Financial Autonomy Act Goes for Concurrence

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The Senate at its 52nd Day Sitting last Thursday narrowly defeated (9-8) Senator Oscar Cooper’s motion for reconsideration filed against the passage of the controversial Legislative Financial Autonomy Act, which grants the Legislature the right to control its own finances.

With the narrow defeat, the Act now goes to the House of Representatives for concurrence and onward submission to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for her signature and subsequent printing into hand bills.

The Bill was submitted to the Senate plenary two months ago by Bong County Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, and grants among other things that funds allotted to the Legislature in the National Budget for each fiscal year, shall, on a quarterly basis, be deposited by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning into the account of the Legislature at the Central Bank of Liberia.

The Act also provides compliance with all provisions of the Public Procurement and Concessions Act of 2010 (restated), the Public Finance Management (PFM) Law, the Internal Audit Agency Act and National Budget Law.

The Act, passed by the Senate, promises to comply with Government Adopted Accounting Standards and Procedures, and shall be audited annually by the General Auditing Commission.

But in his two-page motion for reconsideration, Margibi County Senator Oscar Cooper urged his colleagues to ask themselves if they are currently prepared for this responsibility. “Have we set up a proper financial management unit? Are the Houses of Senate and Representatives planning to share an account? Who are the parties responsible to manage the account? There are too many unknowns at this point, as the Bill is too vague, and the intent of becoming financially autonomous is not clearly stated in this Bill,” Senator Cooper pointed out.

Senator Cooper then proposed the establishment of a financial administration and management unit that will require vetting of the Legislature’s existing financial staff and systems and restructuring, “so that upon the receipt of the first quarterly deposit, we are prepared to make timely payments to all those whose monthly livelihoods would become our responsibility.”

But in debating the motion, which had already been tabled on two occasions, eight Senators including the author of the Bill, Senator Taylor, argued that granting the motion would be the end of hope for future passage; and therefore, voted eight for and eight against, allowing the presiding officer, Montserrado County ranking Senator Geraldine Doe-Sherif, to take the decisive vote for passage.

It was observed that most if not all Senators favored the Bill, but were calling for more work to be done to prevent future complication.

One of those was River Gee Senator Conmany Wesseh, who described the Bill as “an excellent idea, very brilliant suggestion; something that we all should embrace. But I think that when you make law and foresee that there will be a problem with implementation, then we have to exercise caution.”

Senator Wesseh continued: “The Bill is very good, unfortunately it is presented at a time that if we are not careful, it has already set the pace for failure; we should be very careful so that this brilliant idea should not be thrown out of the window.”

Meanwhile, immediately following the passage, the presiding officer who also chairs the Senate committee on Executive, requested Secretary of the Senate J. Nanborlor F. Sengbeh to transmit the Senate’s action to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

But with a seemingly divided House of Representatives as displayed last Thursday when two sittings took place in the Constitutional Chamber for members of the House of Representatives, and another in the Joint Chamber presided over by the Deputy Speaker, one Senator joked that the Secretary must wear his hat of common sense in deciding which of the two groups he is Constitutionally dealing with.

“Sengbeh knows we have one Speaker and one Clerk of the House of Representatives, the two receive communications on behalf of that body,” one Senator assured our reporter.

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