Liberia: Selective Funding or Fiscal Constraint? VP Office, MFDP Spar Over Budget Allocation

Monrovia — Reality came calling for Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor last August when at least one person was killed when her motorcade's pilot vehicle collided with a taxi near 15 Gate on the Kakata-Monrovia Highway in Margibi County.

The Veep was reportedly on her way back from Gbarnga, Bong County, where she had gone to attend the Gboveh Junior and Senior High School commencement exercises as the guest speaker.

The collision was one of two in the past year alone that has handicapped the VP's security detail.

The lack of proper security details to travel and adequately guard the second in line of succession to the Liberian presidency, has been a subject of recent debate regarding concerns that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has been deliberately withholding operational funding for the Office of the Vice President. "My convoy has been involved in two major accidents as a result of the lack of police escort vehicles to alert incoming traffic; also funds for our general operations to include fuel, repairs, office supplies, local travel expenses, special projects, contributions have also not been forthcoming," the Vice President said in an exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica, the third part of which is airing today.

The VP described funding for operations as critical for the running of all offices in government, which include the Offices of the President, Vice President, President Pro-Tempore, Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Ministries and Agencies. "This allows the engines to run smoothly, it allows the Office of the Vice President to run smoothly also, and allows the Vice President to make timely intervention and contributions to people living with disabilities and to special interest of the Vice President which fall in line with national priorities; for me as a female Vice President, these special interest cover women empowerment initiatives; support to disadvantaged girls, victims of rape; and victims of sexual and gender based violence; and to young people in business, culture and the arts."

MFDP Says Payments Have Been Made

Contacted recently, the MFDP explained that it has supported the office of the Vice President by disbursing over US$3 million of budgetary allotment since 2018. But the VP's office insists that it is demanding allotment from the previous fiscal year which cannot be paid unless it is accounted for in the current budget.

According to the MFDP source, the Vice President took vehicles for her office staff last year but the slump in the economy which affected the budget and caused salary delays also made it difficult for vendors to be paid.

Responding to an FPA inquiry Wednesday, the MFDP dismissed suggestions that it is selectively targeting the Vice President's office: "The Ministry of Finance has made payments to all branches of Government within the limits of what is possible. The Office of the Vice President has received more than US$3 million in both compensation and goods and services since 2018. Fiscal challenges have led to austerity that have affected senior leadership of all branches of Government. The ministry is not selective in administering payments but follows rule-based fiscal rules that aim to contain the deficit and assure budget credibility."

'Completely Vulnerable'

The VP disagrees while explaining why her office is being strangulated.

The VP explained that the budget for her office consists of funds for salaries, operations, travel allowances and special projects. "My office has over the two years received salaries, travel allowances and funds for the hosting of a women's empowerment forum SHEROES in 2018. What we have not received are security vehicles for the Vice President convoy, the two official armored vehicles for the VP, and the police escort vehicles. I'm currently using my personal vehicle and my convoy is completely vulnerable thus putting at risk my life and that of others including pedestrians."

The Vice President says what really puzzled her was a recent discovery that the office of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives received its funding, when her office had not.

Said the VP: "Knowing that other offices have been paid their operations, so they're better functioning, offices that are lower than the Office of the Vice President have received all of what they have requested, I found out that two payments were made on December 23, the first payment was made in two checks to the Office of the Deputy Speaker of operations in the amount of owner 150,000, United States dollars and then made it House of Representatives for some other payment. And I was just totally blown out of water. And this is not particularly to the individual in our office and I want to be clear, because, you know, politics is a really tricky thing. So, it wasn't about him ,it was about the fact that the Ministry of Finance, could make a $US150,000 payment for operations for the Office of the Deputy Speaker and they have not done that for me in two years."

The withholding of funds, according to the VP, has led her to go begging around for help. "I, over the last two years have had to go beyond my means, you know, get to friends to help us - oh, please repair this car. And I just got tired doing it. And when I found out that somehow, you know, this funding that is so important to my office was also being paid to other offices, I felt that there was something wrong and that I had to - even though I had engaged them from time-to-time, that I had to actually do something, so people will know that - I believe is an error and it has strangulated my work."

That error, the Vice President said, prompted her into action. "I wanted something done about it - and I took a decision to write the relevant letters that I couldn't go out, I had no vehicles, no security vehicles and then I couldn't go to my office. You can imagine at the beginning of this year, how many people would come; how many issues will come across my desk, and I won't be able to even handle one of them. And I couldn't deal with it."

Asked whether anything has changed since the issue came into the public domain, the Vice President said, the President is aware and has been informed and is looking into the matter.

"I know the President when he got my letter, sent a small delegation to me to talk about what the issues were because he kept hearing himself, "we've paid out $3.7 million dollars over the two years. So, he was concerned about what the real issues were. And so, we sat down, we looked at all of the books, and exactly what I was saying is exactly what they found out. So, I think a report was sent back to the President and I'm hoping that the Minister of Finance is working on - now there are three issues now."

'Proper Allotments Made'. . . 'We Weren't Paid'

The VP said the first issue is bills that her office incurred for logistics, for vehicles, for office staffers, and fuel and other things for 2018. "In 2019, because we didn't get payment for those other things, I told them, Hey! I don't want to get to the point where the office owes people - half a million dollars or a million dollars. Because we could have kept saying, well, just credit us ink, just creditors, people, just creditors few by now the bills be more than know what it is. So, I said, let's just hold on, we'll manage. If we can't go somewhere, we just can't. And so, we didn't increase that bill, more than what it was in 2018, which they still haven't paid. So, that was an issue first issue I raised with the team that had come."

The second issue she said regards her waiver of operational money, operational funds for 2018 to 2019. The Vice President said she requested the ministry to pay her office what was due for July 1 to December 30th 2019 realizing the challenges the government has been facing. "Because I knew the country had difficulties, because I knew the country had difficulties that we had already gone to the period we've already endured. So, it didn't make sense to say, well, you know, even though I was entitled to this amount, and I was budgeted for it, the proper allotments were made and you didn't pay us. I'm not interested in dragging government to any place beyond you know what my needs are."

As a result, she said, her office waived all of the extra operational funds simply wanted to be paid. "The bills of the things that we took 2019, the operational funds for the 2019 July 1 to December 30th - and then the issue of the vehicles that I actually need - I need a bulletproof car, I need a few security vehicles to kind of fill in on convoy so I'm able to safely travel to places that I have to go. So, those are the issues that we ended on and I am hoping that something will be done to remedy those issues."

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