Monrovia — The Liberia Media Development Initiative (LMDI) on Friday hosted the first senatorial debate among three candidates vying for the senatorial seat of Montserrado County. The incumbent Abraham Darius Dillon of the Collaborating Political Parties, Rep. Thomas P. Fallah of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CC) and the Sheik Moustapha Kouyateh shared the stage during this debate.
The candidates were questioned on local and national tropical trending issues. These issues include the growing wave of insecurity in the county, parading street gangsterism, recent mysterious deaths and armed robbery in Montserrado County and Liberia in general.
Other topics were increased drug and substance abuse in Montserrado County, accountability in the management of Montserrado County and their 90 days deliverables.
On the national level, the candidates were required to address concerns on the pending referendum, the ailing economy, gender-based violence with emphasis on rape.
SENATOR DARIUS DILLON
Senator Dillon is contesting to retain his seat having served the remaining year of the late Senator Geraldine Doe Sheriff who died last February after battling breast cancer for a protracted period. She was left with a year in office which Senator Dillon has served.
Giving his platform, Senator Dillon said he is contesting to retain his seat because he wants to continue being the "light" at the Senate.
"My platform is simple but very courageous - to keep the light on," he says.
By this, Senator Dillon explained that by being the "Light", he intends bringing about reforms in the Senate, emphasizing that the Legislature is a place for check and balance and constructive engagement, not a place to succumb to everything.
"The Legislature, especially the Liberian Senate is where the last vetting committee of the Republic is," he said. According to him, people who take seat in the Senate must be people who have the courage to say 'Yes' when they have to and when 'No' when the need arises and not just on partisanship.
"My platform is to ensure that we do check and balance, without check and balance, we'll have dictatorship in the executive and in a democracy there is no room for dictatorship.
"Our platform is to ensure that system works. Our platform is to ensure that system works than the individual pockets, so that the people, the citizens can benefit from the country and the resources of the country through the system only because they're citizens, not because of whose feet they are kissing or which political party they are affiliated with," he said.
Dillon added that as part of his platform, he intends to ensure that not only would he ensure systems that works, but would also ensure that the system inculcates integrity, hard work and commitment to ensure desirable goals become achievable.
Senator Dillon blamed the growing wave of insecurity in the county to what he referred to as "regime security".
"A regime security is a security sector that believes that they should only protect people that are kissing the feet of the President," he said. He cited the launch of the CDC campaign where he alleged that agents of the Executive Protection Service were wearing berets of the CDC.
"A state security is a security that protects all regardless of who is in power," he added.
He explained that some of the mysterious deaths occurring in the county could be natural deaths. However, he added that, when the government fails properly investigate some of these deaths and come up with a logical conclusion, it leaves room for speculations and lies.
"When more people start to die the way people are dying, it sends fear. We have a country today where the government has not imposed curfew but people doing self-imposed curfew because they are afraid to be out in the night after 8pm," he said.
He said the government can only ensure security when they know that they have a Senate that can ensure check and balance.
Impeachment of Justice Kabineh Ja'neh
Dillon didn't mince his words during the debate stating the impeachment of the former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Kabineh Ja'neh was orchestrated by corrupt lawmakers led by President George Weah and presided over by the Chief Justice.
"Thankfully, a foreign court has intervened to restore the rights of Kabineh Ja'neh that he could not benefit in his country, under his own Constitution," he said.
90 Days Deliverables
He said within 90 days after his re-election as Senator, in addition to his already existing bill calling for the reduction of the salary of lawmakers, he would work to ensure more reforms at the Liberian legislature. He said he would look at the Code of Conduct that has been disregarded by the Weah-led administration. He said he will seek to amend the Code of Conduct such that it would ensure that public officials would not only declare assets but would be compelled to publish their assets.
He said there is the need to further amend the Code of Conduct so that officials would no longer be required to resign their posts two years to election if they wish to contest, rather after their application to contest has been accepted by the National Elections Commission.
Sen. Dillon said it is important that the government's vision for the agriculture must be clearly spelt out. "When the President and his Agriculture Minister come forth their agenda for agriculture growth, food security, we are constructive enough to vote on them."
Sen. Dillon contended that there are enough laws to tackle gender-based violence. However, the failure to implement the existing laws makes it appear like there are no laws to tackle the menace.
He stated for the past 15 years, the previous government and current regime has had no courage to implement any part of the statutory rape law.
REP. THOMAS P. FALLAH
Time could not permit the Montserrado County District 5 Representative who is contesting on the ticket of the ruling Coalition to delve into his platform.
Rep. Fallah began by informing the audience at the debate he is the "most qualified" candidate in the race. According to him, he is coming into the "business" with worth of experience owing to the fact that he is one of the longest serving lawmaker - 15 years as a member of the House of Representatives.
"As a guru in this business, I have come to help my colleagues to understand the fourth component [of legislative functions] which we call the social contract to the people, you the electorates because we have come here today in the solicitation of your votes and if we should enjoy that confidence few days from now, we owe it to you as the electorates," he said.
He said he would ensure participatory lawmaking when elected Senator in the December 8 election.
"Senator Fallah must allow the people of Montserrado County to get involved and be part and parcel the agenda that would be set for the people of Montserrado," he said.
He said some of his colleagues contending for the seat are putting forth ambitious platforms only because they do not know what lies ahead of them.
"Because their ambition is so high in terms of their platform, that's why most of them when they get elected, in no time they become unpopular and dysfunctional," he said.
The bells rang on Rep. Fallah just when he was about to disclose his platform for the county.
Speaking on the issue of accountability in management, Rep. Fallah made reference to the County Development Fund which he said has specific guidelines on how said fund should be disbursed and used. Therefore, any lawmaker that is found liable of misusing said fund would be held responsible by anti-graft institutions like the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, the General Auditing Commission.
"We will add more teeth to these institutions to those laws to make sure they hold public officials' feet to the fire," he said.
Asked of his strategy to tackling corruption, he said, "As a lawmaker our duty is not to execute, our duty is to put policies into perspective so I as a Senator will add additional teeth to enforce those laws that we have."
Drug and Substance Abuse
As a Senator, Rep. Fallah said he would tackle substance abuse by providing counselling for addicts and using his own life story as a motivation for those involved.
"We are going to make sure that our young kids' lives change. We will make to know the importance of their own lives to make sure they can gravitate and become someone tomorrow," he said.
He promised to build a rehabilitation center to help the government address the issue of drug abuse in the country.
Rep. Fallah said the issue of insecurity has been an age-old problem in country. He said he would work for the increment of the budget of the national security so that issues relating to national insecurities can be tackled.
"What I would do as a lawmaker - I'll lobby with my colleagues. While it is true that our justice system has to improve, we will make sure we give them budgetary support," he said.
Impeachment of Kabineh Ja'neh
Rep. Fallah said the decision to impeach Associate Justice Ja'neh was a political decision. He, however, said he could not speak on the ruling of the ECOWAS court that called for his reinstatement of the payment of his full salary until his retirement as if he was serving in full capacity.
Rep. Fallah said the Agriculture is key to the CDC-led government and therefore introduced the "green revolution" so that the citizens can maximize food security.
"So, I as a sitting lawmaker as I speak, that's why I am a farmer. We are involved in farming. We're going to attract investors to buttress this government to do mechanize farming," he said.
He also said he would ensure cooperatives and small holder farmers are empowered to boost their production.
He said he does not support the postponement of the referendum as being proffered by some legal experts. However, he acknowledged the need for more awareness to be conducted on the referendum so that the citizens can understand and know the importance of the referendum.
Sexual and Gender Based Violence
Rep. Fallah asserted that rape must not be taken lightly in Liberia. He described it as an epidemic and said "We must add additional teeth, we must enforce the law."
He said there are laws on the books to address rape but said the laws are flexible.
90 Days Deliverables
The bells rang on Rep. Fallah when he was asked to speak on his 90-days deliverables.
SHEIK MOUSTAPHA KOUYATEH
Being renown businessman who has served in the private sector for the past 21 years said he has decided to contest the senatorial seat to give back to the people.
"The public sector is where one chooses to forgo your happiness and seek the happiness of the masses and I have come to do that," he said.
He said his platform would be focused on promoting reconciliation, empowerment, accountability and development.
He says he believes that the responsibility of a Senator is to reconcile the people. Therefore, he would be working to reconcile members of the Senate such that they would see beyond party lines or any form of sect.
"When I am elected on the 8th of December as Senator of Montserrado County, my first priority would be to reconcile the Liberia people through reconciling the Senate where the Senate would not be a CDC Senate or a CPP Senate but a Liberian Senate," he said.
He said he would also prepare a national youth service bill to ensure youth empowerment. "This bill will be a bill that would restore the integrity of the young people where it would bring about compulsory education, job security and co-existence," he said.
Sheik Kouyateh further disclosed that he would introduce access to education which is tailored to ensure revenue generation, accountability and transparency.
He disclosed that he would also introduce a bill called Corporate Agreement which would ensure that Liberians participate in awarding of concessions to companies such that they, too, can fully benefit from the awarding of such concessions.
He lamented that majority of Liberians are still very poor despite the numerous concession contracts signed.
Sheik Kouyateh says he would introduce a bill dubbed Asset Verification Bill which would compel officials of government to give account of how they utilize their earnings and how they acquire properties.
He referenced multiple buildings now owned by President Weah since his inauguration as President and also the acquisition of a new car by Senator Dillon whom he said promised his people that he would not ride any expensive car.
"This will help us instill accountability in our country," he said.
He attributed to the increase in the use of drugs among people in the country to 14-year civil conflict and lack of opportunities for the young people. According to him, the National Youth Service Bill which would be proffered by him will ensure same opportunities for all young people, irrespective of their social status.
When asked how he would tackle insecurity when elected Senator, he said Senator Dillon and Rep. Fallah how are members of the former ruling party and current party, respectively, should be answering the question of insecurity and accounting for lives that were lost mysteriously like Mr. Harry Greaves and the auditors that died recently.
"We have an anti-corruption project. There is an Asset Verification Bill. "You cannot fight corruption when you do not have account of what people earn for themselves," he said.
He added, "When John Brown is being paid US$3,000 and he builds a house for US$100,000 and he cannot give account of that house, that house must be taken from him. If he's in the private sector, he goes to jail for one year and if he's in the public sector, he should be denied for lifetime not to serve in government. That is how to put stop to corruption."
He said as Senator for Montserrado County he would lobby with his colleagues in the Senate for increment in the budget of the Agriculture Ministry to enable them buy equipment for farmers.
He also said farmers would be empowered to add quality to their produce.
Sheik Kouyateh said in as much the citizens would love to have referendum, it is untimely to do so now, especially when the people do not understand the propositions that they would be expected to vote on.
"Nobody is against the reduction of the tenure of the President - that is a good idea. But the question is from the beginning it was from six to four, why is it that it has come to five?
Sexual and Gender-based Violence
He explained that Liberia has become a country of men and not a country of laws and that is why rape has been on the rise.
He said he would work with the Senate to strengthen the Senate. "I'll will not be the change maker but I'll work with my colleagues and the Senate will be the change maker for the government.
90 Days Deliverables
For his 90 days deliverables, Sheik Kouyateh said he would ensure that the assert verification bill, the youth service bill and the land reform will be passed.
He also said he would ensure an amendment for the government system would be decentralized.