YARPAH TOWN, River Cess – The Sustainable Development Institute, an organization that pushes for community involvement in natural resources management, has been conducting several activities across River Cess aimed at getting citizens to better understand and monitor county social development funds.
The funds were established in 2012 and are a combination of county development funds (an equal sum of US$200,000 provided to each county on a yearly basis) and social development funds (monies made available to a county through companies that extract its natural resources).
The institute is working within ten communities in two of the six statutory districts in River Cess to ensure that there is transparency in the management of the funds. The project, which is supported by the USAID Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative, is helping citizens better understand decision-making processes for spending money provided into the funds. Those decisions are required to be made by law at annual county council sittings.
Recent pieces of training were held by the Sustainable Development Institute in Yarpah Town, Gbedia Town, Little Liberia, and Gbloseo Town to elucidate the process of how the funds are managed, in addition to discussing some of the challenges with ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of the funds.
During these meetings, two candidates for representative of River Cess’ second district have signed onto a pledge to improve the management and accountability of the funds. Known as the Community Election Platform, the pledge was developed by a coalition of civil society organizations focused on better management of natural resources and concessions.
The Sustainable Development Institute had earlier conducted a perception survey of citizens on the management of the funds in Sinoe, River Cess, and Lofa. Focus group discussions and interviews with key local leaders were also conducted.
Citizens said there was a lack of accountability in the management of the funds and county officials selected projects without much community involvement.
“We are not involved with setting project priorities and monitoring projects funded from the [county social development fund], but we are invited at the county council sitting only as an observer without voting rights,” said George Trokon, the head of civil service organizations in the county.
Comfort Konway, a resident of Gbloseo Town in Central River Cess District, told The Bush Chicken that while she had been invited to the County Council Sitting but was never allowed to say anything.
“We only go to the county sitting for going sake but decisions are being made by our ‘big big’ people,” Konway said.
Isaac Vah Tukpah of the Coalition for Democratic Change and Matthew T. Walley of Liberty Party were the two candidates pledging their support. Tukpah said, if elected, he would ensure that citizens benefit from the funds.
“The county development [fund] is for the people and not the benefit of government officials,” he said. “This is why when we are elected; we will make sure the right thing is done with the money.”
Matthew Walley, the Liberty Party candidate, said he would introduce and support a bill that would give the community partial power to manage and administer the funds.
“We will not turn the entire thing over to the community, but we will make sure that the community works along with the local county authority in the management of the county social development funds.”
In the 2015 by-election in River Cess, Walley emerged as the first runner up to Byron Zahnwea, losing by 97 votes.
The citizens seemed hopeful that the intervention of the Sustainable Development Institute would bring about positive change.
Melvina Kerkulah, the spokesperson of the Forum for Community Initiative, said “Now, I will work with my women in this district to identify issues about our development funds for us to advocate about. And I want to tell [the Sustainable Development Institute] thank you for opening our eyes.”
Featured photo by Eric Opa Doue