Liberia: Former Finance Minister Expresses Concerns over Lack of Funding for Special Senatorial Election
Monrovia – Former Finance Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan has expressed concerns over reports that the government doesn’t have money to fund the October 2020 Special Senatorial Election.
“Lately, concerns have been raised in many quarters over the funding of the Senatorial Election constitutionally slated to be held in October 2020. In a Senate hearing held this week, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning stated that the current budget does not have appropriation for the senatorial election and, as a result, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning is now proposing the recasting of the budget to accommodate funding for the Senatorial Election now put at US$17 million,” Mr. Ngafuan, who also served as a former Foreign Minister stated.
He spoke recently at a two-day Dialogue on National Reconciliation and Social Cohesion in Liberia, on the topic, “Ensuring Macroeconomic Stability and Sustained Growth: A Critical Pathway to National Reconciliation and Social Inclusion in Liberia.”
According to Mr. Ngafuan, who also served at the last Director of the Budget before it was merged with the Ministry of Finance (later Ministry of Finance and Development Planning), the budget for the Senatorial Election is likely to be incorporated in the proposed recast budget and the upcoming 2020/2021 which begins in July 2020. “Except the Government has benefitted lately from a revenue windfall, we can expect that many other critically important expenditure items would be sacrificed or delayed, probably including civil servants pay, in order to accommodate appropriation for the election,” he guessed.
Min. Ngafuan, who during his reign as Finance Minister all of Liberia’s nearly US$5 billion debts were waived clean, asked, “But how did we reach here? After all, aren’t we implementing the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), which means we budget for a horizon of three years and accommodate major multi-year expenditure commitments? While I fully appreciate the difficulty fiscal authorities face in budgeting properly and adequately in an environment of very scarce budgetary resources, the fact that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning did not budget for the Senatorial Election and the Legislature, some of whose members are slated to run in the election, did not ensure that the budget it approved incorporated resources for the Senatorial Election, only highlights the need to enhance planning and deepen due diligence in the budget process.”
Budgeting for Constitutionally-mandated Activities
According to him, in budgeting, constitutionally-mandated activities and programs should be treated as first claims on budgetary resources, usually followed by statutorily mandated or required appropriations.
“The Senatorial Elections are required by the Constitution. Another constitutionally required activity is the conduct of national census. The Government has announced that the census will now be held in 2021. We can only hope that subsequent budgets would incorporate funding for the conduct of the nation-wide census,” he hoped.
The former Foreign Minister reminded his audience that when President George Weah delivered his Annual Address to the Legislature on January 27, 2020, he had announced his government’s intention to conduct a national referendum later during this year in order to get the endorsement of the Liberian people to effect a few constitutional amendments.
“I too support the planned amendments, but I hasten to ask a few questions. Will the referendum be held simultaneously with the Senatorial Election? If not, can the limited fiscal space accommodate such a nationwide event, which I estimate may cost not lower than US$10 million if held separately. Are appropriations being made in the upcoming draft budget for 2020/2021 for the conduct of the referendum? If the Government still intends to hold the referendum but fails to budget adequately for it, we can brace ourselves for significant distortions in budget executions as Government scrapes money from some critical sources to fund the referendum.”
“The Senatorial Elections are required by the Constitution. Another constitutionally required activity is the conduct of national census. The Government has announced that the census will now be held in 2021. We can only hope that subsequent budgets would incorporate funding for the conduct of the nation-wide census”– Augustine K. Ngfuan, Former Minister of Finance
Min. Ngafuan, however, interjected that unlike the holding of the senatorial election, both the decision and the timing for the holding of a referendum are issues of discretion.
Meanwhile, he thanked the organizers of “Dialogue on National Reconciliation and Social Cohesion in Liberia” for inviting him to speak on the topic ‘Ensuring Macroeconomic Stability and Sustained Growth: One Critical Pathway to National Reconciliation and Social Inclusion in Liberia.’ “Given our history of violent and deadly social and political convulsions, the criticality of national reconciliation and social inclusion to the achievement of peace and progress in Liberia cannot be gainsaid. The creation of a platform by the organizers of this event for the clash and compromise of ideas and perspectives on how to set our nation firmly on the path of national reconciliation and social cohesion truly demonstrates their love for Liberia.”