Liberia: Lawmakers Split over Diversion of US$25m Roads Fund to ‘Payment Civil Servants’ Salaries’

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MONROVIA – As a sitting Supreme Court Justice, the Legislature moved to impeach and remove Kabina Ja’neh on the allegation of issuing a writ to stop the government of Liberia from collecting a US$0.25 tax imposed on the pump price of each gallon of petroleum product.

Funds collected under this arrangement of government are deposited into an account to be exclusively used for building new roads and maintaining existing roads. In the minds of the crafters, such funds will help Liberia solve some of its old age problems of road connectivity.

The crafters of the impeachment bill (Representatives Thomas Fallah & Acarous Gray) of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Congress saw the Justice’s action as unconstitutional which warranted his impeachment and subsequent removal.

Though the decision was sanctioned by other justices of the Supreme Court, Ja’neh was held responsible because he was the justice in chambers when the decision was taken and it is believed that it was his ideas.

As important as issues surrounding the road fund is, a recent report from the General Auditing Commission shows that fund in the tone of US$ 25 million was withdrawn from the account of the National Road Fund by the managers to fund the payment of civil servant salaries.

The law governing the road fund says it is exclusively for road works and nothing else and in the event where there is a need to re-appropriate funds intended for the road fund for other usages, it should meet the approval of the Legislature.

In the case of the recent US$25 million, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah seized the authority onto himself to divert the fund for the payment of civil servants’ salaries, according to him, without the proper approval of the Legislature.

In defense of his action, Finance Minister Tweah cited extreme economic conditions as a significant factor that forced the government to use the US$25 million, which was earmarked for the National Road Fund (NRF) for a different government function.

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 to construct and maintain roads across the county. 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 disclosed. “These challenges pushed us hard and, knowing that there were piling up salary arrears, we decided to go into the international Monetary Fund program.

“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. “These challenges pushed us hard and, knowing that there were piling up salary arrears, we decided to go into the international Monetary Fund program.

“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. “These challenges pushed us hard and, knowing that there were piling up salary arrears, we decided to go into the international Monetary Fund program.

“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. “These challenges pushed us hard and, knowing that there were piling up salary arrears, we decided to go into the international Monetary Fund program.

“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. “These challenges pushed us hard and, knowing that there were piling up salary arrears, we decided to go into the international Monetary Fund program.

“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. “These challenges pushed us hard and, knowing that there were piling up salary arrears, we decided to go into the international Monetary Fund program.

“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. “These challenges pushed us hard and, knowing that there were piling up salary arrears, we decided to go into the International Monetary Fund program.

Lawmakers irritated  

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.

However, Senator Snowe who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Works informed the plenary of the Liberian Senate on Thursday about the current situation of the RIA to ELWA junction corridor which he described as risky.

He said, his committee is engaged with the Ministry of Public Works and the contractors on when will they refill both edges of the road that has been cleared by the contractors, especially during this rainy season.

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