The Liberia Media Development program in collaboration with the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) on Tuesday, August 28, 2018, launched a web portal on the national budget with the intent to make the budget accessible to citizens who will be able to track public funds for accountability.
CENTAL program director, Gerald D. Yeakula, said citizens were finding it difficult to read through the budget due to its font size.
“We want to assure that citizens can easily access the budget, to know what is being allocated to each sector,” Yeakula said.
He said the web portal will also highlight news articles on public funds published in local dailies, including both print and electronic media for future references.
USAID (United States Agency for International Development) Director for Democracy, Rights and Governance Emily Krunic described the launch of an online portal as an important initiative that would make the budget information accessible to citizens nationwide.
Madam Krunic recalled that two decades ago, international development institutions advocated that public budgets be drafted, managed by the Ministry of Finance (MoF), and allowed to take place largely behind closed doors.
She said that a transparent and inclusive budgeting process was inefficient at best and economically dangerous at worst.
“Time has changed, because fiscal transparency is now considered a best practice and there is a growing acceptance that the active engagement of citizens, civil society and the media in budget processes is one good thing nowadays,” Madam Krunic said.
As the open budget index explains, a transparent and inclusive budget process is now seen as essential to facilitating investment, ensuring efficient outcomes and holding government accountable for managing public resources.
The report, Madam Krunic said, indicates that the current system in Liberia is particularly weak in providing the public with opportunities to engage the budget process; but the analysis was supported in a recent poll USAID’s partner, Geo-Pol, conducted through the Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative.
Among the host of potential issues, she said Liberians selected budget transparency as a major concern even greater than security.
Madam Krunic said Liberians claimed that the government and civil society organizations (CSOs) did not support transparent, participatory processes in making budgetary decisions.
To assist the government and civil society to strengthen this process, she said, USAID has been working with Internews to improve access to expenditures at the national level through the Liberia Media Budget Monitoring for Accountability activity.
Cllr. Negbalee Warner, Dean of Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, said Liberia has reached a stage where transparency cannot be taken for granted, as the country continues to move higher.
Warner recalled that long ago the issue of transparency and accountability was not publicized as compared to now, expressing delight over the level of progress being made so far.
He spoke on the theme, “Persuading or Realizing the Promise of Transparency.”
Like many countries, Cllr. Warner said, in the case of Liberia, public information was considered very important and of a higher nature that could not be entrusted to ordinary citizens.
“We have had a conversation and it must be done, because in less than two decades, we have come to the stage where transparency is hardly achieved in our society. We have difficulties with fiscal transparency, with procurement transparency, with almost all the sectors,” Cllr. Warner said while launching the web portal.
He lauded CENTAL and other CSOs for playing cardinal roles in making public information accessible. He added that Liberia is now part of few countries that have passed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Tuesday’s launch brought together civil society actors, media, government officials and donor partners.