Budget hearing for the Ministry of Public Works at the Capitol on Monday, 26 August opened serious Pandora box about US$27 Million that is yet to be accounted for. The money, which is part of a US$40 Million allotment for the Ministry in the FY2018/2019 National Budget for infrastructure development, mainly roads, appears to be untraceable, as Deputy Minister of Public Works for Administration Joseph Todd, could only account for US$13 Million of the amount when he appeared before the Joint Legislative Committee on Ways, Means and Finance, and Budget.
As part of the ongoing budget hearing at the House of Representatives on the draft National Budget for FY2019/2020, Deputy Minister Todd had gone to defend allocation made in the draft national budget for the Public Works Ministry and provide performance report for allotment in the just-ended fiscal period.
But the Deputy Works Minister froze completely when asked to provide details, including supportive documents for the remaining US$27 million from the last fiscal period. Instead, he stood mute, sweating profusely in the air cooled conference room of the House. His appeal for additional US$29 million in the current draft national budget to be added to the already US$40 million allotted last year, fell on deaf ears, leaving the Joint Legislative Committee to set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the Public Works Ministry on the whereabouts of the balance USS$27 million.
The situation with the Works Ministry is not only disappointing, but highly regrettable, particularly in a wrecked economy such as Liberia, with over 40 percent inflation exacerbated by rapid depreciation of the local currency amid widespread mismanagement, pillage and corruption.
The Public Works Ministry under the watch of Minister Mobutu VlahNyenpan has been found wanting in the usage of allotted funds and tangibles on the ground.
Minister Nyenpan himself did not appear before the House for Monday's hearing, but if the account by his principal deputy is anything to judge by, then that Ministry needs to do more in properly accounting for public money entrusted to its care.
US$27 Million for a government that cannot pay salary in time is a lot of money to supposedly disappear in thin air and the matter swept under the carpet, as we are beginning to sense. After all, Minister Nyenpan is a fanatic of President George Weah's governing Coalition for Democratic Change, so he is untouchable.
We take cue from the most superior Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah and the failed Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia Nathaniel R. Patray over the expenditure of US25 Million that was taken from the national reserves to mop up excess liquidity in the economy.
Audits conducted both by the USAID-sponsored firm, Kroll & Associates and the government-instituted Presidential Investigative Team (PIT) point to gross mismanagement of the money with no proper accountability. Increased public outcry for the two officials involved to step down has gone unheeded because the guys still enjoy the confidence of President George Weah.
Therefore, there is no guarantee that the Ministry of Public Works would account for the US$27 Million that is part of its US$40 Million allotted in the FY2018/2019 national budget. We believe strongly that the so-called ad-hoc committee set up by the Joint Legislative Committee to probe the Ministry is mere public relations stunt to sweep the matter under the carpet and conduct business as usual because there has been no precedent.