Liberia: Why Election to the Legislature Has Become Such a Craze

analysis

Nearly all of the current crop of 26 senators have expressed their intention to seek reelection when their term of office ends in 2020. The same can be said also for the current crop of Representatives, some of who have announced their intentions to canvass for seats in the House of Senate. As it appears, one surest means of acquiring wealth on a relatively flowery base of ease and comfort is to seek election to either the House of Representatives or the House of Senate.

Once elected, one can look forward to hefty benefits and salaries including housing allowances, gasoline, etc, which amounts to over US$150,000 per year. One can also look forward, as per common practice, to the receipt of "brown envelopes" from the Chief Executive for the bills the leader wants to have passed into law. Additionally, one can look forward to six months of paid idle time called agricultural breaks during which time legislators are supposed to be engaged in work on their respective farms but which is spent on vacation trips usually to the United States of America.

In addition, during the remaining six months of work time, one can skip attendance at sessions on some lazy excuse or spend only two days a week engaged in plenary discussions, virtually a talk-fest, listening to the rants of summoned officials telling either half-truths or, in some cases outright lies. As a legislator, one can also look forward to occasional recalls from break to deliberate some matter or to pass some bills and of course one can look forward to the special allowances paid for the recall.

And then comes the big occasion, that is, the passage of the budget at which time one can avail oneself of the opportunity to cross deals and manipulate the budget after it has been passed into law, tweaking it to address special interests -- 'scratch my back I scratch your back' and under the table arrangements. It is also time to allocate unto oneself, money for special legislative projects which are, in essence, self-enhancement and self-glorification projects.

And in the final analysis, one can expect that no one or institution will demand accountability for one's actions and for the resources spent. Just who in their right minds will not want such a job that gives one so much but demands so little in return. And perhaps this can explain why some people appear to be so driven that they appear to be prepared do any and everything including involvement in ritual murder all to ensure they get elected.

As it appears, their calling is not to serve but rather to be served. Consider for example how legislators driven by selfish interests and desires illegally passed into law 64 concession agreements which did not meet the mark of transparency. Also, consider how they unconstitutionally arrogated unto themselves the power to decide representation in the legislature through the use of a flawed formula based on false assumptions. Those false assumptions led to their setting aside of the constitutionally required constituency-based elections in favor of Electoral Districts based elections.

Under current arrangements, elections are based on Electoral Districts which have no fixed population figures unlike the Constitutionally required constituency-based elections. Such an arrangement has tended to create room for the trucking of voters from one point to another with the resultant confusion and solar polarization it produces. But constituency-based elections are based on the results of a national housing and population census which has been delayed for a year and for a time, it had appeared that legislators were reluctant to proceed with the exercise.

But reports now have it that funds have been provided for the purpose with the GoL providing matching funds to bolster that provided by donors. And the census may now go ahead as planned. Whether the census results will be used to demarcate constituencies remain unclear at this point. Such demarcation or delimitation will require legislative approval of a new threshold figure per constituency. Under the 1986 Constitution, the threshold figure is put at 20,000 (twenty-thousand) and as the Constitution provides, this figure can be adjusted upward or downward mainly to reflect changes in population growth or movement.

It must not be forgotten that aside from the delimitation of constituencies, the national census also serves as a planning tool that uses population figures in assisting decision making in national development planning processes. Sadly, it appears that many of our legislators may be disinclined to adjust the threshold for fear that they may end up losing their seats in the Legislature. Such a mindset heavily influenced the decision of the legislature in 2011 and 2017 to maintain the Electoral District arrangement.

Both the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives hailing from counties with relatively small populations argued that had the threshold been adjusted upwards their positions would have been threatened because according to their argument, most of the people hailing from their counties had now become resident in Monrovia.

Whether such arguments will again hold sway to have elections conducted on the basis of Electoral Districts rather than Constituency based elections remains to be seen. One thing for sure which appears certain is the conduct of the census, given preparations for it which appear well advanced. Whether those elected to serve the people will rise to the challenge putting aside personal inclinations in the national interest remains uncertain although hopes are pinned on their recognition of the imperative to strengthen our democracy by returning to Constituency based elections.

Only then will it become clear to all and sundry in just whose interests our legislators are acting. It may explain why election to the legislature has become such a craze.

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