Tuesday, 14 December 2021 16:33

CSDFs and the Unintended Consequences

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…Bomi and Gbarpolu in Focus

By: Sam Z. Zota, Jr.

The County Social Development Fund (CSDF) was established as part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the following objectives are achieved: ensure that funds allocated to counties are properly managed, accounted for, and applied in accordance with the County Development Plan; full participation of local inhabitants in the planning, development, and implementation of the CSDF; minimize the direct political influence in the management and implementation of the CSDF; and ensure value for public funds allotted to the counties as CSDF, (CSDF Act of 2018).

Despite these well-crafted objectives outlined in the CSDF Act of 2018, citizens in seven (7) of Liberia’s fifteen (15) counties feel left out of the process, especially in terms of transparency and accountability in the implementation of funds allocated to their respective communities.

Every year, the Law provides for the holding of County Council Sitting to decide on funds allocations to their respective counties. The implementations of projects decided in the County Council Sitting are carryout by the Project Management Committees (PMCs), usually elected by delegates to the Council Sittings.

“When they came here to renovate this building (the Suehn Mecca Statutory District Administrative Building), we asked the contractor to provide information to us about what exactly he will be doing and who sent him. He insulted us and said we were half-educated so he cannot give us any answer, so, we left them to do whatever they wanted,” said Sieh Momodu Domago, Township Commissioner, Cooper Town, Suehn Mecca District, Bomi County.

The renovation of the Suehn Mecca Statutory District Administrative Building in Cooper Town, Bomi County costs Twenty-Seven Thousand Two-Hundred Ninety-Seven United States Dollars ($27,297.00).  Citizens have blamed direct political influences in project implementations and lack of transparency for the continuous disrespect shown to local inhabitants and their leaders by contractors in the counties.

It is reported that most of the contractors hired to implement projects in the communities were either owned by local county authorities or influential politicians in the country. As a result of lack of access to information, citizens still remain doubtful of the sources of funds (CSDF, Legislative Support Projects, and politicians’ personal initiatives) for projects in their communities.

Some CSDF funded projects are claimed by politicians as their personal initiatives, like the water towers and modern latrine projects in the Gbalasuah Community in Tubmanburg, where the former Representative of Bomi County District #1, S. Gayah Karmo is believed to have constructed them as his personal initiative for the community.

“Just a few people using the toilet right now. After the lawmaker (former Rep. Karmo) finished the project, the people came overnight and stole the machine that supposed to pump water to the reservoir to be used to flush the toilet and for the shower,” said Fatu Kamara, a resident of the Gbalasuah Community in Tubmanburg.

According to the report from the Bomi County Project Management Committee (PMC), in 2017, the constructions of three (3) modern latrines in three (3) communities; four (4) water towels and four (4) 5.5KVA generators in Gbalasuah; Vai Town; Harmon Hill and Kondeh Communities cost ninety-nine thousand eight hundred and eight dollars thirty-six cent (US$99,808.36) from the CSDF.

“When they (Contractors) come to do a project in the community, they usually tell us that they were sent by the big-big people (people in authority) to develop our community and, they’re the ones they can report to, not us (community dwellers),” Vashti Seh, a resident of the Bahar Community in Tubmanburg said.

 In some communities, the contractors even demanded community dwellers to contribute local materials for the construction of structures that have been costed and paid for.

In Gbarpolu County, the Town Chief of Gbarquoita, Habakkuk M. Jallah said in 2017, the youth of the town were asked to produce all local materials (sand, sticks, rocks, etc.) for the construction of a clinic in the area. Since its construction nearly four years ago, the Gbarquoita Clinic is yet to serve the town with a population of over 2000 inhabitants.

Patients, including women in labour either walk or are transported in hammock for over three hours from the town to Bopolu City to access treatment. The structure is in ruins with bush overtaking it. Residents are becoming reluctant to continuously cutting grass and cleaning a structure that’s yet to become beneficial to them. The Gbarpolu County Project Management Committee (PMC) captured the Gbarquoita Clinic in its report as one of the projects funded by the CSDF, though the cost of the abandoned Clinic construction is not seen in the report. 

Like the Gbarquoita Clinic, the Youth Center constructed in Bopolu City with the CSDF is also in ruins, grass has overtaken the entire structure. A total of sixty-thousand nine-hundred and fifty-six dollars ninety-one cent (US$60,956.91) was spent so far for the Youth Center construction.  

The two PMCs reports (Bomi and Gbarpolu Counties) associate high costs for different projects that appeared to be unrealistic and don’t seem to match with the physical structures that are either completed or still in progress.

At the Macca Clinic in Mulbah Town in Bomi County, US$50,000.00 was said to have been spent for the construction of a set of three one-bed-room unfurnished apartments as Nurses’ Quarter. The tiling of the floors in the apartments are yet to be completed, while in Gbarpolu County, over two-hundred thousand United States Dollars (US200,000.00) was said to have been spent on the Bopolu City electrification and layout projects that are yet to be completed.  The Clinic has nine (9) staff, but only three of the nine (9) are residing in the Quarter.  

Citizens still do not feel the impacts of the CSDFs in their counties. Project implementations in the counties are reportedly marred by a lack of participation, transparency, and accountability.

Aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the CSDF mechanism presents an opportunity for citizens to engage and influence development agendas at the county levels. It is also a crucial local instrument that supports the CDC-led Government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) which among other things, seeks to reduce poverty and increase efforts to address inequality.

As part of the government decentralization process, the CSDF empowers citizens in their respective counties throughout the 15 subdivisions of Liberia to decide the use of two-hundred thousand United States dollars (200,000.00USD) allotted in the national budget; to ensure that growth spreads to rural Liberia through county-driven development. But, according to the General Auditing Commission (GAC), the CSDF implementations have been marred by several discrepancies and unorthodox financial practices over the years.

To address the abuse and mismanagement of public resources and ensure accountable and impact-driven citizens-led development across Liberia, citizens believe that the Government of Liberia must ensure that the impartial implementation and enforcement of audit findings and recommendations by unbiasedly prosecuting people found liable for corruption.

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