Liberia: Civil Society Council’s National Chairperson Lauds Government’s Inclusion of CSOs in Budget Discussion

The tough-talking CSOs Council’s National Chairperson, while applauding the government for the move, cautioned that the engagements should be genuine and the CSOs’ suggestions and inputs should be considered

Monrovia – As President George Weah sets to submit the draft national budget to the Legislature anytime soon, the Chairperson of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL), Loretta Pope-Kai has welcomed the government’s decision to engage CSOs in the formulation of the budget.

Liberia, through an act of Legislature, has adopted a new budget year, which runs from January to December, doing away with the mid-year calendar, which ran from July to June.

As its anticipate the new budget year, the government, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), has included, for the first time, ‘Civil Society Engagement in the Budget Call Circular (BCC)’.

The BCC provides budget ceilings for ministries, agencies and commissions of government, the guidelines in preparing their budgets and sets timelines for processes and activities leading to the submission of the Draft Budget to the Legislature.

Speaking at the forum held recently in Monrovia, Madam Pope-Kai said the need for civil society and by extension citizens’ participation in the budgeting process of a country’s national budget is very cardinal and essential.

She said this is why civil society have been and continued to be vocal in their calls to expand the space and engagement around the national budgeting process in Liberia to include more engagements with the CSOs.

“CSOs in Liberia today welcome the idea of the MFDP to involve them into the formulation of the National Budget Process,” she lauded.

“As we all are aware, besides the constitution of the Republic of Liberia, the National Budget is the second most important document that can transform the lives and well-being of its’ citizens (Women, Men, Girls, Boys). we applaud you and hope it is sustained.”

However, the tough talking CSO Council’s National Chairperson, while applauding the government for the move, cautioned that the engagements should be genuine and the CSOs’ suggestions and inputs should be considered.

She said: “Permit me therefore to assure the Government of Liberia of Civil Society commitment to fully, but meaningfully participate in these processes, hoping that they are genuinely meant to ensure greater and meaningful citizens’ participation and not mere posturing to achieve a certain end. If we are being invited just to meet a certain benchmark and that our inputs or suggestions will not be considered than sad to say, Civil Society will be a very tough customer.”

As part of the campaign to include CSOs’ participation in the formulation of the budget prior to the MFDP invitation, Madam Pope-Kai said, the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI), for which she serves as Executive Director, and Integrity Watch – Liberia launched the CSO Budget Platform to advocate for greater citizens’ participation in the budgeting process and to emphasize the need to mainstream Gender Responsive Budgeting in the National Budgeting process.

She stated that the annual national budget of any government is a public proclamation of the government’s projected and actual expenditures; providing vital evidence of where the government sets its priorities – whether on the poor and marginalized people or not.

According to the Public Financial Management (PFM) Act of 2009 (Part III, Section 11), the Draft National Budget should be submitted to the National Legislature two months before the fiscal year.

However, President Weah, in a communication to the Legislature at the beginning of this month, requested for an additional eleven days before submitting the draft financial envelop.

With Liberia’s new fiscal year starting in January, Madam Pope-Kai noted that the draft budget should have been submitted by October 31, 2021 to give the Legislature two months (November and December) to review the draft budget before passing it and sending to the President to sign into Law.

She warned by saying, “If we are to be involved in the budget formulation which is one of the most important stages of the budget processes, we CSOs need to be part of the sector (As per the 11 sectors of the National Budget) working group meetings (if they are held) to make our inputs and not to wait for 11 more days before the draft budget is submitted for scrutiny to the National Legislature. If we are to make meaningful inputs into the national budget formulation, we need to be strategic as TIMING is of importance.”

She also noted that Liberia’s PFM Act 2009/Amendment and Restatement of the Public Financial Management Act of 2009 is not clear about citizens’ participation in the budget processes; and as such there was a need to ensure that CSO engagement is captured in the PFM Act.