Ahead of the long overdue submission of the 2020/2021 National Budget to the Legislature, five (5) civil society organizations (CSOs) on Tuesday, June 23, 2020, submitted a 14-page “Shadow” Budget Option Paper to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. It comprises analysis of how government should raise revenue, expend money, prioritize certain developments and further recommends the reduction of the huge list of tax waiving institutions.
Government has provided tax incentives (tax breaks) to over 20 business institutions and higher education in an effort to attract more investments, but economists have regarded the offering of tax breaks as discretionary fiscal and financial incentives and argued that such non-transparent practices are political and are prone to abuse and lack the transparency and accountability which denies the government of accruing the necessary revenues.
The “Shadow” Budget Option Paper, according to the CSOs, conveys the dreams and aspirations of citizens to be reflected on how the national budget should be developed and how the meager financial resources must be distributed.
The Paper was researched and prepared by the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD), in collaboration with Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), Integrity Watch Liberia (IW-L), Community Safety Initiative (CSI), and the Open Government Partnership Secretariat.
Presenting the Shadow Budget Option Paper, IREDD Executive Director, Harold Aidoo, said the paper is aimed at allowing citizens to participate in the fiscal management of the country, especially during the budget cycle.
“Mechanisms for public participation are key conduits for making governments transparent, accountable and responsive to their citizens around the world. Through public participation, citizens can make inputs in identifying priorities, reduce wasteful spending, contribute to innovations, participate in the decision-making process and improve their perception of the performance of the government,” he said.
Mr. Aidoo added: “Therefore, this Shadow Budget Option Paper presents recommendations to the Government of Liberia for consideration, beginning with the FY2020/21 National Budget. We have recommended Concrete actions for revenue and expenditure and investments in non-personnel expenditures in the health and education sectors must be taken. We believe very strongly that these actions are implementable and within the bounds of the government. It’s our strongest conviction that the government of Liberia will commit to demonstrating in good faith high degree of transparency, accountability, responsiveness and increase of public trust and confidence in its performance.”
The remaining recommendations to Liberian government according to the group include that the government should adopt a more conservative revenue forecasting method rather than being overly ambitious; identify “pro-poor” expenditure areas and prioritize accordingly when making appropriate decisions, beginning with the ensuing 2020/2021 budget; complete the wage bill reform program, eliminate ghost names and, most importantly, invest in the health workforce, health delivery system and upgrade hospitals; improve the efficiency and performance of the education management system and construction of more schools and provision of requisite textbooks, and erection of libraries and laboratories which will contribute to the improvement of Liberian students’ scores of WAEC and WASSCE examinations.
In response, Deputy Finance Minister for Budget and Development Planning, Madam Tanneh Brunson, commended the CSOs for the Shadow Budget Option Paper which, she said, shows that Liberia is growing along the global trend of the open budget initiative. She however noted that the budget intends to meet the needs of the people, but there are certain areas that are highly political.