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Thursday, July 25, 2024

The Greedy Hunter: Liberia’s Lawmakers and the People’s Plight

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By: Sir-George S Tengbeh

In the depths of the Liberian bush, there lived a hunter known for his greed. This hunter, motivated by unquenchable appetites, would never settle for the smallest bounty he could locate. He wanted everything for himself and left nothing for the poor people. This hunter, like Liberia’s parliamentarians, squandered resources intended for the people, putting them in wretched poverty.

The Hunter’s Tale

One day, the hunter went into the bush and encountered an elephant, an antelope, and a deer. With his expertise, he took down all three, amassing enough to support himself and his family for several weeks.

However, the hunter’s avarice had no bounds. As he headed back to his hamlet, he observed a cricket, which was a paltry meal for a poor villager. He also took the cricket, leaving the peasant with nothing. The hunter’s acts, like those of Liberia’s parliamentarians, exemplify the systemic corruption and embezzlement that has put the country in severe straits.

The Lawmakers’ Wealth Amidst Poverty

Liberian MPs recently arrived at the legislative building on tricycles to protest their lack of vehicles and allowances. This performance demonstrated the striking contrast between their luxury and the hardship of ordinary Liberians. Despite being in one of the world’s poorest countries, these politicians receive excessive salaries and benefits, diverting public cash intended for the people (Karmo, 2023).

In the most recent fiscal year, parliamentarians boosted their budget from $38.3 million to $53.3 million, while government servants received no salary increases. This increase occurred during significant flooding, with families losing their houses and receiving no assistance.

Lawmakers, on the other hand, spent $45,000 each on automobiles, amassing tremendous fortune at the expense of their citizens. Over the next nine years, 30 senators will receive $4.05 million, while 73 reps will receive $3.3 million over six years. Senators also spent $10,000 on constituent visits and $5,000 on furniture, and they drove $45,000 cars while earning more than $8,000 per month (Paye-Layleh, 2023).

Comparative Analysis

To illustrate the degree of this greed, consider comparing Liberian MPs’ salaries and benefits to those in other African and Western countries. Legislators in Kenya and Nigeria earn high incomes, but they remain accountable to their constituents.

Western nations, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have strict checks and balances in place to prevent such obvious waste of public money. Liberia’s parliamentarians, on the other hand, operate with impunity, putting personal wealth ahead of national growth (Transparency International, 2023).

Kenyan MPs, for example, receive around $7,200 per month, whereas Nigerian senators make approximately $15,800. However, these countries have larger economies and more effective structures for holding politicians accountable.

A senator in the United States receives about $14,500 per month, yet they are subject to intense examination and public accountability (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2023). Liberia’s lawmakers, on the other hand, earn comparable or even higher salaries when adjusted for the country’s economic condition, but lack similar accountability procedures, worsening the country’s poverty.

The Human Cost of Greed

 

The repercussions of such greed are disastrous. Liberia has a long history of open defecation, and 80% of the country still lacks piped drinking water. The educational system is in ruins, resulting in an ignorant society that fights to escape poverty. The newborn mortality rate is disturbingly high due to poor healthcare, and youth unemployment continues high, putting the country’s future at risk, but the hunter must consume all (World Bank, 2023).

Despite promises of structural transformation and saving individuals from hardship, nothing has changed. The national budget demonstrates a misalignment of priorities, with a major share going to parliamentarians’ riches rather than necessary public services. For example, President Joseph Boakai’s budget jumped by 21.73 percent, from $2.46 million to $2.99 million.

Vice President Jeremiah Koung’s budget increased 41.90%, from $2.38 million to $3.38 million. Speaker J. Fonati Koffa’s budget grew by 14.28%, Senate Pro-Tempore Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence’s by 15.19%, and Deputy Speaker Thomas P. Fallah’s by an incredible 157.03% (FrontPage Africa, 2023).

The Villager’s Uprisings Against the Hunter: The Looming Threat of Youth Protests in Liberia

If Liberian MPs do not change their ways and continue to put their wealth over the well-being of their constituents, they risk sparking a movement of youth protests akin to those seen lately in Kenya. Young people in Kenya staged brutal protests, motivated by discontent with government corruption, economic disparity, and the ruling class’s perceived neglect of their needs.

These protests demonstrated the youth’s ability and tenacity to demand responsibility and change when pushed to the limit. Liberian young, who witness the same systematic corruption and inefficiency, are becoming increasingly disillusioned and frustrated with their leaders. They observe the massive resources allotted to lawmakers when needs like clean water, education, and healthcare are still out of reach.

The current situation in Liberia resembles the ones that produced upheaval in Kenya, where the young felt alienated and unheard. With high unemployment, terrible living conditions, and a lack of options, Liberian youth are facing comparable upheaval. The lawmakers must heed this warning and take prompt action to address the public’s issues.

This entails dramatically cutting their exorbitant expenditures and allocating funding to critical public services. Failure to do so not only perpetuates the cycle of poverty but also increases the likelihood of violent protests when young people take matters into their own hands. The time for change has arrived, and Liberia’s future stability hinges on the parliamentarians’ resolve to act responsibly and prioritize the needs of their constituents.

The Need for Reform

The overall draft budget for these “Big GUYS” has increased by 33.31%, from $8.35 million to $11.14 million. Overall, the legislature’s budget rose from $38.3 million to $53.3 million. Even while this is less than the previous government’s expenditure of $69.96 million, it is still a significant sum for a country classified as the world’s eighth poorest by the Global Finance 2024 Report. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic and the global economic downturn, many countries were forced to provide economic assistance to their citizens during the lockdown and curfew.

However, the government of rescuers took over to give support to the people of Liberia, but the rescue train has launched a policy of no increase in civil workers’ pay, underlining the misplacement priorities of the current administration (Global Finance, 2024).

Liberia’s poor is mostly caused by the chronic corruption and selfishness of its lawmakers. Their emphasis on personal wealth over public well-being has kept the country in a state of chronic poverty and underdevelopment.

To save people and bring about serious change, these bloated expenditures must be significantly reduced. The revenues saved should be used to support essential areas such as health, education, security, agriculture, youth empowerment, private sector investment, energy, and water and sanitation (Paye-Layleh, 2023).

Rap-up: A Call to Action

Liberian lawmakers must learn from the greedy hunter’s story. Just as the hunter’s unquenchable desire starved the villages, the lawmakers’ actions have left the country’s people in desperate need.

After 177 years of sorrow, it is time for a genuine change. Leaders must prioritize the needs of their constituents over personal profits. They can break the cycle of poverty and put Liberia on track for long-term growth by investing in its people and future. The time for action has arrived, and the duty falls entirely on the shoulders of those with the authority to make a difference (lawmakers).

References

  1. FrontPage Africa. (2023). Liberian lawmakers’ budget increases amidst economic hardship. Retrieved from FrontPage Africa
  2. Global Finance. (2024). World’s poorest countries 2024. Retrieved from Global Finance
  3. Inter-Parliamentary Union. (2023). Parliamentary salaries and allowances. Retrieved from IPU
  4. Karmo, H. (2023). Liberian lawmakers protest over allowances and vehicles. The New Dawn Liberia. Retrieved from The New Dawn Liberia
  5. Paye-Layleh, J. (2023). Liberian legislative budget hike: A tale of greed. BBC News. Retrieved from BBC News
  6. Transparency International. (2023). Corruption Perceptions Index 2023. Retrieved from Transparency International
  7. World Bank. (2023). Liberia: Country overview. Retrieved from World Bank

About the Author: Sir-George S Tengbeh is a Labor Relations, Policies, and Governance commentator

MA, MSc, BSc, AA: W: +4915213885030 E: gstengbeh@gmail.com

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