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Liberia: Budget Hearing Still Pending, As Lawmakers Are Yet to Set Eye on the Draft Nat’l Budget

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Monrovia – It appears that the draft National Budget for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019/2020 has gone missing in the corridors of the Legislature as conflicting accounts circulate at the Legislature. 

One account says they have received the draft budget why another claims they are yet to receive the budget leading to delays in its scrutiny.

According to our Legislative reporter, it is unprecedented in the Legislative budget scrutiny process to go a week after the presentation of the budget without the legislature holding a hearing or calling a meeting on the budget. As per tradition, the Legislature begins hearings immediately the next working day after the budget had been submitted to it by the executive and the hearings begin into the revenue component.

So far, the legislature, specifically the Joint Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning Committee is yet to call a meeting on how to go about the process. This newspaper has learned that there are unresolved issues between the Executive and Legislature and this has led to stalling the process.

According to sources, some concerned lawmakers in the House of Representatives are demanding that arrears and benefits owed them for the past four months be paid before they can begin the process of conducting hearings into a new draft budget.

The Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning Committee is made of 15 members of the Senate, each representing a county and 15 members from the House of Representatives.

Other sources in the Senate have also confided in this newspaper that, the Senate is yet to receive a copy of the draft budget for the fiscal year; so can’t  start a process on an instrument that is yet to be presented to them.

When contacted, Representative Thomas Fallah, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning allayed fears that there are issues delaying the process. “There are no issues and we will shortly begin hearing in the budget.” He failed to state when they would begin even when he was pressed. 

In another telephone conversation with Nimba County Representative Jeremiah Koung, who Co-chairs the Budget Committee, he said they are yet to receive the instrument for deliberation.

In late June, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah   presented a National Draft Budget for Fiscal Year 2019/2020 to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The presentation was done on Friday, June 28, 2019 at the Capitol.

FY 2019/2020 envelope is in the tone of US$532,906,966.   

House Speaker Bhofal Chambers received the fiscal instrument and thanked the MFDP authorities for the submission. Speaker Chambers said though the Budget is being presented late, it is proper that it is well prepared before submission for legislative action.

During the presentation ceremony, Minister Tweah informed Speaker Chambers that President George Weah is committed to fighting fraud and abuse of resources.

Minister Tweah said government is making significant efforts to pay domestic vendors in the amount of US$35 million. The Minister further stated that issue of the country’s high wage bill was seriously considered in the Draft Budget for the Fiscal Year. According to him, the government is conducting payroll harmonization, and not a wage cut as it had been speculated, describing it as a revolutionary exercise.

The Finance Minister disclosed that government’s wage bill in 2018/2019 fiscal year was US$330 million but with the harmonization, the new wage bill for 2019/2020 will now be 297 million.

He added that the government has put in place strong revenue measures which will ensure US$22 million in new revenue during the new budget year.

The much-expected 2019-2020 Fiscal Year National Budget’s presentation which should have been done on Monday, June 17, was deferred, thus raising doubts about its timely submission to the Legislature.

Critics argued that the prolonged delay in the budget submission would ultimately delay its passage since deliberations and final scrutiny may likely extend beyond 30 days.

In keeping with Section 11 of the Public Financial Management Law, the President shall submit the Proposed Budget and accompanying documents to the Legislature no later than two months before the start of the fiscal year and that the preparation of the National Budget shall conform to the process and time table set forth in Section 11.

According to the communication from President George M. Weah, dated April 23, 2019, he requested a 45-day extension of the deadline for the submission of the 2019-2020 budget from Tuesday, April 30, to Saturday, June 15, 2019.

It may be recalled that in the President’s communication, which was read on Thursday, May 2, the 27th day sitting of the House, he made reference to the Public Financial Management (PFM) Reform Law, which mandates the Executive, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, to present the National Budget to the House of Representatives on the 30th of April of each year for the purpose of strengthening greater transparency and accountability around public resources. The President extended his regrets for not meeting this deadline.

The President argued that the delay in the presentation of 2019/2020 Fiscal Budget by six weeks (45 days) would enable him to present an all-inclusive national budget against a backdrop of negative economic forecasts.

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