Liberia: Lack of Details of Foreign Loans - Submission of Contingent Spending, and Covid-19 Expenditure Reports Delay Fy2020-2021 Budget Passage

Monrovia — A ranking member of the Joint Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee Of The 54th Legislature, Representative Francis Dopoh, has expressed uncertainty over the passage of the Draft National Budget for Fiscal Year 2020/2021 in a timely manner, due to multiple sticky issues raised by some members of the committee and others during public hearings on the document.

Lawmaker Dopoh is representing the people of River Gee County in the 54th National Legislature.

It can be recalled that on Wednesday, July 15, President George Manneh Weah, through the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, submitted the draft National Budget for Fiscal Year Fiscal Year 2020/2021to the 54th National Legislature, through the office of Speaker Bhofal Chambers in the tone of US$535.4M.

Following the submission of the draft National Budget, numerous public hearings were conducted by members of the committee for nearly a month, with heads of lines government ministries, agencies, and commissions, among others appearing to submit their expenditure reports and defend their proposed allocations.

Speaking when he appeared as guest on the OK Morning Rush on OK FM 99.5 on Monday, September 21, Representative Dopoh disclosed that members of the committee remain concerned over numerous issues that need to be addressed properly before the passage of the draft financial envelope.

He named some of the concerns as a call for the presentation of details of the loans proposed in the draft National Budget, submission of reports done on contingent spending by various ministries and agencies during the last fiscal period, as well as international contributions made by Liberia to other bodies.

"We have concluded the public hearings on the budget, but we have not concluded the budget yet. I am not sure we are going to pass the budget in this month because; this week we are doing sub-committee works. We have divided the Committee (Joint) into sub-committees so that those follow-up issues can be considered".

"For the last three years we have appropriated up to four million dollars for international contributions. So, we are also concerned about those institutions that received contributions".

Representative Dopoh pointed out the economic and job creation under a pro-poor arrangement which US$111M is proposed in the draft National Budget, with US$58M coming in as loan, is another critical area that need to be looked at critically.

He stated that members of the committee are also concerned about low budgetary allotment of US$1.65M under the Private Sector Investment Program (PSIP) which he described as a "drop in the bucket" towards the agriculture sector in the draft National Budget.

According to him, the move runs contrary to President George Manneh Weah's emphasis on agriculture to help move the country forward.

"We are concerned about the off budget support for agriculture that they have received over the period of time. We want to see the details of the trees that were planted and crops in different areas. We want to know the cost associated with those districts and communities that benefitted".

"We spent up to US$42M on Covid-19 activities and so, we need to know the reports from those areas. We spent about US$58M on PSIP-where we say we will give you this one and you do specific projects in the communities; we want these institutions to give us clear information on what did they do with the money".

Representative Dopoh pointed out that though public hearings on the draft National Budget for the current fiscal period have ended, heads of various government ministries, agencies and others who have sticky issues would submit detailed explanations or reports to the various sub-committees setup from the Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Budget of the 54th National Legislature.

Limited Focus

Speaking further, the River Gee County lawmaker claimed that thorough scrutiny of the "off-budget" component, which comes in loans and grants, has not been adequately scrutinized by lawmakers during the passage of previous budgets.

He noted that the situation experienced in the past has now compelled members of the Joint Committee to place keen focus on the details of loans and grants proposed in the current draft National Budget which is before them.

"Most of the time we have had limited focus on the off budget which is a claim against the Liberian government which comes either by grant or loan. We see the grant amounting to 330M for the current projection; 69M is a loan and 260M is a grant".

"We don't place focus on these loans and people will say we spent billions of dollars on Liberia and we don't see it. It goes under these NGOs, agencies, and different areas. But this time, we are placing lot of emphasis on the off budget mainly for agriculture, health, education, the rule of law and other sectors".

He disclosed that focus will also be given to education, particularly at the primary level, agriculture, infrastructure, Health, and Private Sector Investment to boost the country's economy, among others.

Representative Dopoh, however, underscored the need for the National Budget to be county sensitive, instead of being what he called "political party-balanced".

"The Ways, Means and Finance Committee is established based on the basis of counties and so, when we go to the budget committee we do not go there as Unity Party. Maybe other people would like to do so. For me, I go there for Liberia and River Gee County. The budget is not a party budget".

"The numbers going to be fine in the budget but it's not going to be realistic because realistic budget depends on a timely implementation".

He further expressed disappointment over the failure of various groups and institutions in Liberia that have been apportioned meager allocations in the draft National Budget to speak out through the media or raise concerns on the issue.

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