August 21, 2020
Sen. Cllr. H. Varney Sherman & Morris G. Saytumah
Chairpersons and Members/Joint Committee
Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petitions &
Ways, Means, Finance and Budget
The Liberian Senate
Dear Hon. Chairpersons and Members (In Committee Room):
RE: Advice for Passage of the 5k Maximum (Draft) ACT for National and Institutional Benefits
Consistent with my Terms of Reference (ToR) as head of the Legislative Information Service, I write to proffer pieces of advice in relation to the ‘Five Thousand (5k) Maximum’ (draft) ACT submitted by Montserrado County Senator, Abraham Darius Dillon. As you may be aware, the LIS was established in 2011 bringing together four departments (Senate Research, House Research, Library and Archives) for the purpose of, among several tasks, providing legislative and other critical advises to individual member, committee and plenary. In respect to this, we have been regular in executing this aspect of our ToR via written communications over the years submitted mainly to the House Speaker, President Pro temp and the Chairpersons on Ways and Means and Rules, Order and Administration of both Houses at various intervals. In addition to hand delivery of written communications, my Office has provided legislative advises through email circulars. One of such notable set of advises from the LIS has been contained in a proposed reform document submitted to ALL Members in 2015 and resubmitted to the 54th Legislature through the Offices of the current Speaker and President Pro temp.
Following submission of the bill and plenary’s decision at its 44th Day Sitting to transmit the instrument to its Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Budget and Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petitions, I do respectfully write to share my institutional-professional thoughts with the Committee and proffer advice. Honorable Members, predicated upon justifications and relevant points as outlined herein as well as anticipated benefits to be accrued by the State, the Legislature as an institution and cushioning of Members’ character, integrity and prestige, I am pleased to request Members of your Committee to garner and harness your usual fortitude and ‘sacrifice for country’ attitude in recommending to plenary for passage into law the 5k (Maximum) Bill submitted, but with some adjustments or additions clearly expressed in this communication.
Honorable Chairpersons and Members, the (draft) Act like any other, embeds in it, the pros and cons, somewhat positives and negatives. From our lenses, the positives and benefits associated with the bill in question far outweigh the drawback(s). The bill if enacted will accrue national and institutional benefits of significance. I now do outline points I think constitute justifications and or national and institutional anticipated benefits when enacted:
Justifications/Benefits – National:
- Firstly, the bill satisfies a provision as enshrined in Article 36 of the 1986 Constitution. It states: “The Senators and Representatives shall receive from the Republic remuneration for their services to be fixed by law, provided that any increase shall become effective at the beginning of the next fiscal year”. There is an argument that the fixed remuneration as stated herein is annually captured in the national budget which is law. The 5k bill however sets the stage for critical reform from fixed remuneration in the generalized budget law to a specific and appropriate legislation. There is a phrase in Article 5 (c) of the Constitution that says “appropriate legislation”. If there is appropriate (specific) legislation then one will surmise there is superficial/general legislation. An exclusively tabled bill is considered appropriate (draft) legislation for fixed remuneration by law. The bill also addresses the second part of Article 36 which states: “provided that any increase shall become effective at the beginning of the next fiscal year” by discouraging current and future Members of the Legislature from effecting increase during times such as recast budget deliberations, if any has been as citizens in some quarters have been vehemently voicing out. To put an end to one’s words against another on this, a specifically appropriate (draft) Act is necessary.
Former President Sirleaf’s famous or infamous (depending where one sits) assertion “I did not give them; they took it” uttered in the United States remains fresh on the minds of Liberians. That statement suggested that an exclusive and appropriate (draft) legislation must have been enacted so as to graduate from the “hidden” (as claimed by some citizens) nature of the fixed remuneration in the national budget. One wonders, had any of the then opposition lawmakers mainly from the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and Liberty Party (LP) submitted similar exclusive (draft) Act for fixed remuneration, with thorough public debate, subsequently passed by the legislators themselves and signed into law by President Sirleaf, could she had worn such tenacious courage to tell her international audience and the people of Liberia that the lawmakers “took it” – insinuating that your Honorable Colleagues then were paying themselves massively void of “appropriate legislation” in a country of shrinking economy? I say a resounding no.
- The bill is viewed as a “redemptive” instrument. For too long, some constituents of the lawmakers have stomached an uncompromising position and mindset about lawmakers, that they are “selfish and greedy”. These citizens unleash despicable adjectives on legislators. Lawmakers in this country are viewed as the worst batch of public servants in Liberia. If such bill is passed it will serve as the commencing point of you Honorable lawmakers redeeming your character and personality from incessant verbal insults. It will now be known that Members who all along have been branded selfish and greedy are now taking bare minimum of 5k from between 12-15k. The enviable prestige and persona of some lawmakers, if not all, would have been redeemed to a large extent, moving forward.
- The bill unlike other bills such as those like community colleges, administrative districts and cities in the last thirteen (13) years conceived, drafted or sponsored by lawmakers for passage drew from the already plummeted coffers with additional employees to the already over-bloated employment base. In contrast, the 5k Maximum Bill saves fund for more critical use for the direct benefits of the people under the democratic “greatest good for the greatest number” principle. Financial and monetary technicians mainly from the Legislative Budget Office (LBO) working with relevant Committee on the bill or plenary will calculate definitively in dollars and cents total amount to be accrued and deposited into recommended escrow.
- Most Liberians have publicly uttered that some of their compatriots seeking election every year see and consider the Legislature as a place to amass wealth. This keeps lingering on the minds of most Liberians as usually expressed on public media outlets. They argue that it appears nowadays that one of the places to obtain (4G speed) wealth is the Legislature. As a result, when a vacancy for a representative or senate is announced, nearly two dozen candidates apply to contest. They ask if many of them really contest for people-centered service delivery or the “hefty” remuneration. It is question or concern of such the bill if enacted will address. While all Liberians have the right to contest, if passed into law, the bill will be signaling that the Legislature will no longer be the place to obtain wealth. The new mindset will then be when one wants to become wealthy; will land him or herself in the private sector.
- Also, after passage, the Legislature can now help the presidency graduate from relying on ‘executive orders’ in streamlining personnel of the Executives’ remuneration. When all are brought to bare minimum, the general message would then be that public sector is NOT the place to obtain quick wealth as conceived by some citizens. When enacted, the anticorruption institutions (in good moral and public standing) must be FULLY supported and funded to address the commonly held “where you put goat is where it eats” mentality, owing to what some may consider as unimpressive remuneration henceforth.
- Another positive aspect of the bill is that it will henceforth challenge members further to uncompromisingly engage the Executive for prioritization of meaningful targeted development initiatives in their districts and counties. Said engagements will heighten and intensify as members may no longer have that “surplus” money their constituents in vexing manner outburst about usually. As a consequence, members desirous of re-election will sternly hold the ‘spender of the budget’, the Executive’s feet to the expenditure fire. The public will then begin to appreciate majority lawmakers not prepared to risk their reelection in favor of accepting nearly everything the Executive says or does.
- The bill would serve as an add-on or impetus in assisting government commencing the planning and harnessing of its post-COVID economic life, once enacted for the Legislature and similarly for the Executive afterwards. As the economy is being seriously challenged or declining as most Liberians continue to express on public outlets, the bill is crucial especially when great and wealthy nations that gave us hand-outs are now themselves planning for their post-COVID economic era.
- Last but not the least, the submission of the bill, initiating the drifting away from fixed remuneration being captured in the national budget to exclusive-appropriate bill, satisfies a mandate contained in Article 6 of the Constitution. The provision says “Emphasis shall be placed on the mass education of the Liberian people and the elimination of illiteracy”. In this context, mass education through exclusive budget hearings on fixed remuneration will eliminate citizens’ lack of knowledge, information and education (illiteracy) on what their lawmakers earn.
Justification/Benefits Institutional (Departmental):
The Legislature has been confronted with serious administrative and technical challenges over the years. This is largely due to the refusal to make budgetary appropriations for its modernization program. It can be recalled that the 52nd Legislature in 2007 received a total of $75,000.00 from the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF)/$50,000.00 and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)/25,000.00 for the crafting of a modernization plan. The Legislature by then made no financial contribution to its own planning processes. After two years, the planning component ended. The Legislature approved and adopted the Plan in September of 2009. Implementation of the Plan began in 2010. Unfortunately, the Liberian Legislature since 2010 is yet to budget a dime for its Joint Committee for implementation of the plan. The few actions implemented thus far have been funded by international partners. The partners became sponsorship weary due to apparent refusal of the Legislature to budget for its programs. Due to the lack of direct funding for the Legislature’s own projects, execution of several modernization activities have been elusive. As consequence of actions or inactions, the first branch of Government is yet to be digitized in the last 13 years. Website is lacking; no regular, effective and uninterrupted internet services among many others. Since 2006 the Legislature is yet to operate an effective and uninterrupted electronic voting system, although all these are captured in the Plan.
Distinguished Chairpersons and Members, this advisory note also seeks to sound a ‘voice of reasoning’ in speaking to your emotions, if not your consciences. That is, among other things, when your constituents hear that the first branch of government which affairs you steer does not have a common thing as website that nearly all individual business persons have, then they get irritated. When your constituents hear that this august body does not have regular internet which they can afford to have on their mobile phone, they feel embarrassed. When your constituents hear that you are yet to institutionalize a system (in this digital age) that will have them monitor how you vote through electronic voting system on all and mainly critical matter, they fall bewildered. When your ‘cherished’ constituents try to find an ACT/Law online via their mobile phones after struggling to put in, say a dollar ($1) worth data and find out that they can’t because you have not digitized your information network system since 2006, they feel appalled. When your constituents hear that you, out of your wisdom decided to craft a modernization plan, and in spite of your role as the ‘dividers of the national cake’, you didn’t in the last 10 years budget for your (own) modernization programs they feel dismayed. Your staffers are your ambassadors. We represent you out there. In addition to your constituents venting their frustrations at you, they do at us likewise; some even insult us saying we are accomplices to you Honorable Men and Women’s actions or inactions. Given all these, should you request ten radio stations in and out of Monrovia NOW to solicit samples/opinions as to whether or not you take $5,000.00 maximum and portion be used from the deducted amount to improve service delivery at the first branch of government, you will be amazed. A fortnight ago, one of your constituents, a citizen angrily intimated on one of the local radio stations that if the lawmakers were earning 12-15,000.00 for years and could not even ensure simple things as website, then let their maximum be 5,000.00 and some of the reduced amount be used to improve the Legislature. This is exactly how many of your constituents feel when it comes to this bill. In short, it has been an institutional embarrassment for over a decade now.
Honorable Chairpersons and Members, considering the enormous administrative, technical, modernization and reform challenges dogging the Legislature, we further advise on the followings for institutional growth and enhancement:
- That the Liberian Senate find wisdom in endorsing the 5k Maximum Bill;
- That certain portion (1-5%) of the total slashed amount be annually apportioned directly to the Legislature’s Joint Modernization Committee for FULL implementation of the body’s modernization programs notably, those people-centered activities such as electronic voting system, digitization and staff professionalization.
The Legislative Information Service, established as a bi-cameral department, but its staffers since its inception nine years ago have been unjustly receiving pay/remuneration either for uni-cameral departments or far less than an Assistant or Deputy Ministerial pay levels, despite our joint service workload (103 Members’ offices, 60 committees, 26 departments/sections and public; managing a staff strength of ‘original’ 46, overtime increased to 103 covering four department/divisions) coupled with senior staff qualification (law degree, single and double Masters), competence (dozens of national and international trainings/symposia) and experience (average of nearly 15 years of work); something the apportioned amount to the Joint Legislative Modernization Committee (JLMC) from the total slashed fund, when endorsed, will address.
The bill frankly has its own drawbacks. One major drawback is that Members of the 54th Legislature will no longer have that “sufficient” fund to perform acts of political and humanitarian generosity directly to their constituents; something however, the collective cut and savings will attempt to address with prudent spending discipline.
Honorable Chairpersons and Members, may I inform you that the LIS in 2015 submitted a comprehensive reform proposal document and resubmitted same to this 54th Legislature. In the document we pleaded with the Legislature blend (critic) reform with its modernization programs. It was suggested that the Legislature adopt the Zambian’s method, drawing cue from the Zambian Parliamentary Reform and Modernization Committee. Unfortunately, with the exception of Cllr. Varney Sherman who appropriately replied to our email and registered his commendation for our efforts, no other lawmaker did the least to acknowledge our communication. Thanks to Sen. Cllr. Sherman.
In the world of parliament, modernization is easily embraced as compared to reform which in some instances collides with lawmakers’ authority and financial benefits and interests. As easy as it is for modernization to be accepted and promptly executed, when the Legislature could not budget for its own modernization activities, then one seems to know how difficult and challenging it would be for reform that draws members’ benefits into clash.
The bill has definitely set the stage for the 54th Legislature to directly or indirectly begin the blending processes of modernization programs and reform imperatives as in the case of the Zambian Parliament and other legislative institutions around the world.
Honorable Chairpersons and Members, from the above mentioned, the Legislative Information Service, Honorable Members, through the Office of its Director believes firmly that the 5k Maximum Bill, when enacted will accrue huge benefits for the State and this very Legislature. Therefore, we advise that the bill be enacted into law.
Distinguished Chairmen and Members, were the 54th Legislature to endorse this bill, each member could be viewed as agent of, and the collective body the face of contemporary critical legislative tailored reform; hence, heroes/heroines! This is because you Members would have introduced and ushered in a new generational mindset disabusing and debunking the thought that lawmakers are “selfish and greedy” as long perceived by your constituents; also, that the Legislature and public sector no longer be widely seen as a place for quick wealth accumulation – a significant shift in paradigm! What an indelible legacy that would be!
Given the unmatched actualization of ‘sacrifice for country’, underpinned by your effrontery, temerity, tenacity and audacious passage into law of the 5k Bill, the State should deem it appropriate to bestow upon you Honorable Men and Women of the 54th Legislature individually and collectively, one of the country’s highest honors if not its highest.
In conclusion, let me spotlight one major concern in the public arising from the bill. It is the issue distance county lawmakers. That is, lawmakers from counties farther from Montserrado and those residing in this county must not all receive the same. To this end, the LIS is suggesting possible consideration of one of few options:
- That lawmakers in Montserrado get $5,000;
- That those from counties nearby Montserrado get $5,500.00,
- While lawmakers from the farthest distances like the South East receive $6,000.00. OR,
- All receive maximum $6,000.00; better still maintain the $5,000.00 as proposed.
In the spirit of genuinely and critically reforming to transform the Motherland for ours and generations to come, I remain.
Honorable Joint Committee Chairpersons and Members, I wish to request and shall be glad to do a PowerPoint Presentation, were my Office given invitation to a hearing to speak to inquiries, clarity or concerns arising out of this advisory note.
- McCarthy Weh, II Director, LIS
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