Senator Amara Konneh

Senator Amara M. Konneh’s Reflections: Two Months in the Liberian Senate

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Senator Amara M. Konneh’s Reflections: Two Months in the Liberian Senate

My reflections: Month Two
Today is exactly two months since I took my oath as a Liberian Senator from Gbarpolu County. The Senate has been busy, mostly with confirmations. We closed yesterday for a few weeks of a constitutional recess after two months in session. The recess presents an opportunity to visit our constituents and reflect on a few burning issues before the Senate that affect the people who elected us:

  1. War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC): The resolution for the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court by the House of Representatives is before the Senate and is currently being reviewed by the Judiciary Committee. The issue of justice always provokes thoughts among Liberians about three very relevant questions: 1) How are we going to finance the costs of justice, given that we don’t yet know what that cost is? 2) How is this court going to look like? 3) Does the majority of us understand the politics of the WECC? 4) Does the Liberian culture of corruption, nepotism, and patronage truly support the honest dispensation of true justice? Asking this question does not mean I am against a war and economic crimes court (my family was a victim); it means I am thinking strategically about how to implement and sustain it, given our limited resources, so this isn’t one of those talk-and-do nothing culture Liberians have been conditioned to by their leaders.
  2. The LEC mess and the increase in fire incidents in Monrovia should claim everyone’s attention. My letter inviting LEC’s CEO and LERC’s Chairman to appear before the Senate, written three weeks ago, is stalled in the Energy Committee led by Senator Simeon Taylor. Meanwhile, citizens are suffering from poor leadership and management of resources. It doesn’t matter if one is rich or poor, young or old, a govt official or not, we are all suffering because of LEC. It’s also affecting businesses and stunting post-election economic recovery. Requires action NOW!
  3. The AFL tacit mutiny via their wives: I was privileged to serve as co-chair to Senator Augustine Chie on the ad-hoc committee the Pro Temp constituted to investigate the incident. After a thorough investigation including interviews with key stakeholders and barracks visits, the findings raise serious national security concerns that require quick actions. This experience was one of my best learning experiences since I entered the Senate. Collaboration, professionalism, and patriotism were the standards of our team.
  4. The Senate Public Accounts and Audits Committee (PAC) commissioned a specialized audit of the GoL’s Consolidated Account to establish the cash balance at the time power was transferred from former President Weah to President Boakai. The audit unearthed potential constitutional and Public Financial Management Act violations of contracting public debt (borrowing) relating to public debts or borrowing. We are referring the most egregious constitutional and PFM violations to the Senate. Regarding the $83 million, the fundamental question is how was it spent in 2 months. The Senate PAC will instruct the GAC to follow the money all the way to the vendors.
  5. The Presidential Transition Act sponsored by and co-sponsored by 11 Senators, which, if passed swiftly, could prevent most of the governance mistakes that have triggered the partisan debate over balances of the Consolidated Account at transition, presidential appointments, tenure positions, and access to the VIP Lounge at RIA and other privileges to former presidents.
  6. Inflation and exchange rate: Inflation is creeping up as we approach the rainy season. It increased from 10 percent in December 2023 to 10.5 percent in January 2024 due to rising food prices. President Boakai announced reductions in the prices of rice and fuel. This will likely ease the pressure on domestic prices down the road, except the exchange rate depreciates rapidly. For the exchange rate, the Liberian Dollar depreciated against the US Dollar by one percent in February. Unless the CBL keeps the exchange rate broadly stable, around L$191 to USD 1.00, hardship on families could increase in the rainy season. Requires a budget that invests in the people, tighter monetary coordination between MFDP and CBL, and a robust oversight by the Legislature.
  7. The working conditions of Senate staff and ourselves are still not conducive to productivity. Staff wages are dismally low and welfare is punny. The good news is the pro-temp has mandated the Modernization Committee to draw up a plan to address some of these issues. We continue our advocacy and actions.
  8. Confirmation hearings: the Senate could do better in the future.
  9. Security (lack of) at Capitol: Security personnel are harassed, insulted, and sometimes assaulted, especially women, by visitors. All this while being underpaid for two months to protect our lives and the first seat of government. The Capitol, though the people’s house, needs more stringent security.
  10. The wave of demonstrations at two concession sites in Cape Mount and Gbarpolu, with Bomi not too far behind tells the sad story of Liberia’s extractive industry that requires serious reviews, not to harass the concessionaires, but to ensure they are meeting their commitments to affected communities and country. The GAC has initiated a performance audit on the concessionaire’s commitments in their agreements. The Senate leadership has initiated engagements with the Executive and the concessions.
  11. Capitol Tours: This should be part of the Legislature’s modernization efforts. We need to give students, especially those in public schools, working tours at the Capitol to familiarize them with government service. We need to prepare them to take over from us. Maybe seeing these students at the Capitol will encourage us lawmakers to behave properly and professionally. Change comes in small packages.
  12. Gbarpolu Legislative Caucus formed: We’re committing our efforts under a UNIFIED framework of the Gbarpolu Development Strategy (2024-2029). The draft is already being developed. We are currently consulting with local leaders on the formation of the Local Government. We have focused on the national government and restoring macroeconomic stability in the first two months.
    It has been an honor so far to serve with my distinguished colleagues in the Senate. I have had the opportunity to get to know some of them closely and their passions for a better Liberia. I hope all of us have the courage of conviction to speak up, hold each other accountable, and take our oversight roles seriously.
    Photo: back on the road to ‘Real Liberia’ to thank those who elected me and to share with them the work we are doing so far.

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