Unity Party Lawmakers Head Senate and House of Representatives Budget Committees

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Monrovia – The dust seems to have settled at the House of Representatives paving the way for the National Legislature to commence hearing on the draft 2015/2016 national budget but from indications, the ruling Unity Party has taken full control of the budget with two Unity Party lawmakers, one from the Senate and another from the House of Representatives heading the Ways, Means and Finance Committees of both houses.

Ahead of 2017 general and presidential elections, the wrangling at the House of Representatives has taken another twist with the ruling Unity Party taking full control of the national budget-two of its lawmakers now heading the Ways, Means and Finance Committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives after Speaker Alex Tyler recusal followed by and Moses Kollie’s removal as head of the Ways, means and Finance Committee of the Lower House

Delay in discussing and passing the national budget has been of concern to Liberians and even the United Nations Special Representatives to Liberia Farid Zarif, recently warned of  serious consequences of “political wrangling” in the Legislature, speaking specifically about delay in adopting the national budget for 2016-2017.

The UN envoy spoke of the financing of the National Elections Commission and preparatory activities, including those related to security for the October 2017presidential and legislative elections.

With Speaker Tyler now out of the way, the composition of the Ways, means and Finance Committee, the lead committee on analyzing the budget, holding public hearings with relevant agencies of government and making the necessary adjustments before recommending to plenary for passage of the budget is raising new concerns.

After Speaker Alex J. Tyler finally recused himself due to pressure from his colleagues, Tyler’s protégé Representative Moses Kollie of Lofa County has according to legislative sources been replaced with Unity Party lawmaker Prince Moye (Bong County) as head of the Ways, means and Finance Committee of the House of Representatives by the new presiding officer, Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue.

At the Liberian Senate, Senator Edward Dagoseh (Grand Cape Mount County, Unity Party) is the head of the Senate Committee on Ways, means and Finance and Presiding Officer Barchue’s decision to replace Kollie with Moye has now paved the way for the Unity party to take full control of the draft national budget with its two lawmakers now presiding over discussion on the budget.

The Draft National Budget for 2016/2017 of US$555.9 million comprises US$495.5 million for Core Domestic Revenue; US$30.2 million as Grant; and US$30.1 million as Contingent Domestic Revenue.

Prior to the President submitting the budget, the Cabinet, approved the Draft National Budget of over US$600-million, representing Domestic Revenue of more than US$400-million, Grants/Budget Support of more than US$66-million, borrowing of over US$58-million, and a surplus from last year’s budget of over US$13-million.

Cabinet’s Budget Manipulations warning

During the same period Speaker Tyler was subjected to pressure by his colleagues, the Cabinet warned its officials against budget manipulations with reports that some officials of the cabinet have over the years aided some influential members of the National Legislature in manipulating the national budget.

Following a cabinet meeting, the cabinet issued a statement indicating “Cabinet, has carefully reviewed the status updates on key benchmarks in the areas of roads, ports, water & sanitation, education as well as Task Force performance covering agriculture and agro-processing and manufacturing and business support; threatened punitive action against any member of the executive involved in budget manipulation and mandated a vigorous and aggressive Sector Ministers-led Town Hall meeting education and information-dissemination campaigns”.

The cabinet did not provide further clarity on the warning regarding budget manipulations issued to its officials but it emerged that there were wild allegations that Speaker Tyler was eying shady budgetary allotments through the national budget to fund his newly found political party, the Liberia People Democratic Party (LPDP) which has shown some signs of financial capability by purchasing and displaying brand new vehicles.

Even though Menipakei Dumoe National Secretary General of the LPDP rubbished allegations that the party is being funded from the national budget but the pressure continued until Speaker Tyler finally relinquished his presiding role.

“The Cabinet statement confirms that the President condones corruption. If she knows ministers are bribing certain lawmakers then she should be prosecuting those persons involved and not simply warning them”, Dumoe said at the time.

He noted that the LPDP rejects the assertion describing it as ridiculous.

“The LPDP rejects the ridiculous assertion that our party is being funded with state funds. It is the Unity Party that controls the coffers, it is Ellen’s puppets that are in charge of the Ministry of finance, the CBL and the Liberia Revenue Authority”, said Dumoe.

Budget now in UP hands

Liberia heads to general and presidential elections in 2017 and funding for political activities will be key to all political parties and with the country having a small private sector, individuals and political parties mainly rely on national resources to fund their campaigns.

During the 2011 election which saw the Unity Party re-elected, the party used state assets-vehicles and other resources to fund its lavish campaign even though failing to win upright majority during the first round of polling.

Going into 2017, the story is not expected to change, this is why the two lawmakers now heading the Ways, Means and Finance Committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives makes it a big issue.

The warning by the cabinet came at a time Representative Kollie from the opposition People’s United Party was heading the Ways, means and Finance Committee of the House of Representatives but two senior Unity Party stalwarts now in control at both ends, the ruling party has a solid grip on the state resources which could likely be used to raise campaign funding.

Although there are other lawmakers on the Joint Ways, Means and Finance Committee but the decision by the two committee’s head could prove decisive.

Tyler’s warning of Executive Control

In his recusal statement, Speaker Tyler warned that the National Legislature should maintain its independence expressing that attempts to remove him is intended to have the Executive take control over the internal workings of the body.

“For over ten years, when we ratified several agreements and passed key legislations, we did so in the best interest of the country. Equally so, when we deem certain legislations not suitable for the country, the necessary interventions were made and in some cases, we painstakingly rejected. It is unfortunate and at best regrettable that the President would now see our latter action as being uncooperative and undermining her agenda”, the recused Speaker said.

Recused Speaker Tyler declared that the calls by his colleagues to recuse himself took another dimension when President Sirleaf declared that she no longer wanted to work with him as a Speaker.

 “The situation has now taken on a new dimension in which we were informed by the Bomi Legislative Caucus following their visit to the President, and later on some colleagues of mine who met with her as well as some prominent members of the society who also interacted with her that the Chief Executive has accused me of undermining the country’s development agenda by refusing to pass certain legislations such as financing agreements”, the Speaker disclosed in a statement delivered.

During the crisis at the House of Representatives, President Sirleaf wrote a communication recognizing the leadership of Deputy Speaker Barchue.

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