27 May 2014

Liberia: U.S $73 Million Budget Fight Intensifies - Lawmakers On Consultative Break

Monrovia — Members of the House of Representative are determined to launch a full scale offensive on the Senate and the Executive in an effort to ensure that the US$73Million they proposed to be used for the development of the communities they represent be realized.

Legislative sources told FrontPageAfrica that the House would on Tuesday recoil into five-day emergency break to launch a five-day nationwide consultancy with their various constituencies in an effort to educate their people on the reasons why they insist on allotting the US$73Million in the FYI 2014/2015 national budget.

It can be recalled that House Speaker Alex Tyler on Thursday told members of the House that the budget presented to that august body was a symbolic one and as far as he was concerned there was no budget before the legislature.

Speaker Tyler and other members of the House were angry over the decision of the Senate to trash out the US$73 Million with the Speaker accusing hidden hands of influencing the senate's decision to throw the bill out. "I think it is appropriate to stop playing politics and sit around the table where all of us can reason," said Rep. Tyler (Bomi-UP).

"The budget we talk about today is the budget of the Liberian people; nobody can be prioritized over the Liberian people and as a government and responsible and intelligent as some of us are, if we have an issue to be discussed."

The legislature is determined to see theUS$73Million included in the budget desperately and sources are hinting FrontPageAfrica that any attempt by the executive to force the hand of members of the Senate to stifle the proposal, there are going to be dire consequences.

"I don't care what happens this money has to be included in the budget. If we have not been united before as lawmakers of the lower house on anything; we are united on this one. Any attempt to force it will lead to a complete shutdown of the government," our one legislative source that chose to remain anonymous said.

During Thursday's session shows that the House is united in its quest to see the US$73M included in the budget and hardline lawmakers including Rep. Edwin M. Snowe (INDP-District#6-Montserrado County) thinks the amount is just a minute portion of what should be allotted for the development of the counties.

"Mr. Speaker, we have the authority to appropriate the six hundred million dollars in the entire budget if the Liberian people can trust us with the entire budget, why question us for giving back 73 to our people for development," he said during Thursday's debate on the issue.

Continued Snowe: "We have an obligation to our people, let's not be deterred if it will mean we stay here until October when they are having elections before we pass that so be it but the Liberian people must benefit. We are not asking for salary increase, new vehicles or for us to go implement projects we are saying put the money in the budget the executive Branch will implement the projects through their respective agencies and Ministries".

Rep. Gabriel Smith of Grand Bassa (INDP-District #2) thinks the executive is pulling some strings with the senate, which is counterproductive to the growth and development of the people who elected them.

"What the Senate is doing is calculated and it is a calculated attempt to perpetuate that philosophy that puts others in a state of nobodies," he said. "There are places in this country Mr. Speaker our brothers and sisters will never have an opportunity to sit in a classroom if we do not take this stand so in conclusion the House is on the right trajectory."

Last Wednesday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf submitted the draft national budget in the amount of US$557m to the legislature. The new austerity budget cuts wastes in government and channels more funds to infrastructure development as set out in the Agenda for Transformation, according to the Ministry of Finance.

The President submitted the budget consistent with the Section 11.1 of the Public Financial Management Act of 2009 and it is the last cycle of spending under austere conditions in the three-year Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) introduced in 2012.

"This draft Budget calls for a period of national sacrifice - a sacrifice that calls for better efficiency in the allocation of available resources - as government combines aggressive revenue generation with careful debt management and scaled up spending in security, energy and the road network," said President Johnson Sirleaf in her budget statement issued last Wednesday.

Since the submission of the budget, there has been wrangling between the two branches of the legislature. If the Senate and the House do not find a common ground on this US$73M issue legislative sources that begged not to be named are predicting a standoff that would lead the government up a fiscal cliff that would lead to a total shutdown.

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