Senior Government officials and Development Partners have been taking stock of progress on the implementation of the Local Government Act-LGA with a specific focus on the Revenue Sharing Law that deals with fiscal decentralization under phase two of the Liberia Decentralization Support Programme (LDSP).
At an Inter-Ministerial Committee Meeting chaired by the Minister of Internal Affairs Varney Sirleaf and held on June 6, 2023, at a local hotel in Monrovia, discussions centered on identifying challenges and constraints inhibiting the decentralization reforms, finding remedies, and setting the pace for the way forward amid current realities and emerging decentralization issues.
Minister Sirleaf urged key stakeholders attending the meeting to recommit to taking appropriate steps and actions to address the challenges and gaps associated with implementing the decentralization programme.
Representatives from Sweden, Ireland, European Union, African Development Bank, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and UNDP discussed with high-level government officials, issues around fiscal decentralization as they all recommitted to supporting the decentralization process of the country.
Issues raised during the meeting included adequate appropriation/allocation of budgetary and financial resources to sustainably support the delivery of services and human capital; increased coordination; digitalization of services at County Service Centers; relinquishing control of the signing power of key documents of services in Monrovia, and transferring same to County Service Centers (CSCs); as well as the role of Liberians especially those in rural areas in taking ownership of the decentralization process among others.
UNDP and its Partners are currently supporting the development of a Revenue Sharing Act Regulation in response to section 10.1 of the Act which mandates the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning (MFDP) to issue a regulation on the schedules and methods of transfers of revenues to local governments and sub-local governments.
At the Inter-ministerial meeting, they recognized and acknowledged efforts being made by the government to drive the decentralization agenda and process, especially in the areas of legal and regulatory reforms, as well as the establishment of County Councils which they indicated are progressive milestone accomplishments.
The Partners, however, emphasized that the government needs to step up its political will to fast-track the implementation process which includes transfers of revenues to local and sub-local governments, and the utilization of said funds in a transparent and accountable manner in building effective institutions.
“The regulation will enhance transparency and accountability around the utilization of funds which is key in building effective institutions at the sub-national. Hence, I call on the MFDP to expedite the validation process so that the regulation can be finalized in preparation for the implementation of the Revenue Sharing Act,” said Louis Kuukpen UNDP Liberia Resident Representative a.i. during the meeting.
Kuukpen also noted that the County Service Centers (CSCs) have become a symbol of decentralization in Liberia and a platform for social cohesion amongst citizens and their government through service delivery as well as a source for domestic resource mobilization.
He however noted that despite the inflows of domestic revenues from service delivery at the subnational levels, CSCs have been faced with resource constraints that have occasionally impeded their operational efficiency adding, that this has been further exacerbated by the limited and untimely disbursement of resources from the central government through budgetary transfers which have hindered service delivery and lowered public confidence in the CSCs.
“Accordingly, I would like to encourage the government to consider increasing budgetary allocations to CSCs while we await the implementation of the Revenue Sharing Act which calls for 40% retention of all revenue generated at the CSCs for its operations. We believe this is a more sustainable way of addressing the perennial resource challenges CSCs face,” the UNDP Liberia Boss noted.
Kuukpen also mentioned that approvals and signing authorities at CSCs remain a challenge to service delivery at the subnational level where most Ministries, Agencies, and Commissions (MACs) do not have the authority to sign or approve documents at their respective centers, emphasizing that it continues to hamper service delivery and increase the transactional cost for citizens as they usually bear the cost to get the documents in Monrovia for signatories.
“Experiencing such a challenge eight years after the CSCs were established undermines the concept of the de-concentration platform. We must collectively address these concerns to avoid centralization and the relapse of the gains that have been made since the CSCs were launched in 2016,” concluded Kuukpen.
Key actions agreed upon during the deliberations include the speedy validation of the Revenue Sharing Act regulation, strengthening coordination amongst MACs through the convening of regular coordination meetings, addressing approvals constraints at CSCs through digital innovations, and the resolution of personnel-related matters concerning CSC staff which will be coordinated through the Civil Service Agency.