One of the good things I admire about democracy which simply stresses “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” is that it ensures that all of the people of a particular society that practice such system of governance are represented. It is in this light that today all of the areas in this country, mainly districts and counties have representations in the National Legislature, which is responsible for making laws. Here, each district has a representative and county, two senators, making it a total of representatives and 30 senators for the 15 counties.
In keeping with the dictates of democracy, the role of the people is not only to elect a representative or senator, but to monitor their activities making sure that they live up to expectations. This means that as representatives the people should keep an eagle’s eye on their activities and conduct. Correspondingly, the representatives should also keep the people informed of their activities, as is necessary for accountability and transparency.
Under our system, there are three distinct and separate branches that make up the government. But in order to ensure that one does not become too powerful or engage in abuse of power, a doctrine of checks and balances have been established to serve as a yardstick to check on the activities of each branch, to also avoid one branch over-stepping its bounds.
In the National Legislature, one of the ways it executes this doctrine is through its “OVERSIGHT” functions of government ministries and agencies. This empowers them to cite relevant officials to make clarifications or certain issues or to explain certain actions that may be seen as ultra vires to their functions. Just recently, the House of Representatives, in their function, booked the Chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC) for procedural breach for a car rental contract and during the hearing he conceded and apologized for the breach.
There is no gainsaying that the oversight function of the Legislature is crucial to the checks and balances doctrine in regard to the separation of power. But, like in the field of journalism, it requires proper investigation and gathering of facts to substantiate a particular claim, being fully aware of the rumor-mongering like the media; those who find themselves in the National Legislature, with three basic functions- representation, lawmaking and oversight, also have a responsibility to always cross-check information they receive, in exercising this oversight function of their jobs, to make sure that whatever they present or say is nothing but the truth, as there is not substitute for the truth.
As I always said, certain people can say certain things, but when it comes from certain individuals, like a lawmaker or from a media institution, it gives it some degree of believability, because of their standing in society. Sometimes people say, “I heard it on the radio; I read it in the newspapers; I heard it from a lawmaker.” With this, a special responsibility or duty is imposed on such individuals to always cross-check certain information before going public, as it is difficult to withdraw spoken words.
Disappointingly, some times people argue that they said what they said because they saw it on the internet, meaning that whatever is on the internet is true. As former President Charles Taylor once said, “the internet is a super highway with all kinds of vehicles,” therefore, people should be careful of what they read or see there. This is why it is necessary to always cross-check to avoid taking a lizard for a snake.
Today I am raising the importance of the oversight because this was rightly cited by one of my Representatives from Maryland County, Dr. Bhofal Chambers, on the recent information given to the plenary of the House of Representatives; regarding government’s spending of more than US$200m for public relations in the United States of America.
A month ago that Dr. Chambers alarmed over an unauthorized expenditure of over US$200m allegedly used by the Executive Mansion for public relations services rendered by foreign firms. He wrote a communication to Plenary at the time informing his colleagues that the alleged unexplained expenditure by the Executive Mansion is captured in the United States Department’s report.
Also as it was stated in his letter, Dr. Chambers disclosed that the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) at the U.S. State Department reported that the Liberian Government paid more money for public relations abroad in 2008 than expenditure it captured in 2007.
Frankly, my lawmaker from Maryland had all right to call for a probe on such a matter. Also, this week, the lawmaker raised the issue of oversight after President Sirleaf wrote that body, refuting the claim of spending such huge amount for lobbying or public relations. The President among other things described the claim as “dirty politics”. She noted that Dr. Chambers’ allegation could cause a potentially great harm to Liberia regarding an irresponsible and uninformed media report that US$200m has been spent on public relations.
But minutes after the 15th day sitting at the House on Tuesday, Dr. Chambers quickly arranged a press conference condemning the letter of the President and said her communication is meant to distract the attention of the Liberian people concerning this US$200 million fees paid for lobbying. This means that my lawmaker is sure of his allegation, and is definitely prepared to substantiate his claim.
However, in her communication on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, to the House Plenary, President Sirleaf said the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs has provided evidence that the only lobbying by Liberia is limited to the US firm KRL for which a total amount of US$368,209.00 was spent over the period 2007 to 2013, averaging to US$52,601.00 per annum.
President Sirleaf’s letter dated March 7, 2014, and addressed to House Speaker Alex J. Tyler, said she is compelled to bring to the attention of that honorable body the case involving the potentially great harm that Liberians may suffer as a result of the statement made by Maryland County lawmaker regarding an irresponsible and uninformed media report that Liberia spent US$200 million as lobbying fees.
Although the House Plenary has directed President Sirleaf’s communication to its leadership to handle while Rep. Chambers’ allegation is being investigated by the House Committee on Judiciary, the fact that my lawmaker still stands by what he told his colleagues, and that the action of the President is diversionary tactic, means that this young lawmaker is not speaking from the grapevine, or relying on falsehood, but has something to show to indict the government on such huge spending in the midst of poverty. Let us give him the opportunity to prove his allegation, as under our law, “he that alleges, must prove.”
I take interest in this matter because it has the propensity to cast an aspersion on the people of Maryland because of what their son said. Paternally, I am from that county and whatever goes on there or involves its people or what its people are involved in, are of interest to me. This is my concern.
All in all, the onus probandi now rests with my lawmaker. Until the outcome of the probe, I Rest My Case.