The House of Representatives has approved the country’s budget for fiscal year 2020/2021 in the tone of US$570.1 million.
The budget, which was approved 84 days after its submission by President George Weah, is in excess of what the Liberian leader presented to the House of Representatives.
According to the House, the US$570.1 million budget was passed in that amount instead of the US$535.4 million version previously submitted by the President after discovering additional revenue of US$34,659,000 as a grant from the African Development Bank, road fund arrears, domestic taxes, and fees.
The backhand approved budget was increased by about US$34 million of its submission amid the fight against the coronavirus and US$44 million more than the previous budget of 2019/2020 (US$526 million).
In Thursday’s session, 32 voted for the passage and one abstained, being Nimba County District #5 Representative, Samuel Kogar. In a conversation with the media, Rep. Kogar said his abstention was based on the lack of detailed information on the budget.
According to reports, the Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Public Accounts and Expenditure said the budget revenue was stated as US$535,452,173, as follows: tax revenue, US$333.56 million; non-tax revenue, US$73.89 million; internal resources, US$118 million; and cash carried forward, US$10 million.
“After robust hearings and consultations,” the Joint Budget Committee said, “the Committee concluded a revenue envelope of US$570.1 million as follows: African Development Bank, US$14 million; Liberia Business Registry, US$1.5 million; Liberia Immigration Service, US$1,019,000; and the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company US$750,000.”
“Other sources of revenue include: Liberia Telecommunication Authority US$1,356,000; Ministry of Foreign Affairs US$206,000; Ministry of Transport US$2,028,000; National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority, US$1,100,000; Road Fund/LPRC US$1,700,000; Revenue (new excise policy) $11,000,000 and additional revenue $34,659, 000,” the Joint Budget committed added.
The budget, upon its passage, was forwarded to the Senate for concurrence.
Meanwhile, the House is expected to formally adjourn its regular session today to go for its Constituency Break. The 54th Legislature extended its session from September 1-30 and extended for the second time. October 1–9, 2020.
The Legislature usually adjourns on the 30th of August for Constituency Break and resumes the second working Monday in January of each year.
It can be recalled that the President, through the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, submitted the 2020/2021 National Budget on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.
Presenting the financial envelope to House Speaker Bhofal Chambers at the time, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning said that one of the major reasons behind the increase in the budget was the ‘meticulous’ work carried on by the government in collaboration with its partners, especially the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“One of the major reasons for the jump is on account of a bond situation that we took time to structure along with the International Monetary Fund to stabilize our financial sector,” Tweah said.
“Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the President of the Republic of Liberia, whose ambition is to ensure that we correct the challenges we have to our budget, we again submit another significant instrument, which is work in process on the whole reform of the budget process.”
Despite the shocks created by COVID-19, Tweah predicted that this fiscal year’s budget will perform better than the last budget 2019/2020, given the measures put in place, and just as the 2019/2020 budget year performed better than 2018/2019.
He said despite the two recasts made last budget year, the budget ended with a surplus and the total surplus will be known by September this year. With several fiscal policies and reforms, he noted the budget will perform in the succeeding years to come.
“Given the fiscal regime we now have, the liquidity management instrument, the ‘no borrowing’ from Central Bank policy, all of those things, we can say that we are in a position to execute this budget even better than we did last year. This means the close of this budget will mirror the close we saw last budget, June 30, 2020,” said Minister Tweah.
Receiving the document, Speaker Chambers thanked the President for living up to his promise and announced that the House of Representatives along with the Senate will coordinate with the Executive to make rightful appropriations that will impact the lives of all Liberians.
The submission of the budget has been delayed for nearly three months. According to session 11 of the Public Financial Management (PFM) Law of Liberia, “The President shall submit the Proposed Budget and accompanying documents to the Legislature no later than two months before the start of the fiscal year.”
However, President Weah, in a communication requesting for ample time to submit the budget, said the formulation of the fiscal year 2020/2021 national budget was marred by ‘exceptional constraints’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The President indicated: “The formulation of the national budget remains exceptionally constrained. The ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing expenditure demands that necessitate the formulation of a budget which addresses critical public expenditure priorities in the midst of uncertainties the country faces as the result of the pandemic,” the President wrote in his communication to the House at the beginning of July 2020.