Monrovia - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says the current funds allotted to the Resettlement Action Plan in the certified national budget for fiscal year 2013/2014 undermine government's development agenda.
The President Speaking at the second steering committee meeting of the Liberia Development Alliance, held at the Cecil Dennis Auditorium at the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs, President Sirleaf alleged that the continuous allotment made in the budget in resettlement package for illegal structures built in the right old way by some Liberians is causing the government serious economic setbacks.
"I just want to say a word about that because we are going to make a policy on RAPS. We have over the years, illegal structures that have been built all over the country," she says.
"Those structures most times are built without ownership to them. Our budget was completely undermined last year because of the payment of RAPS because we had not anticipated it and it had not been allocated for."
The President said with frustration that the government is constrained to make payments for illegal structures because it is a requirement set by its international partners who support its development efforts as a precondition for the progress on projects but added that this strategy is out of date with the realities as far as national development is concerned and is hurting the budget.
"As a result there were reallocation of appropriations because we had to meet a commitment from the World Bank, that unless we pay those RAPS, the road projects would not go," she says.
"We keep saying to the bank and other donors; there are special circumstances that must be looked at in a different way. You cannot apply a policy that may maintain in a country in a difference circumstance and to ours. "
The President noted that the government has tried to make payments to individuals in affected communities but the demands for such settlements continues to increase because people are taking advantage of the government's goodwill and exploiting the system.
"Yes we are going to try to make sure that we meet people's relocation needs; but we are not going to anymore- if you build on illegal structures, where we go and we do market; and we go and assess the market value and pay you market value because it is causing people to come and build even as we are preparing projects, people are building illegally on the basis that they will be compensated on a market basis," states President Sirleaf in the Presence of her development partners.
"I want you to bear in mind that we are going to have a different policy on that, so that we achieve the same objectives without doing any harm to people but we are not going to let people take any advantage of us anymore."
She says US$8.6million allotted for this area could be used in other sectors such agriculture or food sufficiency program instead of diverting it to making illegal payments.
'Put your money where your mouth is'
On Tuesday at the Ministry of information special press briefing Finance minister Amara Konneh raised the issue when he addressed journalists on the budget.
"The government's got to put its money where its mouth is; if we don't exercise restraint and reduce recurrent expenditure year on year and move them towards public sector investment programs we will not achieve all of the things that we have just told you about," he says.
The minister says that the rehabilitation of roads will cost the government a lot in terms of relocating people who build in the right-of-way.
"Building the road from Paynesville to Ganta, to the Guinea border, we've got to pay for all the structures that were built in the right of way because our country is not back to normal status yet."
"When you break down people's homes and throw them in the street, you are creating further social problems; so we have to pay; even though they broke the law we have to pay for the structures; help them move their families, so that we can peacefully build the road because that road is the main economic corridor for our country."
Minister Konneh states that getting the roads up and running will open up the country and improve livelihoods in terms of trade and connectivity.
"We believe that it will increase economic activity, it will link our farmers to the main highways; the markets; transshipment and regional trade will continue to increase between Liberia and some others. They donors will not pay it is us who will pay," says Minister Konneh.
It can be recalled that President Sirleaf in her interaction with the nation on state radio ELBC in April of this year blamed citizens for delays in the rehabilitation and construction of roads across the country citing the construction of illegal makeshift structures on the Gbarnga-Ganta road and the planting of rubber trees on the waterway of the hydro plant at White Plains.
She said the payment of resettlement funds to residents along the Redlight to Gbarnga highway alone would cost the government US$6.5m and as a result of these payments for these illegal structures, the road construction valued at US$166m was delayed by a year.
The president added that it would cost government US$21m to pay owners of the makeshift structures along the Gbarnga-Ganta highway. During fiscal year 2012/2013, Government ministries and agencies saw drastic cuts in budget projections because of a budget shortfall of over US$120million.
The 2012/2013 Fiscal Budget was originally set at US$672,050,415 million. At the time, the Finance ministry noted that several items were sacrificed and that the budget would be project based.
The Western Cluster road project of the National Iron Ore Company (NIOC) in Bomi County, which should have started long ago, was stalled because of people occupying makeshift structures.
She then disclosed that cost to government due to illegal activities on the White Plains Hydro would be US$20m to remove the farms. The President now maintains that the government cannot continue to pay for illegal structures built by citizens.