Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh appears before plenary of the Senate this morning for contempt proceedings for what the lawmakers describe as Constitutional violation in the Minister’s attempt to usurp their legislative function.
Konneh is facing contempt hearings before the Senate after that body took offense to the language of the content in a letter written by Deputy Minister Dr. James F. Kollie.
Minister Konneh, who appeared before the Senate recently, agreed to take responsibility for the language of the letter and apologized; but however, refused to apologize for what the lawmakers described as Constitutional violation in the Minister’s attempt to usurp their legislative function.
In the letter, Minister Kollie informed the lawmakers that subject to legislative endorsement, their recurrent appropriation for FY2015/16 “is now set at US$14,043570, down from US$15,306,416,” and explained further that the new ceiling reflects projected government funds and included the US$7,756,575 that had already been allotted to them as at December 31, 2015.
The letter also informed the Senate that it is extremely imperative that they employ austerity measures to cut back public spending by US$69.9 million, but that efforts were being made to protect spending on areas of compensation, debt repayments and social benefits, and spending on ongoing programs in the health and education sectors.
Appearing before the Senate last Thursday for contempt hearing as earlier requested, and urged to go along with his lawyer, Konneh begged the lawmakers for time, stating: “Honorable Senators, I will like to respectfully inform the Liberian Senate that my choice of counsel is not in town, and I will prefer to appeal that you grant me continuance in this matter if at all my lawyer’s presence is needed today.”
Granting his plea for continuance, the Senators requested him to reappear this morning along with his lawyer; and in the event he appears without his lawyer, “this body should take recourse to provide him the legal representation as required by the law.”
However, Minister Konneh is reappearing in the wake of reports that he has since last Thursday written the Senate a letter of apology and requesting that body to drop contempt charges against him, “in the interest of advancing our nation’s development agenda.”
In his reported letter of apology, Minister Konneh among other things asserted: “I have over the years, demonstrated deference to the Senate and have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with its members. I do not intend to change that, neither at this point in time, nor do I ever especially when the country is in need of improved coordination among its leaders to keep the development agenda on course and surmount the economic challenges we are currently facing.”
According to the Minister, he had authorized Dr. Kollie, the Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs, to write a letter to the Senate.
Konneh said in the letter that his reliance for authorizing his deputy to write the Senate was based on “Section 6(4) of the Public Financial management Act of 2009, which gives me the flexibility to have done so; but I concede that I could have exercised that flexibility differently. I therefore acknowledge that a more deferential letter should have been written that more clearly acknowledge the power of appropriations vested in the legislature, and as in budget preparation protocol, requested relevant information from the spending entities including the projections for budget formulation purposes.”
Concluding in the letter which was discussed by the lawmakers during executive session last Thursday, Minister Konneh maintained that: “Under these circumstances, including the pressure for time to complete the task at hand; the Finance and Development Planning’s letter appeared to have given ultimatum to the Liberian Senate, which was certainly unintended. I regret the tone of the letter, which requested the senate to provide said information within a specified timeframe.”
Although some Senators posted a posture of unfriendliness during last Thursday’s sitting, there are emerging signals that majority of the lawmakers will likely temper justice with mercy and grant the young Minister forgiveness, now that the necessary apology has been made.