SANNIQUELLIE, Nimba – The manner in which the election of officials of Nimba’s Project Management Committee was conducted during the just-ended Nimba County Council Sitting has created a controversy, as many are accusing Sen. Prince Johnson of illegally stage-managing the process.
On Saturday, August 22, Sen. Johnson, who was presiding over the pivotal gathering meant to determine spending priorities for the county’s social development funds, abruptly called off a presentation of petitions by civil society groups in order to conduct elections for the county’s PMC. This was done in the absence of three of his colleagues from the Nimba County Legislative Caucus.
Johnson began hurriedly conducting the PMC election after he was alerted that three of his colleagues, including Rep. Prince Tokpa of the second district, Rep. Samuel G. Kogar of the fifth district, and Rep. Larry Younquoi of Nimba’s eighth district, had gone to court to seek a writ of prohibition against the election because Johnson had refused to allow voting to be done by secret ballot.
The committee is responsible for managing the development funds and ensuring that the projects agreed upon are completed. It is also a stepping stone for individuals interested in Nimba politics, and The Bush Chicken already reported that there were allegations that Sen. Johnson and Liberia’s comptroller general, Janga Kowo, were working together to bribe delegates to vote in favor of candidates aligned with the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change. To prevent this from happening, some Nimba lawmakers had called for a secret ballot vote to reduce the pressures.
However, when Johnson noticed his colleagues were out of the session, he abandoned all of the normal procedures associated with the election, including the introduction of the candidates, their platforms, and debates.
He called the names of those he was supposedly supporting and asked the delegates to raise their hands for the candidate of their choice for each of the three positions being contested, without the participation of other candidates who had registered to contest.
At the end of the election, he hurriedly announced Harris Y. Yeanamie, Sam G. Ta-Kruah, and Richard Z. Nyeingar as chair, treasurer, and comptroller, respectively. Johnson then hastily adjourned the sitting before the arrival of his fellow lawmakers.
Addressing a press conference late Saturday evening, Rep. Kogar branded the entire gathering as ‘illegal,’ citing a communication written to Nimba’s superintendent, Nelson Korquoi, on August 12 that requested that the PMC election be held by a secret ballot, consistent with the Budget Law and the constitution. The letter was authored by the county’s legislative caucus and signed by Sen. Johnson, Kogar said.
Kogar alleged that presidential appointees who attended as delegates were coerced that if they voted against his candidates, they would be dismissed.
“The chairman of the caucus [Sen. Johnson] abruptly ended the session on the last day without affording the delegates the opportunity to listen [to] and debate the past PMC reports and draft budget of the PMC activities,” he said.
“Finally, there was no final resolution of the county sitting which could have been used as an instrument to access the funds from [the] government to be used for various development projects that could be implemented in a resolution. Therefore, we the three aggrieved Nimba lawmakers call on our fellow citizens to remain calm as we pursue legal recourse to the illegal process presided over by the chairman of the Nimba Legislative Caucus, Senator Prince Y. Johnson.”
Several prominent civil society groups also expressed their disappointment over how Sen. Johnson handled the election, with many describing it as ‘undemocratic.’
The National Civil Society Council of Liberia’s Nimba branch issued a press statement describing the gathering as a “free but undemocratic and oppressive sitting.”
At a press conference on Monday, August 25 in Ganta, the group’s chair on media engagement noted that, at the start of the sitting, there was no agenda read and parliamentary procedures were not upheld by Johnson.
Alexander Nyah also observed that funds generated from Nimba’s natural resources was being used in a partisan manner. This was in reference to what the civil society group said was the “undemocratic posture and open threats” from Sen. Johnson, directed at the delegates.
Johnson had told delegates that the Coalition for Democratic Change government was now in power and anyone who refuses to support their candidates in the PMC election would be dismissed. The National Civil Society Council said this compromised the independence and transparent nature of both the sitting and the election.
He warned that the nature of the elections could foreshadow mismanagement of funds: “We are therefore very concerned and afraid that if a County Council Sitting for PMC election and approval or resolution of activities held under the watchful eyes of the of the media [and] [civil society organizations] and can be oppressive and not transparent, it’s very unlikely that same shall border upon the effective and transparent implementation framework of the resolution.”
The group also worried that the current disunity within the Nimba County Legislative Caucus could undermine the smooth implementation of the resolution drawn from the sitting.
Featured photo by Jerry Myers