The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), the Governance Commission, and partners are calling on the Legislature to amend two fiscal instruments of the Local Government Act (LGA) of 2018 to enhance the country’s decentralization program.
The two fiscal instruments are the Liberia Revenue Code Act of 2011 and the restatement of the Public Financial Management Act of 2019.
The amendment of the laws, according to the Internal Affairs Ministry, will remove hurdles to enhance the implementation of the decentralization program of the LGA of 2018. The Ministry and partners have also asked the Liberian Senate to concur with the House of Representatives on the passage of the Revenue Sharing Bill.
The concerns were raised over the week in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County during an engagement meeting with relevant committees of the Legislature.
The meeting was organized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in collaboration with the Governance Commission, with support from UNDP and other partners.
The House of Representatives recently voted in favor of the Revenue Sharing Bill to allow counties to raise and utilize their funds as long as they are subject to appropriate safeguards by the National Government. The Revenue Sharing Bill is tied to the LGA of 2018 which called for revenue sharing between the national government and the local government.
The bill, when signed into law by the President, would create a necessary budgetary space by giving local government authorities the resources they need to offer services to residents at the local levels.
In 2018, President George M. Weah signed the LGA Act into law but the implementation of the law has faced some challenges due to the limited allocation of money in the national budget, according to officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Deputy Internal Affairs Minister for Research, Development and Planning, Olayee S. Collins, said the decentralization program under the LGA is still faced with many challenges.
According to him, some of the issues are the work of the county service centers and the provision within the law on the restructuring of the local administrative governing structures and the selection of those to be represented on the counties councils.
He said funding for the decentralization program under the law continues to remain limited to ensure efficient services of the various county service centers. To address this, he disclosed, the Ministry usually relied on support coming from the partners.
“We need to improve the level of services being provided at the county service centers. Nearly 90 percent of the money received to carry out the work of the county service centers comes from our donors. All of the money that is generated by the centers is collected by the Liberia Revenue Authority and sent to the consolidated account. There is a serious challenge when it comes to the maintenance of the centers by our Ministry,” he said.
Collins stated that the county service centers are not failures as perceived by the Liberian public.
“We can tell you the truth that the county service centers are not failures. So much money has been generated by the centers but we need to make sure that some of those monies go back to the centers for capacity building,” the deputy minister stated.
“We need to make sure that our people do not always travel to Monrovia to access services. We also need to find out how much we put into the budget line for the Ministry for the decentralization program.”
According to him, the Ministry is also behind the establishment of the council of chiefs under the law.
“It is the county council that should make the decision for a wider range of people from the district level and the county level, including chiefs and others; so we need support on what it will take to establish the council across the country. Once this structure is established to allow the funding allocated to the counties, these are the people who shall represent their people on how money is spent for the development,” he explained.
Minister Collins said that the chief plays a very critical role in the maintenance of the peace; therefore, their inclusiveness in the county council is so significant to avoid any conflict.
He stressed the need for the restructuring of the local administrative governing body to further enhance the decentralization program.
“We need to do the research to see which city or cities meet the criteria to be considered under the law. Though the law recognized the existence of the fifteen capital cities, there are other cities we need to revisit to find out whether they meet the criteria to operate as cities under the law,” he mentioned.
“If cities that are not considered meet the criteria under the law, our Ministry has the mandate to have them dissolved; but we shall maintain the personnel of those cities to avoid conflict,” he further stated.
He concluded that the Ministry over the years has achieved some of the mandates of the decentralization program, which include the establishment of the county service centers, the signing of the LGA into law by the President, and the signing of the Revenue Sharing Bill.
However, despite the achievement outlined by the Internal Affairs Ministry, lawmakers at the meeting complained that the government has been very slow in implementing the national decentralization program, despite their support.
Lawmakers lamented that rural people still travel as far as Monrovia to access services that should be provided by county service centers. They also frowned on the interference of the President to appoint a local chief, which violates the current LGA.
Responding on behalf of his fellow lawmakers, Bong County Senator Prince Moye warned the government to be very careful as to how the decentralization program is being implemented.
He said the Senate will collaborate with the House of Representatives to make sure that they amend the fiscal instruments.
“The instruments presented for amendment will be looked into for the betterment of our citizens,” he said.
According to him, the lawmakers are aware of the importance of the Local Government Act to accelerate development in the country, and so they will do all they can to make it a reality.
“On the part of the Senate, we are very far ahead to ensure that this law becomes a reality.” He said there was no conflict over the passage of the law between the two Houses of the Legislature.
However, lawmakers are of the conviction that though there may exist constraints toward the implementation of the law, the government will need to do well toward the implementation of some of the low hanging fruits.