Liberia: Lawmakers Demand Audit of House of Representatives to Ensure Financial Uprightness

Monrovia – The call for a comprehensive audit of the House of Representatives is getting louder by the day as a group of lawmakers on Tuesday, May 28 reemphasized the need for the body to sanction a forensic audit.

Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh,

The lawmakers stressing the importance of protest are Representatives Vicent S. T. Willie (Independent, Grand Bassa County District #4), Francis S. Dopoh (Unity Party, River Gee County District #3), Robert Flomo Womba (UP, Bong County District #4), Lawrence Morris (Independent, Montserrado District #1) and Cebee C.D. Barshell (Unity Party, Montserrado District #3).

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, the lawmakers stated that auditing the House of Representatives is not just to promote accountability and transparency, but to place the House in a better position to ably exercise their oversight responsibility by holding the Executive and other sectors accountable.

“I support the issue of auditing the House because that will not only bring improvement in our economy but will give a clear understanding as of the workings of House and the way forward,” said Rep. Barshell.

“For over a year now, I still don’t have a clear understanding, concerning [the] benefits and salaries of this House because there is no much understanding.”

The lawmakers’ declaration is in support of Rep. Vicent T. Willie’s communication requesting Plenary of the House of Representatives to mandate the General Auditing Commission to conduct a comprehensive audit of the House of Representatives for the periods covering fiscal budget years 2016/2017; 2017/2018; and 2018/2019 respectively.

“I believe that one of the ultimate ways to improving accountability and transparency at this august body is to conduct accurate financial auditing on the budgetary performance of the Legislature,” Rep. Willie wrote.  

“It is vital as it would enable us to understand how much was allotted for this body and how monies allotted were expended. This exercise would also enable us [to] allocate limited resources more effectively, as we all strive to balance our economy for the betterment of us all and the Liberian people.”

As an august body charged with the oversight duties to review and call to attention all ministries and heads of agencies relative to their budgetary performance, Rep. Willie noted.

He added that “it will be prudent for these institutions and the public to know the budgetary allocations and performances of the Legislature to erase the dark cloud over the House of Representatives by the public”.

Meanwhile, as the House’s leadership headed by Speaker Bhofal Chambers comes under increasing pressure to subject the House to a GAC audit, Representative Clarence Gahr (CDC, Margibi County District #5) has craved the indulgence of Plenary to invite Liberia’s Auditor General, Yusador S. Gaye to state reasons why the GAC has not submitted audited financial reports for Fiscal Years 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 of all government line ministries, agencies, public corporations, the Judicial and Legislative branches as mandated by law.

Speaker Chambers took siege of both communications after plenary failed to adopt a motion amid heated debate.

Rep. Matthew Zarzar was recognized to proffer a motion, but his choice of words angered some lawmakers and led them to a sustained commotion that led the Speaker to take siege of the motion.

More Calls for Audit

Although the call for a comprehensive forensic audit of the lower House is getting louder by the minutes, the process began in 2018 with several lawmakers including Rep. Francis S. Dopoh, who called for a ‘holistic’ audit of the entire Legislature in order to gain financial autonomy and truly reflect reforms aimed at bringing integrity and credibility to the first branch of government.

Recently, two solidarity groups, the Independent Legislative Caucus (ILS) and like-minded Representatives of the 54th Legislature called for the books of the Legislature to be audited including a vigorous payroll vetting and audit exercise that will set a benchmark for a transparent and accountable Legislature. 

According to them, the exercise will give the public a clearer understanding as to the actual remunerations of members of the Legislature and could help to prevent any possible waste and abuse in the national Budget; adding as the Executive is taking steps in these directions, the Liberian Legislature and the Judiciary should be of no exception. 

The Lawmakers’ demand was in response to Rep. Acarous Gray and other top CDC lawmakers’ call for an urgent review of their (lawmakers) benefits for a possible reduction in order to meet the economic reality of the day.

Rep Gray, in a communication, which is currently being reviewed by the Committees on Ways, Means and Finance & Development Planning, Public Accounts and Judiciary stated that if said reduction is done, it will enable the administration of George Weah to meet up with some of the challenges grappling the health and educational sectors of Liberia.

“If such necessary austerity measure is taken, as it relates to our benefits being cut down, the government will be able to execute most of its developmental agenda that even include our legislative projects,” Gray noted.

However, the ILC and the like-minded Representatives of the 54th Legislature said they welcome feasible measures to be taken to enable government get adequate resources to address the developmental challenges of the state, but differed on Rep. Gray’s proposal of benefit cuts and called for a 40 percent reduction in the Speaker’s budget and 75 percent reduction in the operational and committee hearing budgets of the House of Representatives to save more money.

What is the Speaker’s Budget?

The group in a release revealed that out of the US$49.2 million, the Legislature appropriated to itself for fiscal year 2018/2019, the office of the Senate Pro-tempore got US$1.38million, office of the Speaker, US$1.22million, and the office of the Deputy Speaker gets US$0.766 million.

Senate members including Central Administration and Secretariats got an allotted amount of US$14.67 million, while the House members including personal staffers and central administration and secretariats have an appropriated budget of US$31.18million.

They noted that Speaker Chambersof received the budgeted amount of US$29,700 as special allowance per month, inclusive of his discretionary budget of US$1.22 million, while each member of the House of Representatives with no discretionary role in the budget execution process received as budgeted US$7,450 or US$5,500 net of taxes per month.

The House of Representatives, the revealed, appropriated to itself US$1.6million for Operations and US$1.8million for Committee Hearings at the discretion of the Speaker, amounting to US$3.4million.

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