OP-ED: A Legislature of Indigenous Vampires

During her 10th State of the Nation Address on January 26, 2015, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was correct when she renamed corruption from ‘public enemy number one’ to a ‘vampire’ of development and obstruction of progress.

But corruption is not only when one illegally converts public resources into their personal account; it can also be when a group of public officials unpatriotically, unreasonably, and astronomically increase their salaries and benefits in the midst of economic recession and extreme poverty.

Such is the case with Liberia’s bicameral legislature – a legislature of indigenous vampires unremorsefully sucking the blood of our economy.

About two weeks ago, I authored and published an analytical article which was principally intended to reveal how Liberian lawmakers became millionaires overnight in a poverty-stricken and low-income country like Liberia. The real facts in this publication remain precisely authentic and reliably cogent.

Why must the Legislature alone bag over US$47 million a year when 1.1 million people have no safe water and 3.7 million have no sanitation in Liberia?

Where does the interest of the people lie? Even while Liberia’s economy is profusely bleeding as a result of fiscal indiscipline, unrealistic projections, corruption and other hard-hitting factors, the direct representatives of the people remain unbending in their parochial pursuit to enrich themselves at the detriment of the ordinary masses.

The huge rush for wealth has become a visibly popular campaign in public service. The gross disregard for the public interest is spreading like a virus.

My hope is that these provoking realities will make you stand up and demand change. For instance, Liberia’s biggest referral hospital, John F. Kennedy Medical Center, receives US$5,318,784 while the National Legislature gets US$47,282,492 in a period of 12 months. The second biggest referral hospital in Liberia is Jackson F. Doe Hospital in Nimba and this facility also gets a scanty budget of US$2,966,095 per annum.

When our people are sick, they run to JFK and JFD, places that do not even have a dialysis machine or advanced surgical equipment. The total budget of Liberia’s two biggest referral hospitals is just about 17.5 percent of the budget of the Legislature.

Can you imagine this?

The combined budget of the offices of the pro tempore, speaker, and deputy speaker is US$3,299,925. This means that the budget of these three offices far exceeds the budget of the second largest referral hospital in Liberia, Jackson F. Doe Referral Hospital (US$2,966,095).

Isn’t this intriguing and mind-boggling? Isn’t this provoking?

Don’t focus on that too much before you suggest a revolution. I know these facts are disturbing to every rational being, especially in a country where over 80 percent of the people are poor.

What is even more disappointing is that men and women who are making immense and invaluable sacrifices for our country cannot even afford their basic needs as a result of the low-income they are receiving, coupled with the high cost of living.

While police officers can make US$1,920 annually, public school teachers earn US$1,560 a year, and a medical doctor can take home US$24,000 per annum; the senate pro tempore, speaker, and deputy speaker receive US$40,183, US$37,078, US$36,747, respectively, in just a period of one month.

The gap is too wide. No wonder lawmakers are refusing to be audited. Liberia is truly a victim of entrenched greed and unpatriotism.

Why are we spending US$22,943 on entertainment and gifts just for the office of the senate pro tempore in 12 months when slum communities are increasing across our nation? Must we be responsible for entertaining lawmakers when youth unemployment is extremely high?

Greed is on the move. Patriotism has become a taboo. Accountability is forbidden. Corruption is a national priority. Integrity is outlawed. Poverty is an inheritance.

While the masses of our people in Clara Town, West Point, Soniwen, Doe Community, Logan Town, Buzzy Quarter, and other slum communities live among rats, roaches, and mosquitoes, a handful of self-seeking characters continue to swim in opulence.

They have become millionaires overnight. We must break these barriers together in our generation. It is time to send a message to indigenous vampires on Capitol Hill.

Having outlined some basic facts, these are recommendations that could rescue Liberia from its socio-economic and political quagmire beyond 2017:

  1. Set up a technical committee of fiscal and monetary experts to review and identify areas of wasteful spending within the National Budget of Liberia.
  2. Carry out a 30 percent cut in the salaries, allowances, and benefits of high-ranking public officials in the Legislature, executive, and judiciary branches of government. The recent proposal by some senators to institute a 25 percent cut is welcoming.
  3. Pass into law a bill to set reasonable ‘salary standards’ for all public servants including elected officials and political appointees.
  4. Establish by law an Independent National Authority on Salaries and Wages.
  5. Hold mass public hearing and awareness every fiscal year in each of the 73 districts before the passage of the annual budget.
  6. Ensure an annual audit of every government functionary including the National Legislature.

The Legislature has become so attractive in terms of incentives and benefits to an extent that almost everyone wants to be a lawmaker. Leadership should be about service and not self-enrichment.

We, the people, deserve far better than living in acute poverty for almost 170 years. 2017 offers all of us a unique opportunity to change our appalling story. It is about propelling new options, concrete ideas and genuine platforms for sustainable growth and development. Liberians have had enough.

Liberians need a New Liberia that seeks a concrete pro-poor agenda driven by a people-centered and patriotic National Legislature. It is time to embrace change. Let patriotism lead our thoughts and actions.

We must leave behind a New Liberia of social justice and economic equality for our children to inherit. Let not their inheritance be poverty and misery.

Are you ready for us to change Liberia together? Join the campaign for the reduction in the astronomical salaries and benefits of public officials!

From the largest slum of West Point and the top of Ducor, I see a new Liberia rising above the African Continent.

Featured photo courtesy of David Stanley

Martin K. N. Kollie

Martin K. N. Kollie is currently a student of the University of Liberia studying Economics, a stalwart of the Student Unification Party and a Lux-In-Tenebris Scholar. Martin is also the West Africa Bureau Chief / Editor of Globe Afrique, a Columnist of The African Exponent and Youth Ambassador of the International Human Rights Commission. He can be reached by email.

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