CSO Executive Kennedy Berrian tells constituents
Months after the government made five significant changes to Section 9 of the 2018/2019 Budget Law of the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF) that would improve transparency and accountability, an executive of Platform for Dialogue and Peace (P4DP) on Monday, October 8, encouraged Liberians to hold their representatives responsible for compliance and inclusion into any discussion about allotment made to the districts.
Mr. Kennedy Berrian, program manager of P4DP, during a CSDF advocacy dialogue in Montserrado County District#9 on the awareness campaign about the amended 2018/2019 Budget Law, told the participants that the new law provides them with the opportunity to take ownership of their own district development projects.
“Previously, there was no accountability and citizens did not have any information about CSDF implementation,” Berrian informed his audience.
The awareness campaign was held at P4DP’s office in the Lakpazee Community (District #9) and it brought together community leadership that included the visually impaired from five of the district’s 21 communities.
“The project is for you and you must demand to be a part of any county sitting that would be in the interest of you and your community,” Berrian said. “You have to know that at any county sitting you must demand that you select your own representation for you to be fully represented. Don’t let it be the same way when they used to choose who should represent you there,” Berrian told the gathering.
Educating the district about the role of their lawmakers, he said, “Let them explain the changes to you. If they don’t, it is your right to hold them accountable to explain it to you. You have to demand because you elected them and they should be the one to explain it to you.”
At the awareness campaign most of the community leaders described the forum as an “eye opener.”
Boima Tejan, a visually impaired said, for too long the disabled people have been excluded from any county sitting, but with the level of education gathered, they are going to push for their participation.
Also, a female participant, identified as Edith said, they “now understand that they have the right to ask their lawmakers about any development projects in the district.”
“We do not know about the CSDF and we thought it was the initiative of our representatives, but now I know that it was our development money allotted by the government or companies operating in our community or district,” Edith noted.
Madam Monica Dolo, P4DP’s monitoring and evaluation officer, encouraged the participants to serve as ambassadors to ensure that the amendment on the budget law was received by ordinary people in the district.
“You have to spread the message and you have to hold townhall meetings to educate each other about the new law and your role in the development of your own district and communities,” Madam Dolo advised.
It may be recalled that P4DP was part of an advocacy from the National Resource Management, a coalition comprising eight civil society groups working on CSDF reforms with support from USAID’s Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative project, (LAVI) which was finally signed into law by President George Weah on July 14, 2018.
The five changes were among 17 proposed amendments the coalition submitted to the legislature for consideration.
Under the new law, withdrawals from the CSDF account must be done in accordance with the Public Financial Management law and general accounting principles. Previously, withdrawals required two principal signatories or their representatives in accordance with guidelines set by the legislative and executive branches.
The previous laws had it that the Minister of Finance and Development Planning was authorized to issue allotments based on the resolution of each county council against the amount appropriated in the budget for CSDF for each county.e
Now, the money will be issued after a full accounting of previous amounts has been made, consistent with the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC) and the Public Financial Management (PFM) law.
The MFDP minister “shall not make the payment to a county unless previous disbursements have been fully accounted for and financial reports duly made and certified by the County Legislative Caucus,” the law stipulates.
The change creates a system of check and balance that discourages unilateral actions by the minister and enhances the swift disbursement of funds under the financial management law, according to the coalition’s document on the changes.
The third amendment requires the election of a five-member Project Management Committee (PMC) once every three years. The PMC must comprise a treasurer and a comptroller. The County Council must decide the criteria for qualifications based on professional training and work experience in accounting.
The project chair must have a minimum of three years’ experience in project management and must have resided in the county before taking the position or be willing to relocate to the county. This is intended to guard against having the committee members living outside of the county, making them unable to provide oversight.
The previous law required the election of a three-member PMC team once every three years. The new law would create more checks and balances on the three PMC leaders and promote competence in terms of electing a chair rather than appointing someone with political influence. Previously, PMC members were appointed based on political interest.
The new law also requires that only 10 percent of the CSDF allocation should be spent on the PMC’s operations. The idea is to spend more on projects that will benefit the community instead of on administrative costs.
Under the new law, the removal of PMC members requires the vote of two-thirds of the county council. The previous law allowed PMC members to be removed for causes determined by a county’s legislative caucus. Under the new law, the PMC members are more independent in the discharge of their duties.
Additionally, the processing of budgetary allocations and all documents to citizens and other relevant entities must comply with public procurement and public finance regulations under the new law.
The Project Management Team, which serves as the project monitoring and evaluation team of the target area, must also report to the citizens of their respective areas and to the PMC on the progress of the project, a process that will result in timely payment for contractors.
The new law also changes the rules regarding county sitting where decisions of CSDF projects are determined. Previously, there was no requirement of publicity about the county sitting. Project decisions would be made by a county’s legislative caucus, the superintendent, and other district, traditional, and municipal delegates handpicked by lawmakers.
Under the new law, the superintendent must ensure that “extensive publicity,” through all media platforms — radio and TV; print and social media — is given to the meeting to encourage maximum participation. The attendance at county sitting must include an equal number of officials and opinion leaders from each of the traditional communities, statutory districts, and administrative districts.