The long awaited 2017/2018 National Budget, which should have been submitted to the Legislature on April 30, has finally been presented to the national legislature for that august body’s timely consideration. The late submission of the budget by the Executive has been creating some uneasiness in many quarters as the current budget year (2016/2017) has just a little over a month to expire on June 30.
On Monday, May 22, the 2017/2018 fiscal budget was presented to House Speaker J. Emmanuel Nuquay by Deputy Finance Minister for Budget and Development Planning, Tanneh Brunson.
Upon the presentation of the budget, Minister Brunson, currently acting Finance and Developing Planning Minister, said the formulation of the budget has been exceptionally constrained, not only by the impacts of slow post-Ebola economic recovery and unfavorable and domestic macroeconomic conditions, but also by the increasing expenditure demands placed on it.
The Acting Minister said despite these challenges and a constrained fiscal space, the 2017/18 National Budget has been prepared in a framework which addresses critical public expenditure demands as the country faces two major transactions – the 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections and the UNMIL drawdown.
She indicated that the government remains committed to the delivery of critical public services, as well as the completion of ongoing projects in line with the national development plan (Agenda for Transformation).
The Acting Minister said the total revenue estimate for FY2017/2018 is US$526.5 million – a 12.3% reduction from the US$600.2 million approved for FY2016/17, which reflects a 3.5% decrease on the end-of-year forecast of US$545.5 million.
She said in order to submit a balanced budget the expenditure portfolio is constrained to US$526.5 million and consists of two major segments: Recurrent Expenditure of US$498.9 million or 94.8% and the Public Sector Investment Plan (PSIP) of US$27.5 million or 5.2%.
She explained that the major components comprised of US$31 million for liabilities (debt services), including US$10.8 million to pay off domestic liabilities (debt)-principal and interests, and US$20.2 million for payment of foreign liabilities (debt)-principal and interests.
Others are US$19.8 million for the conduct of the October elections; US$296 million for compensation of employees; US$81.1 million for goods and services, including supplies for education and health; US$3.4 million in subsidies to non-governmental service delivery entities; and US$60.3 million in grants to government service delivery entities.
The Acting Minister further said the Liberian economy, like most in the world, is experiencing some turbulence due in large part to the global economic downturn.
“We are confident that our economy will withstand the tests of the moment and is highly poised to come out stronger than before. However, this will not happen by chance, we will have to make tough decisions in both the short and medium term, not only within the Executive but also in the Legislative and Judicial branches of government,” she said.
“In the short term, we will continue to apply fiscal measures to control expenditure and demonstrate our commitment to the priorities before us…But more importantly, we must continue to lead the charge together in taking practical steps to diversify our economy and insulate it from external shocks of the types we have and continue to experience over the last three years.”
The Acting Minister also added that the budget will require government to continue to make investments in certain critical infrastructure such as electricity and roads, but it also requires that citizens, through private enterprise, take advantage of the opportunities in agriculture, agro-processing and light manufacturing.
Meanwhile, receiving the Budget, Speaker J. Emmanuel Nuquay said the House of Representatives would prioritize roads, safe drinking water, health and education in the 2017/2018 National Budget.
The Speaker said these four priorities stemmed from a Development Focus Survey and would be points of focus to disabuse the minds of Liberians that the Legislators are ‘self-interested’ in the Budget process.
The Speaker, meanwhile, expressed his disappointment over the delay of the Budget, arguing that by law, it should have been submitted on April 30.
He indicated that despite the procrastination, the Budget could be passed in a timely manner, and be used by July 1 if the Legislature gets the desired cooperation from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
“We would like to encourage that every member of the Legislature receive a copy of the 2017/2018 Draft Budget to help with the speedy passage,” the Speaker said.
The Budget is expected to be included in today (Tuesday’s) agenda and subsequently be turned over to the Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning and Public Accounts Committees to begin scrutiny.
For a speedy passage, there will likely be a Joint Budget Hearing of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.