After 57 days of delay, President George Weah through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) has finally submitted the 2019-2020 Draft National Budget to the House of Representatives to the tune of US$532,906,966.
Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr. and his Deputy Minister for Budget Tanneh Brunson on Friday, June 28, 2019, submitted the 2019-2020 FY Budget on Capitol Hill to House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, in accordance with Article 34(i) of the 1986 Constitution.
According to the executive summary of the budget expenditure, compensation for employees is US$296,992,913, which is well over 55 percent of the total budget. However, this expenditure item is over US$30 million less than it was in the 2018/2019 budget, which was in the tune of US$322,672,329.
The reduction in the budget expenditure for compensation of employees reflects what Minister Tweah told a visiting IMF delegation on Monday, June 24: “What we are doing is wage harmonization, not wage cut. This is about paying people across government with same position with the same salary.”
The ‘Use of Goods and Services’ is US$72,272618; Subsidy US$430,500; Grants US$57,528,644; Social Benefits US$1,491,628; Non-Financial Assets US$43,171,500; Domestic Liabilities US$35,945,775 and Foreign Liabilities US$25,073,388.
The 2019/2020 budget has the highest domestic liabilities in recent years, and the total budget has dropped to US$37 million as compared to the 2018-2019 budget; but there were huge budget shortfalls, and with this little over U$53 million, economists are wondering whether this year’s budget meets similar fate, given the current dire state of the economy.
“We are here today to fulfill constitutional responsibility of the Public Financial Law to submit the most significant fiscal instrument of national development, the national budget, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. This budget is long overdue for understandable reasons,” Minister Tweah said.
“Over the past two months, particularly prior to the Spring Meetings, the President mandated that the GoL work with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to go into a program, and that he wanted to submit a budget that is credible and a radical departure from the past. And based on that and a significant effort, we have begun to take a harder look at the budget.
“The President mandated a wage harmonization exercise, something that has been demanded by all of our development partners for the past six to seven years. The wage structure of the government budget was unattainable… and was craving a significant investment needed in infrastructure and agriculture and the social sector, because it was discriminatory and arbitrary and we want to take a look at it, working with the Civil Service Agency and other entities of government. With close collaboration with the Legislature, we commenced this exercise,” Tweah said.
He added, “And so the budget will not be submitted in time, because of this exercise; as we speak, there are other entities that are still engaged with the Civil Service Agency (CSA) and the Ministry of Finance. That is the principle reason and we offered our apology on behalf of the president.”
Receiving a copy of the budget, Speaker Chambers said the Legislature will do justice to the budget, explaining that the Legislature duly understands why the budget is being delayed.
“We do understand why the budget was delayed. Again, it is better delayed and properly done than to be presented on time and not properly done,” said Chambers.
It can be recalled that following public hearings on fiscal year 2018-2019 budget, the Legislative Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning and Public Accounts identified additional US$8 million, thus increasing the 2018-2019 Fiscal Budget from US$562.2 million to US$570.1 million.
Economists are reportedly advising the Legislative Joint Committee to scrutinize the budget, and carefully identify authenticate additional sources before increasing it so as to avoid another “shortfall.”