Liberia: ‘Quick Passage’ of Special National Budget Suffers Setback as House Splits over Scrutiny Proceedings
Monrovia – President George Weah’s request to members of the Legislature for the timely passage of the Special Draft National Budget for July 1 to December 31, 2021 may suffer a set back as members of the House of Representatives failed to reach a decision to begin its scrutiny.
The budget, in the tune of US$301.5 million was submitted by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) to the Legislature on May 25, 2021 for passage as per the Public Finance Management Law.
Normally, the Plenary of the House would mandate its Joint Committees on ways, Means and Finance (chaired by Rep. Thomas Fallah) and Public Accounts (headed by Rep. Francis Dopoh) to scrutinize, and in most cases recommend its passage.
However, in an unprecedented move on Thursday, that regular procedure was staunchly opposed by several lawmakers led by Representatives Moses Acarous Gray (District #8, Montserrado) and Vincent Willie (District #4, Grand Bassa County).
Following the reading of the communication from the Executive, Rep. Saah Foko (CDC, District #9, Montserrado County), filed a motion to forward the draft national envelope to the Finance Committee.
But the Gray-Willie team, countering the motion, argued that because the national envelop is a specialized budget and not a regular fiscal year budget, a specialized committee should be set up to examine it.
This led to a heated argument that stalled proceedings for almost an hour before Speaker Bhofal Chambers, invoking his legislative power, seized the document in a bid restore sanity.
Silent Protest over Delayed Benefits?
Thursday’s action has led to several speculations, with some claiming that Rep. Gray and his colleagues’ action were their way of expressing a no-confidence motion against Rep. Fallah, the Ways, Means and Finance Committee Chairman.
There are chatters within the corridors of the House that several lawmakers are soliciting signatures for the removal of Rep. Fallah as Chair because he is not serving their interest.
On the other hand, others claimed that the House’s action is a clever attempt to delay the passage of the budget to compel the Executive through the Ministry of Finance to disburse the lawmakers’ benefits and other allowances owed them.
It has been more than two weeks since the budget was submitted to the House. But since then, Plenary has failed to convened in open session. For four session days, it has held proceedings behind closed doors, shielding its conversations and decisions from the public.
However, some members of the House, speaking on condition of anonymity, told FrontPage Africa recently that they have been demanding their due benefits from the Executive. They complained that the delay in giving their fuel and other allowances is impeding them from exercising their legislative functions. According to them, the action of the Finance Ministry to hold onto their benefits, while giving members of the Liberian Senate theirs, was unfair and unjustifiable.
“We don’t understand why this is happening. We are all lawmakers and have equal responsibilities. But they will deny us of our benefits and give the other people [Senate] theirs. I think it is not fair,” the lawmaker, asking not to be named said.
“We will not take it lightly. We will do all to engage the Executive to see reasons in giving our due benefits to enable us perform our duties to our constituents and the Liberian people.”