Liberia: Senator Raises Red Flag Over Alleged Payment of Lawmakers' Benefits At President's Will & Pleasure

Monrovia — Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon has expressed grave concern over the payment of legitimate benefits of members of the 54th National Legislature allocated in the National Budget at the will and pleasure of the Executive branch of the Government of Liberia (GOL).

The Executive branch is headed by President George Manneh Weah.

Senator Dillon observed that most often arrears owed members of the first branch of the Liberian government are only released by the Executive at a time legislators are gearing to take key decision on a resolution or act on legislation at the Capitol Building in Monrovia.

The Capitol Building is the official seat of the National Legislature.

He made these assertions on Fabric FM101.1 in Monrovia on Thursday.

The comments made by Senator Dillon, who is also the Vice Chairman for Political Affairs of the opposition Liberty Party comes in the wake of claims and counter claims surrounding the payment of US$17,000 to each lawmaker to endorse the speedy passage of the recast COVID-19 budget.

The recast COVID-19 budget was recently submitted to the National Legislature by President George Manneh Weah, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.

It can be recalled that on Monday, members of the House of Representatives hastily passed the recast COVID-19 budget, which was submitted overnight, at a little over US$518M after they were reportedly induced by the Executive with US$17k each.

The recast COVID-19 recast budget is presently before the Liberian Senate for concurrence.

Following the passage of the document, some lawmakers were seen early Tuesday morning lining up in queues at the Central Bank of Liberia after reports emerged that each of them received the money.

But Senator Dillon pointed out that he has not received any money being reported as inducement for lawmakers to pass the recast budget.

"I didn't receive US$17,000. I am hearing this thing in the media and on at the Capitol Building. If US$17,000 is available for lawmaker in the budget and it is legal, I will announce it to the public. I'm deciding to return it if it is true at this time. I am still waiting; I have not received.

The report we are hearing at the Capitol Building and in the media is that, it may have happened in the House of Representatives; I am not there".

He added: "I am getting more concern that why whenever our benefits are delayed; it comes at a time that we are supposed to do something big".

Tales of denials

Since the news of lawmakers being induced to pass the COVID-19 recast budget broke out, not a single lawmaker has admitted receiving US$17k.

When asked what was the purpose of the US$17k? One of the lawmakers who refused to speak to this paper on record said; "wait until you are a lawmaker then you will know why we are being given the check."

Despite the conspicuous silence of bulk of the lawmakers, Nimba County Representative Rogers Domah has let the 'cat out of the bag' by disclosing that a decision was reached between lawmakers and the Executive for the payment of 25% of arrears owed them in benefits, including gasoline coupons.

"When we were passing the recast budget it was clear; the government owes us about six months gasoline. For the past two years, they have not paid scholarship that we supposed to be helping our young people, and so, we take that from our salaries".

'Not Able to Pay'

Representative Domah claimed that lawmakers,allegedly waived portion of the benefits owed them by government because of the numerous challenges being tackled by it during this COVID-19 pandemic.

"The government came and said all that we owed you; we are not able to pay. And we said but can you give us a little percentage of it so that we can be able to attend to our people? And they agreed. We said whatever government owes us, we should get about 25%".

Like other lawmakers, the Nimba County Representative denied receiving US$17k from government noting that, "right now I am in Nimba, the budget has just been passed and Tuesday we will be back".

But Senator Dillon has vowed to provide the facts surrounding the payment of money to lawmakers to ensure the speedy passage of the COVID-19 recast budget.

"I spoke with few of my colleagues in the House-some confirmed, some denied; when it comes to my side, I can verify it for the fact- the public will know with credibility because I will speak to the issue with facts. I know we have not received gasoline coupons for the last two to three months".

He wondered why the media and legislators cannot "leak the secret" whenever the payment of benefits to legislators is being delayed by the Executive.

"The media does not speculate about it (benefits payment). Lawmakers, especially from the Senate, we don't hear much from the public crying that we have been delayed in receiving our benefits. But when it (benefits) comes, than that is a big news".

Commenting on the submission of the recast budget, Senator Dillon expressed disappointment over the failure of the Executive to publicize the national financial instrument after it was submitted to the National Legislature in keeping with the Public Financial Management (PFM) law of Liberia.

He vowed not to be a part of the passage of the recast COVID-19 budget to avoid creating opportunity for embezzlement to the detriment of the already impoverished vast majority of Liberians.

"If we don't take certain actions I will not give my vote to this budget Even if it passes, the record will show that I didn't vote for it. It's not because I don't want somebody to get free rice, or one gallon of oil; but it's because I am careful not to give somebody one bag of free rice and then create a loophole for someone to go home with two or three million dollars unaccounted for".

'Bribe to vote'

Sometimes ago, Senator Dillon, who is dubbed as "The Light" came under strong criticism from some of his supporters and critics after he received the amount of US$6500 following the passage of a resolution to endorse the state of emergency declared by President Weah on April 8 to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus in Liberia.

Critics accused the Montserrado County Senator of receiving "bribe" to vote in favour of the state of emergency declared.

But Senator Dillon told legislative reporters that the money received was an operational fund budgeted.

He further clarified that each lawmaker also received the amount allotted in the National budget.

Eyes are watching to see whether or not the Liberty Party Senator will accept or reject his portion of the 'inducement handshake of US$17k' from the Executive following the Liberian Senate's concurrence of the COVID-19 recast budget.

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