team to investigate the situation.

The move prompted President Sirleaf to dismiss Cole in December 2016.

The Muslim community celebrated Cole's dismissal, angering the pre-dominantly Kpelle-speaking people.

Some citizens accused Mulbah of instigating Cole's dismissal to appease the Muslims in Gbarnga.

At the time, Mulbah distanced himself from the decision.

"I am not the minister of Internal Affairs. I am not the president, "he said.

"The president and I have not spoken for a while."

In January, citizens petitioned Cole to run against Mulbah.

"We (first) saw Rep. George Mulbah as our lawmaker who we could channel our grievances at the national legislature, but when he started to side with the Executive we felt he was no more in our interest," said Sayblee Weyea, a resident of the district.

In addition to Mulbah, four legislators lost their seats: Rep. Corpu Barclay (Unity Party) lost the District 7 seat to Papa Kollie, of the All Liberian People Party (ALP); Rep. Tokpah Mulbah (People's Unification Party), lost District 1 seat to Albert Junior Hills, of the ALP; Adam Bill Corneh, of the CDC, lost the District #6 seat to Moima Briggs Mensah, an independent candidate; and Flomo Womba (UP), defeated Lester Paye of the Alternative National Congress in District 4.

Citizens said they decided to vote against the four lawmakers because they did not adequately represent their districts.

Rep. Mulbah, blamed his defeat on PUP members who supported Cole. Initially, Mulbah ran for the seat on the National Patriotic Party (NPP).

But over the years, he fell out with Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, vice standard bearer of the CDC.

Mr. Mulbah and Taylor fell out because he did not support her when she ran for re-election in 2014.

After failing to secure the NPP nomination, he joined the PUP.

The PUP entered an agreement with the Unity Party after Emmanuel Nuquay was selected vice standard bearer to Vice President Joseph Boakai.

The agreement was that if UP had a representative candidate, PUP will not put up a candidate.

Some PUP officials secretly supported other candidates.

In hindsight, Mulbah said his chances would have been better had he ran as an independent.

"Some of my colleagues in UP were supporting different candidates," he said.

"I take the blame for my defeat."

Representative-elect Cole said becoming a lawmaker was not a dream. But he entered the race because citizens asked him to run.

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