MONROVIA – Finance Minister Samuel Tweah on Monday told members of the Senate’s Public Account Committee that a handful of legislators whom he had conversations with gave him the go-ahead to divert US$25 million intended for the National Road Fund to the payment of civil servants’ salaries. He also said he was authorized by the international partners to divert the money from the National Road Fund.
Min. Tweah reportedly made the disclosure when he appeared before the Senate’s Public Account Committee on Monday behind closed doors to provide an explanation on how he obtained approval to divert the fund which has been set aside by law specifically for the maintenance/building of roads and bridges.
He appeared along with the head of the General Auditing Commission and officials of the Road Fund. The hearing was held the closed-door but sources from the Senate have informed FrontPageAfrica that the minister told Senators that he got verbal approval from some members of the Legislature who did not name.
It is, however, not clear whether the Legislature would take punitive action against Min. Tweah for the violation of the National Road Fund.
It was anticipated that a report on the Committee’s findings would have appeared on the floor of the Senate plenary during its Tuesday session but that did not happen.
Finance Minister Tweah cited extreme economic conditions as a significant factor that forced the government to use the US$25 million.
The usage of the fund, which Tweah is now justifying, violates Chapter 2.2 of the Act establishing the National Road Fund, whose source of revenue is levied collected from motorists solely for the construction/maintainance of roads and bridges across the country.
The Act states that “All funds of the NRF shall be held in the Fund Account from which disbursement shall be made solely to finance the approved annual road maintenance expenditure program and directly related costs as hereby required in this Act.”
The act, among other things, states the primary objective of the Road Fund is to ensure that the country’s road assets are sustained and maintained periodically from funds collected from the levies — which cannot be diverted for any purpose — except to fix roads.
“It is the government’s money and when the government faces challenges, it can decide on how to solve them. Our administration started this Act, corrected many errors, and started to use the resources to maintain roads. Salaries were current from 2018 up until the time in 2019 when we missed the budget support,” Minister Tweah had earlier disclosed on SPOON Talk, a radio/Facebook Talk Show. “These challenges pushed us hard and, knowing that there were piling up salary arrears, we decided to go into the International Monetary Fund program,” he said.
He further explained: “It is the government’s money and when the government faces challenges, it can decide on how to solve them. Our administration started this Act, corrected many errors, and started to use the resources to maintain roads. Salaries were current from 2018 up until the time in 2019 when we missed the budget support,” Minister Tweah disclosed.
A recent report from the General Auditing Commission showed that fund in the tone of US$ 25 million was withdrawn from the account of the National Road Fund by the managers to fund the payment of civil servant salaries.
Minister Tweah’s action which was uncovered by an audit report and brought to the public’s attention by FrontPageAfrica has angered some lawmakers who have openly expressed their disappointment and anger about the Minister’s “violation” of the Road Fund law.
Representative Clarence Massaquoi of Lofa County took to his Facebook and stated that the sources of revenue intended to finance the National Road Fund and the usage of monies under the Fund are subjects of the act creating the Road Fund.
He said, the monies collected are restricted to road maintenance and/or building of new ones and that there is absolutely no way that stakeholders including the legislature can authorize anything outside of the law without amending same.
“The House of Representatives that I am a part of or its leadership at no time authorized directing proceeds from the Road Fund to anything else outside of the purpose(s) established by law. An investigation will certainly happen and the law, as it should be, will be blind. Stop the big bluff… Restitute stolen funds or go to common jail. THE LAW IS THE LAW.”
The money wasn’t stolen
For Senator Edwin Snowe of Bomi County, he agreed that the Ministry of Finance violated the law but said, it was done in good fate which is to pay the salaries of civil servants. “The Money was not stolen, it was transferred from the Road Fund account to the salary account and we all know civil servant salary is a first priority for the government.
“There could have been a crisis of civil servant not taking pay had the Finance Minister not made such intervention. They should have informed the legislature and that is where we are holding them but to say it was misdirected, I don’t agree with that,” Senator Snowe said.