Liberia: LRA’s Internal Crisis Undermining Fiscal Targets?
Credible sources have hinted to the Daily Observer that the collection of national revenue appears to be suffering due to a power struggle at the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).
The leadership rift, according to sources, is mainly over who controls and runs the affairs of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).
The LRA has made steady progress over the last four years in the collection of what it calls "lawful revenue" to fund the government’s operations and development agenda in the country.
Credible anonymous sources within the LRA confirmed growing media reports that the Commissioner General of the LRA and his new deputies, who should be working together to grow the country’s revenue — the biggest source of income for the government—are not working in unity.
The situation is said to be destabilizing the professional operations of the entity and undermining the collection of revenue.
“When the heads are fighting, when there is bad blood between them, when checks and other important documents cannot be signed, what do you expect? It's slowing the intended operations of the LRA, and this means trouble not just for the LRA, but for the country,” a source who claims to be in the Customs Department told the Daily Observer.
Several LRA sources, speaking anonymously, confided in this paper that “the ugly situation” began recently when Deputy Commissioner General for Administration Samuel Bennett, in the absence of Commissioner General Thomas Doe Nah, made several appointments and transfers without the knowledge and consent of his boss.
The appointments were approved by Deputy Commissioner General for Technical Affairs, Gabriel Montgomery, both of whom had spent less than two months in their official capacities.
One source confirmed that the CG instructed staff who were rotated or removed to remain in their respective positions, but Deputy Commissioner General Bennett insisted on and effected the change, at some point leaving two persons serving in the same positions.
“I can confirm that there is a stalemate at the LRA. Work is stalling gradually. Documents from both sides are not being signed. It might affect salary payments as it is already affecting operations. I believe the President is aware, the Legislature is hearing it and they seem to be doing nothing,” the source claimed.
The source said there seems to be a ploy to smoke Commissioner Nah out of the LRA and damage the excellent image he has brought to the LRA locally and internationally.
But the office of the Deputy Commissioner General for Administration at LRA, termed as malicious, baseless, and mere falsehood that the Deputy Commissioner for Administration, Samuel Bennett, Jr., ‘has begun assuming the functions of Commissioner General, Thomas Doe-Nah’.
A statement issued on Monday, February 20, by Bennett’s office said that at no time did the Deputy Commissioner General for Administration attempt to assume the role or functions of his boss, Commissioner General Thomas Doe Nah, but he believes it is mere and cheap propaganda intended to create hate and division among authorities and staff of that noble entity.
The LRA Act of 2015, Section 7.17, clearly states that, “On job rotation policy, the authority shall take the general rotation of certain categories of staff from one permanent place of work to another.”
Additionally, the Act states: the rotation shall take place within 24 months. Notwithstanding, the authority reserves the right to rotate in any category it deems necessary to obtain its objective.
The department head is responsible for preparing the rotation schedule within two months prior to the end of the authority’s fiscal year.
The general staff rotation and all matters thereof shall be governed by the authority’s staff rotation policy. Rotation of staff shall in no way reduce affected staff remuneration except for benefits linked to the function and location.
Staff to be rotated, including those heading a section, unit, or business office, are to prepare a formal turnover report and turn over all assets, receipt books where applicable, required pertinent reports, documents, and other information to their immediate assistants.
The Human Resource Management Head shall be responsible for ensuring the timely payment of rotation allowance, the availability of transportation, and the readiness of housing for all rotating staff.
The Human Resource Management Head shall also coordinate with the procurement office to ensure that outstation rent or lease is timely paid and all associated repair and maintenance is timely done.
Bennett also indicated that at no time did he ever operate outside of his scope of operations as enshrined in the Liberia Revenue Authority Act and that he works squarely within the laws of the institution.
Bennett also expressed disappointment that someone within the corridor of the LRA would accuse the Executive Mansion of approving the wrongdoing within the LRA.
“We work within our act, and the Executive Mansion has nothing to do with our work. This is purely unacceptable and unthinkable for the so-called sources within the corridors to create such fallacies against the nation’s highest office,” he said.
According to him, the Executive Mansion gives every official of government a legal and level playing field to operate freely, meaning, officials of the LRA work in accordance with the Act of 2015 that established the LRA.
Bennett then called for collective work among authorities and all staff of the institution in order to drastically move the LRA to a noble height.
President Weah, in his recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), hailed the unprecedented transformation the LRA, under CG Nah, had brought to the collection of domestic revenue, raising the bar of revenue collection from US$400 million to US$700 million, the highest in the country’s history.
Nah has overseen an unprecedented transformation at the LRA, digitizing tax payments and reducing human interaction in several sectors to reduce corruption.
Bennett and Deputy Commissioner General for Technical Affairs, Gabriel Montgomery, were appointed late last year in line with the Act creating the LRA and were confirmed in January 2023.
Section 21 of the Act creating the LRA indicates the functions of the Commissioner General as, among other things, being responsible for the administration and supervision of the execution of the Liberia Revenue Code, the direction and day-to-day management and administration of the Authority, the supervision of officers, managerial staff, and other employees of the Authority, as well as other matters of the Authority.
Section 17(1) of the Act states that “the Commissioner General shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the Authority.” Further, Section 17(4) states that “The Deputy Commissioners General shall assist the Commissioner General in the execution of his/her functions and shall be primarily responsible for functions as contained in the HRMP as approved by the Board."
“The Commissioner General may assign additional responsibilities as may be required to accomplish the objectives of the Authority,” the Act says.
It is reported that collectors at the Freeport of Monrovia and Bo Waterside were transferred with immediate effect without meeting the requirements warranting such transfers. There have also been several unilateral changes at headquarters without the expressed knowledge and approval of the Commissioner General and Chief Executive Officer of the LRA.
“If the President, who has the appointing power, is not stepping in to stop the fighting, then it means he is directly supporting the war. It means the CDC government is shooting itself in the leg because, without revenue, there will be no money to pay government workers, without salaries, there will be dissatisfaction, and when the people are unhappy, the CDC government will get unpopular and it may not be reelected,” a top official of the entity said. “How can the Executive Mansion be calling the HR to take a decision of effecting changes when it should pass through the Commissioner General? This crisis, which might appear trivial, will have a great impact on the 2023 election, and that is trouble for this country,” the official said.