20 February 2013

Liberia: Sms Budget Info Initiative Launched

A project has been launched in Monrovia aimed at supporting government's open budget initiative.

The project will be carried out through a two-way automated response SMS application to enhance transparency and accountability by empowering the media to vigorously report on budget related issues.

The project was launched at the Liberia Media Center (LMC) under the sponsorship of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). Its costs US$159,000 and will be implemented by the LMC for an 18-month period.

According to an information kit, the program will be implemented under the project "because accountability matters" and it

will roll out SMS platform similar to the one deployed in Liberia's 2011 elections to provide a two-way communication between the people and the system.

The technology works by keying in summary budget information in a database system supported by two enterprise servers - remote server based abroad and a local server based at the program implementation hub.

At the ceremony yesterday, Massa S. S. Crayton, Country Officer for OSIWA said the system would help to enhance transparency and accountability in the country.

She disclosed that the system would also assist citizens in the towns and villages to access information relating to the budget and how cash allotted for various projects are expended.

"For instance, if there is a school that was supposed to have been built in this community but not yet constructed, one can easily track down such information.

"We have seen instances where a school should have been built and it's recorded that money was expended for those schools, or health posts; but if you go to that community, you will not see anything. The people themselves in those communities were not even aware that there was such an appropriation for them. That's the kind of fine and detailed lines that we want to see coming up," she said.

However, the project would not go nationwide, she said. Nevertheless, she encouraged citizens who would be accessible to it to fully utilize the services by knowing the allotment and disbursement in the budget for their various communities or counties.

"The level of their engagement in the entire process would determine to a large extent how well we as Liberians want to actually get involved in our national processes and actually want to see our country move forward," she said.

Lawrence Randall, Executive Director of LMC said the project would also create an opportunity for citizens to get involved in the decision making process by having full knowledge about their country's budget system.

He disclosed that due to the voluminous nature of the budget, the text messaging application would work based on codes developed for the system.

"The project will develop codes for most of the items and through elaborate media sensitization and awareness, the codes would be widely publicized; for instance, if a respondent wants to know the national level allocation for road development in the 2012 budget, he/she can text in this format: "to 2012. System response: 12 million road construction. 10.5 Million Feeder Rd. 2.0 Million Asphat Rd; 1.0 M repairs," he explained.

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