Liberia: CPP Caucus Eyes Suspicious Appropriation in Draft National Budget for FY 2020/2021; Demand Answers
Monrovia – The legislative caucus of the Collaborating Political Parties(CPP) is threatening not to vote for passage of the draft National Budget for Fiscal Year 2020/2021 unless a number of unresolved issues are addressed.
In an initial review of the expenditure side of the FY 2021 Budget, the caucus observed that a number of appropriations appear to have been inadequately budgeted for.
A document prepared by the caucus observed that in the draft Budget, US$5,033,683 was appropriated for elections in the FY 19/20 Budget, which ended June 30, 2020. That amount has now been increased to US$8,000,000.
The caucus noted: “We (the Legislature) need to inquire from MFDP and NEC about what amount appropriated for the upcoming Senatorial Elections was disbursed to NEC before June 30, 2020, because if NEC did not receive the FY 2019/20 appropriation for elections,, the total amount available for the Senatorial Election in the FY 20/21 Budget of US$8,000,000 may not be adequate to cater to the cost of the Senatorial Elections.”
The caucus recommended inviting officials from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning(MFDP) to provide clarity on several expenditure lines. “It is important to ensure that whatever amount was meant for elections in the past budget has been disbursed to NEC; or if not disbursed as at June 30, 2020, has been ring-fenced so that they do not lapse,” the caucus noted.
Additionally, the caucus pointed out, that in view of the number of sitting representatives running for senatorial seats in almost all counties, it is reasonable to expect that there may be few by-elections to fill representative seats vacated by representatives elected senators. The caucus however noted that It is apparent from the amount budgeted for elections that the GOL has not budgeted for any eventual by-election during this fiscal year, which we think is being unrealistic.
The caucus also raised concerns about the drastic reduction in pension for General Civil Service from US$1,918,708 in the FY 19/20 Budget to US$500,000 in the Draft FY 20/21 Budget, a reduction of US$1,418,708.
This reduction, the caucus averred, is a source of serious concern and need serious clarification. “What could possibly justify such a significant reduction, particularly when the Pension Payroll has a tendency of growing annually. Is it that the GOL spent a significant amount on one-time pension packages in FY 19/20 that may not recur in the new fiscal year? If there is not a credible explanation for this reduction, it could cause serious hardships for pensioners who are already finding it difficult to receive their pension payment on a regular and timely basis from the Government.”
“We (the Legislature) need to inquire from MFDP and NEC about what amount appropriated for the upcoming Senatorial Elections was disbursed to NEC before June 30, 2020, because if NEC did not receive the FY 2019/20 appropriation for elections,, the total amount available for the Senatorial Election in the FY 20/21 Budget of US$8,000,000 may not be adequate to cater to the cost of the Senatorial Elections.”– The CPP Legislative Caucus
The caucus raised a red flag regarding an amount of US$500,000 appropriated as disaster fund under the National Disaster Management Agency. “As good as this appropriation may seem, it is not adequate to cope with the frequency and magnitude of disasters that occur in the country for a whole year. We suggest that this amount be significantly beefed up as this is the statutory means to address issues of disaster in the country.”
The Legislative Caucus also pointed out that the reduction in the budget of the University of Liberia from US$17,389,032 in FY 29/20 to US$16,000,000, a reduction of US$1,389,032 may pose some serious challenges to the smooth running of the University.
Additionally, the caucus said an increase in the appropriation for Office Building Rental and Lease from US$1,629,404 to US$3,131,501, an increase of US$1,502,561 begs the question, what justifies a near doubling of the appropriation particularly at a time when several government Ministries and Agencies were relocated into the Ministerial Complex, thus saving significant amounts government would have spent on rental and leases.
The caucus said the amount of US$40,752 budget for unspecified individuals is very suspicious. “That the government spent US$24,832 in the FY 2019/20 is an issue that warrants investigation. We propose that the US$24,832 be audited by the GAC.”
Regarding basic salary for civil service under Administration & Management of the Ministry of State significantly increased from US$635,072 to US$3,554,368 in the Draft FY 19/20 Budget, raises lots of eyebrows because at a time when the GOL is implementing its Salary Harmonization Scheme, how can the GOL justify such an increase in Basic Civil Service Salary at the Ministry of State? “Is the MOS being allowed to effect pay increments for its employees over and above the normal GOL pay harmonization scale? Or is the MOS being allowed to hire more employees when there should be a general freeze on hiring across the civil service?”, the caucus pondered.
The caucus also expressed concerns regarding the allotment of US$100,000 for Fiscal Transparency Initiatives, it says, raises a serious question as to what specific
activities/programs to ensure fiscal transparency will be implemented that cannot be covered under the MFDP’s regular budget.
Said the caucus: “We need to note that fiscal probity is the core function of MFDP so to pay such an amount for fiscal transparency at the MDFP presuppose that without that amount the MFDP will not exhibit transparency. Or more besides, ensuring that fiscal information/document is regularly uploaded on the MFDP website cannot justify the appropriation of a whopping US$100,000.”
The caucus also raised alarm regarding the appropriation of US$1,000,000 under the GSA for GOL Vehicle Mobilization Scheme. This appropriation, according to the caucus, needs some serious clarifications. The caucus asked: “Is the GSA preparing to return the country to the bulk purchase system that existed in pre-2006 days? This amount is too huge an amount to allot for a Scheme that may not be clearly defined, thus leaving the window wide open for potential abuse. Also critical M&As had budget for Non-Financial assets in the current budget.”
Regarding increase of intelligent services, from US$3,709,798 in the FY 19/20 Budget to US$5,034,578 in the FY 20/21 Draft Budget, an increase of US$1,324,780, the caucus says it was alarming. “To be increasing appropriation for Intelligence Services, which is prone to abuse because it is often shielded from audit, does not make sense, especially coming at a time when the economy is seriously challenged, shrinking, and other critical expenditures are hardly increasing or have been reduced. Additionally, the security situation in the country cannot be expected to get worse in the coming year to justify such an astronomical increase in the amount budgeted for Intelligence Services.”
The caucus also expressed concerns about the increase of appropriation for Special Presidential Projects from US$500,000 to US$700,000. “This appropriation needs to be reviewed critically, preferably to keep the appropriation at US$500,000 and add the additional US$200,000 to the Ministry of Public Works or other statutory entities responsible for the implementation of government projects.”
Regarding an increase of Humanitarian Outreach appropriation under the Ministry of State from US$500, 000 to US$700,000 in the FY 20/21 Budget, the caucus says that increase needs to be revisited critically. “We suggest that the extra US$200,000 be added to the US$500,000 appropriated as Disaster Fund under the Disaster Management Agency. The magnitude and frequency of flood, fire incidents, and other forms of disasters point to the increase in the amount of budgeted as Disaster Fund; also, it makes more sense to adequately empower the Government agency statutorily responsible for disaster than to allot huge sums of money to enable the President spend in discretionary manner.”
The caucus did however embraced the increment in the Tuition Free Policy appropriation from US$778,246 to US$2,531,690. “An increase of US$1,753,444 is on the surface is a good thing, as it will help universities and colleges covered under the program to operate more smoothly than they have been doing over the past years.”