Budget Quarrel

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Deputy House Speaker Hans M. Barchue has announced the resumption of the 2016/2017 Fiscal Year budget hearings, today, Monday, August 29, with support from President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, stating: “the Executive stands ready to cooperate.”

The House’s Joint Committee, comprising Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning and Public Accounts, was mandated to bond with the Senate’s Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee to resume scrutiny of the Expenditure Component of the 2016/2017 Budget.

Deputy Speaker Barchue announced that ‘absentees’ will be immediately replaced.

The decision was unanimously reached on Thursday, August 25 in the Joint Chambers, owing to a motion from Montserrado County District # 6 Representative Edwin M. Snowe Jr.

However, 19 of the 22-man Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning and Public Accounts including the Chairmen are ‘Pro-Tyler Lawmakers.’

Reps. Moses Kollie and Sekou Kanneh, Chairman and co-Chairman of the House’s Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning, and the Chairman on Public Accounts, Rep. Bill Fofana, have vowed not to honor the date for the resumption of the Budget hearing from the parallel session, arguing that they are dishonest and illegitimate.

A source close to the office of Chairman Kollie of the Legislative Budget Committee, who begged not to be identified, told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview that the 39 members of the anti-Tyler camp don’t have the authority to replace or suspend the chairmen and co-chairmen of the committees, according to the House’s Rules and Procedures.

According to the source, Rule 54.1 on vacancies and absences reads: “All committee chairpersons and members shall serve for (3) three years, but only the chairperson and co-chairperson are subject to removal by 2/3 majority vote of the members of the House for a cause.”

The source added that Rule 54.2 also provides that if the chairperson of any committee for any cause ceases to serve, it shall be the duty of the Speaker to appoint a new chairperson in consultation with the leadership of the House.

“In case of the temporary absence of a chairperson of a committee, the co-chairperson shall assume the chair until the chairperson properly returns to duty,” he said, quoting Rule 54.3.

The source further argued that, for the anti-Tyler Lawmakers to amend or suspend the rules, members of the House “should have received a twenty–four (24) hour notice of the proposed change. The twenty four hour period shall commence with the placement of a printed copy of the proposed amendment upon the desk of each member. Changes in these Rules shall be taken up as a special order. Any change in these Rules shall require the approval of a two-thirds (2/3) majority of the members of the House.

“These Rules may be suspended, in part or whole, by the approval of a two-thirds (2/3) majority of the members of the House,” the staff added on Rule 63.2. “Anything done on the contrary by the anti-Tyler Lawmakers is unlawful.”

According to reports, over 80 percent of the Senate’s Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee are lawmakers who are fighting for the recognition of Speaker Tyler as the Presiding Officer of the House of Representatives.

It may be recalled that over the years, the National Budget is usually endorsed by either House and is subsequently approved by the other or is jointly approved before August 24 of each year, but the in-house conflict has stalled its passage.

On Monday, May 16, 2016, Finance Minister Boimah K. Kamara submitted a US$555.9 million Budget to the Legislature to be expeditiously enacted to take effect on July 1, 2016.

The Expenditure Component of the 2016/2017 Budget was tabled two weeks before the in-house quarrel intensified, which stalled the scrutiny of the budget after the end of the revenue component of the 2016/2017 Fiscal Budget, which lasted for about a month, with nearly thirty (30) ministries and agencies of government explaining strategies they wish to employ to raise taxes and non-tax revenue for the fiscal period.

The Draft National Budget for 2016/2017 of the US$555.9 million comprises US$495.5 million for Core Domestic Revenue; US$30.2 million as Grant; and US$30.1 million as Contingent Domestic Revenue.

Prior to the President submitting the Budget, the Cabinet approved the Draft National Budget of over US$600 million, representing Domestic Revenue of more than US$400 million, Grants/Budget Support of more than US$66 million, Borrowing of over US$58 million, and a surplus from last year’s Budget of over US$13 million.

The Cabinet also agreed on key areas of expenditure to include debt repayment amounting to US$32.5 million, payment of salaries across the government, US$252.1million, and, Social Development Fund and others, US$23.2 million.

Key areas of expenditure will also include Health Sector Strengthening, US$73.0-million, Education Sector Support, US$79.4million, and Security and Rule of Law, US$90.1million, including US$15million for UNMIL Transition, as First Claims on the resource envelop.

Others include the Government of Liberia’s (GoL) contribution (Counterpart Funding) to ongoing donor financed public investment projects through loans and grants amounting to US$24.5 million, and GoL’s Grants and Transfers to various institutions and entities that contribute to Liberia’s socio-economic reconstruction of US$85.7million.

In support of major Public Sector Investments intended to advance Liberia’s post-Ebola recovery, growth, and development, the Cabinet agreed to fund road construction and maintenance at the cost of US$44.3 million, including US$17.3 million as GoL’s contribution to donor funded projects.

The Cabinet also agreed to fund renovation of public buildings at the cost of US$9 million, expansion of electricity at US$2.4 million, district development projects throughout the country (through the National Legislature) at US$10.9 million, and water & sanitation at US$2.3million.

Beach & Waterways cleaning at US$1million, human capacity-building, US$2 million, private sector development, US$1.5 million, National Low Cost Housing project, US$1.5 million, and LWSC Water Project, US$1.0 million, were other key areas the Cabinet also agreed on at its weekend meeting.

Other key areas considered in the Draft Budget by the Cabinet include renovation works at the Booker Washington Institute, US$1million, renovation works at Tubman University, US$1million, and a host of other key interventions critical for the delivery of social services and economic transformation.

The quarrel over the Budget is expected to emerge during the extension of the 5th legislative session, beginning from Thursday, September 1, through Friday, September 30, 2016.

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