NAYMOTE Partners for Democratic Development on June 14, 2019 held the seventh in a series of citizens' engagement events in the budget process using the Citizen's Guide to the National Budget of 2018/2019, under its County Accountability and Advocacy Team (CAAT) initiative.
Membership of the CAAT include representatives from the District Development Council, National Teachers Association, Health Workers Association, Civil Society Organizations, people with disabilities, motorcyclists union, media institutions, traditional leaders, women and youth groups.
A release quoting authorities of NAYMOTE said out of US$207,666 allocated in the National Budget as County Development Fund to Bong, only US$100,000 was received by the county; of US$30,000 allocated for the County Service Center running cost; only US$10,000 was received by the center.
Of an allotment of US$320,000 was made to C.B. Dunbar Hospital; little over US$120,000 was received by the hospital and of US$786,959 allotted to the Bong County Technical College, US$631,110 received, according to the various presenters.
There is a budget line called "Donor Projects," containing US$27,309,551 allocated in the national budget for Bong County, but absolutely no information available on the usage and management of said allocation from the county's leadership and the project management committee (PMC). The county leadership has no idea of such budget line.
The amount of US$266,667 was allocated in the budget as social development funds, but the county has not received any of such funds.
At the program, the Acting County Superintendent of Bong, Anthony B. Sheriff, told participants that over the past five years, the county has not received any social development funds from the government.
Sheriff further explained that the county is indebted to contractors for services rendered the county over the past years, stressing that most community development projects under the social development funds are also on hold.
He thanked NAYMOTE for organizing such a forum to discuss the county's budget and provide opportunity for citizens to understand, engage, ask questions and get feedback on how funds allocated in the budget were used, managed and could be accounted for.
Former Bong County Representative, George S. Mulbah, served as an expert facilitator at the forum. He provided detailed information about the budget process, the different budget lines, and how institutions listed in the budget could engage their lawmakers to make sure money placed in the budget is received from the government.
Mulbah informed participants that if money placed in the budget is not received after the budget year, which ends June 30 every year, it is difficult to access such funds, because all funds are placed in a consolidated account, and closed June 30 for a new budget year.
Through series of interventions, advocacy and trainings, rural residents, including health workers, teachers, traditional leaders, people with disabilities, women and youth leaders with support from NAYMOTE, established the CAAT in Bong, River Gee and Maryland counties to monitor, track, advocate and educate citizens to enhance their participation in the national budget process, as well as enhance the effective management of the County Social Development Fund (CSDF), especially project allotments from the County Sittings.
From various consultations and town hall meetings across the three counties, CAAT has identified some challenges, including mismanagement of community project funds/lack of accountability, politically motivated projects by elected lawmakers, limited citizens participation/understanding of the management of the CSDFs.
CAAT has however observed the constructions and renovation of community town halls, school buildings/campuses, and bridges to connect towns/villages, commissioner's compounds, local police stations, and provision of scholarships to students in Bong, River Gee and Maryland counties.
The pavement of the Gbarnga Broad Street, the constructions of the Bong County Technical College are among projects the CAAT has been monitoring.
The engagement of CAAT with local stakeholders is helping citizens to understand how public resources are being allocated, used and managed within rural communities.
In Liberia, legislative oversight on the execution of the budget is weak, audit reports are not taken seriously, and citizens participation is very limited and legislative budget hearing is partly open to the public.
To promote community development projects, the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration established the CDF. US$200,000 is allocated to each of Liberia's 15 counties annually in the national budget. The total amount appropriated in the budget for the CDF is US$3,000,000.
Several counties also received SDFs from concession companies.
For example, the Mineral Development Agreement between ArcelorMittal and the Government of Liberia, established a CDF funded by an annual contribution of US$3 million provided by ArcelorMittal.
The beneficiaries of this fund were Nimba, which received 50%, Grand Bassa 33.3%, and Bong 16.7%.
SDFs are now combined with the CDF for accounting and management purposes. Each county maintains a CDF Fund account in which the funds are deposited for official transfer to the counties.
The institution has promised to engage with lawmakers to ensure improved oversight of the national budget process focusing on the implementation of community development projects, and especially during the 2020/2021 budget period.