Liberia: Lawmakers Involved In ‘Last-Minute’ Dishing of Huge Sums to Constituents Ahead of 2023 Elections
MONROVIA – As the 2023 presidential and legislative elections in Liberia draw nearer, several lawmakers seeking re-election are intensifying their efforts to financially induce potential electorates to win their minds after miserably failing to execute their constitutional responsibilities during their first term in office.
The latest to join the movement is Nimba County District # 4 Representative Gonpu Kargon and Grand Bassa County Senator Jonathan Kaipay of the opposition Movement for Democratic Reconstruction (MDR) and Liberty Party (LP) respectively.
The MDR of former notorious ex-rebel leader turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson, endorsed the candidacy of President George Manneh Weah during the run-off of the 2017 elections.
Representative Kargon accumulated 6,325 votes or 24.47% of the total number of 25,855 valid votes cast in a race contested by 19 persons. His closest rival, the incumbent Garrison Yealue acquired 6,153 votes or 23.8%.
Senator Kaipay was declared the winner of the 2014 mid-term senatorial election after he obtained 16,296 votes or 57.4% over his closest rival Gbenzongar Findley who got 10,306 or 36/3%.
But residents of the various constituencies of the two lawmakers have persistently complained of poor performances and their alleged failure to live up to campaign promises made to them.
According to the pro-democracy and civil society group the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD), Representative Kargon promised to promote peace and reconciliation, education and scholarship opportunities for youths, health- Medical Outreach through provisions of assorted health materials to clinics and hospitals and provide empowerment for women through small loan during the campaign period in 2017.
IREDD did not capture any commitment or promise made by Senator Kaipay while campaigning for the senatorial seat of the county. But the duo has dismally performed in terms of attendance and participation during regular sessions.
Photos of the two lawmakers distributing millions of brand new Liberian bank dollars in the 100 denomination to citizens as grants in their respective constituencies went viral on the social media early this week.
The motive behind their actions remains unknown, but it comes ahead of the 2023 general elections. Both Representative Kargon and Senator Kaipay are seeking re-election. They have been heavily criticized, booed and jeered at by their respective constituents for poorly representing them at the level of the National Legislature.
On February 21, 2020, Representative Kargon was chased out of his constituency by aggrieved citizens. The citizens had gathered in Blouhntuo town following reports that their lawmaker (Kargon) was visiting the district along with Jeremiah Koung of District #1, Nimba County.
Senator Koung at the time was consulting and mobilizing forces to contest the mid-term senatorial elections.
Like President George Manneh Weah, Senator Kaipay was seen in a video dancing to the popular ‘Buga’ music when he appeared at a program to personally hand over the money to the beneficiaries on Sunday, July 31, 2022, in Grand Bassa. A year to elections, Liberian politicians will do all they can to compel the electorates to vote for them.
Senator Kaipay personally distributed the amount of L$3.5 million to members of 75 different organizations in the county.
The money was a portion of L$5m scheme launched by the lawmaker to empower women in the county on May 14, 2022.
According to Senator Kaipay, the distribution of the money was intended to grow their respective businesses. The initiative was named and styled “Madam Frances Kaipay Women Economic Empowerment Program” in honor of his deceased wife.
The amounts of L$1.5m, L$500,000, L$350, 000 L$250,000, L$200,000, and L$50,000 were given to women groups and organizations including markets in electoral districts # one, two, three, four and five respectively in Grand Bassa County.
But the yardstick used by the LP to select the beneficiaries, bulk of who are reported to be his supporters, has been questioned by many citizens of the county.
It remains unclear where Representative Kargon and Senator Kaipay took the millions of Liberian dollars from to distribute to the respective constituents.
However, the distribution of the money comes barely few weeks after it was reported that members of the 54th National Legislature received the amount of US$30,000 each for legislative engagement and outreach in the respective districts and counties.
The money which amounts to US$3.6m was allocated in the recently passed US$800m recast budget and distributed to lawmakers despite huge criticisms from members of the public.
Nathaniel McGill is the Minister of State for President Affairs in the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led-government of President George Manneh Weah.
He made a promise to contribute the amount of LD5 Million for the empowerment of women at the launch of a project in the district in July of this year. He was invited to the event by Representative Kargon
“I can’t talk about voting for the President because I know that Nimba people voted for the President; and I know Nimba people are ready again to vote for the President. And so, what I want to talk about is how we can bring development and change the lives and conditions of the people of Nimba County. I want to thank you. The requests are many, we can’t respond to all the requests. But Honorable Gonpu told me something. He told me about the women’s small loan business. My contribution to Hon. Gonpu support to the women loan program will be LD5 Million,” he stated at a program held in the district”. Minister McGill stated.
The locals, especially literate citizens observed that many of those elected to advocate and ensure their well-being are busying themselves by accumulating wealth and improving the living conditions of themselves and their respective family members.
The interest of the constituents of elected officials is downplayed in post-conflict Liberia as evidenced by the failure of lawmakers to consult their people before taking key positions on critical national issues.
Most often, these failed elected officials, especially Representatives and Senators will turn to “philanthropists or so-called humanitarians” months to elections to financially and materially induce the illiterate voting population, to buy their way through to get re-elected.
This continues to contribute to the election of unqualified, ill-prepared, and wrong leaders to various national leadership positions in Liberia and the lack of development in the communities.
A gullible society
Liberia remains a gullible society due to the high rate of illiteracy in the post-conflict nation.
The vast majority of its citizens, particularly potential voters normally cast their ballots based on popularity, and what has been offered to them by those vying for public offices. The electorates do not view platforms as a means of voting officials into offices.
As a result of this, elected public officials are not held accountable for their failure to implement campaign promises or exercise their constitutional functions or assigned tasks and responsibilities.
They rely on the gullibility of the society and the high rate of illiteracy among the voting populace to cajole the citizens ahead of the elections by dishing out monies, rice, and other material benefits to discourage them from voting against their candidacies during the electioneering period.
In some instances, these elected officials who are very difficult to see in communities in their respective districts and counties days after they are elected, will put aside their “pride and biggity” by coming down to the level of the electorates to merry-make, share gifts, dance and eat, highly expecting votes in return for their actions.
Citizens of Nimba and Grand Bassa County have been reacting and justifying the need to replace both Representative Kargon and Senator Kaipay.
Christiana Monger: “Kaipay is not a serious senator. He will be voted out, comes 2023.”
“Man them coming use our native people again”, George Karnwie stated.
Bernice Mayah Nah: “Most of them won’t go back. Our people na stupid”.
But speaking in a telephone interview with FrontPageAfrica, Senator Kaipay disclosed that the distribution of the millions of dollars to his constituents was in fulfillment of his “family plan” to work with and empower marketers and women during the 2014 mid-term election.
“We want to create an empowerment opportunity for the women. And so, when my wife passed in 2019, the family decided to continue. We have been saving from the time we decided on that plan up to the time we launched the empowerment program this gone May 14. At that program, we mobilized several women who turned out. This is our way of memorializing our dear wife and continuing the vision we also have for women in Liberia, particularly in Grand Bassa County”.
Senator Kaipay justified that the gesture is “helping our women and an opportunity to give back to our people in this difficult and challenging economy”.
Not part of US$30,000
He, however, rejected claims that the millions being provided to his constituents are part of the controversial US$30,000 given to each member of the National Legislature as captured in the recast budget.
Like other Senators, Senator Kaipay also denied receiving the amount in question.
“I have been saving this money couple of years ago and so, you can read between the lines whether, at that time, there was anything called US$30,000. This (distribution of millions to constituents) has nothing to do with US$30,000. I did not receive and do not know about any US$30,000”.
When quizzed why distributing a huge sum of money to constituents at this time, Senator Kaipay justified that: “when people make a decision to raise 2.5 million as a family, you and I know that you will have other family obligations and national responsibilities”.
He disclosed that a timeframe was set aside by him and his family to raise the money to empower the women.
He claimed that citizens of Grand Bassa are hailing the initiative despite condemnations from his critics, denying reports that the move is politically driven.
“This issue is not about when, it is about when you have a plan, how you execute it and how it benefits your people. My critics will never applaud anything that I am doing. But I want to encourage them that it’s always good to work for your people and when you have an opportunity to serve, leave an indelible mark that your people will remember you for”.
For his part, Representative Kargon refused to state the total amount he distributed to his constituents recently.
He, however, disclosed that the monies were part of his salaries kept for a prolonged period of time and what he received and lobbied for from some of his friends in the government, including Minister McGill.
He said the gesture was in keeping with his platform to empower women, widows, and less fortunate citizens in his district.
“There is a daily saving and loan club in the district. My people are taking money from BRAC and they paid back these loans. And so, I told my people that I will sacrifice my salaries to them. I have been doing it in recent times in the communities”.
Representative Kargon, however, described criticisms against his action ahead of next year’s elections as “mere propaganda” being orchestrated by his political opponents.
He observed that despite his efforts being applied to improve the living conditions of his people, his critics are bent on prioritizing “bad over good” in the district.
It remains unclear whether or not the two legislators will continue or intensify the initiative with less than two years until the elections. However, other lawmakers and aspirants are sitting on the fence and watching to see whether or not the voters will fall prey to the new style of politicking in the country-for politicians wait for ‘last-minute-to-time’ before dashing millions of dollars to their employers whom they neglected and abandoned just days after they excelled to various elected positions in the country.
I spent my money to win
However, it is becoming habitual in post-conflict Liberia for politicians to dash crumbs to electorates ahead of the voting process as a token to re-elect them into their respective offices.
On numerous occasions, those elected feel that they are not accountable to their people as a result of their popular saying “I spent my money to win”.
Citizens are left to struggle and rely on the mercy of God to survive as their elected legislators and others mainly concentrate on profiteering and living extravagant lifestyles, caring less for their well-being.
This constant habit of these lawmakers compels Liberians, especially eligible voters to change them during every electoral process.