The Senate yesterday voted 12 for, seven against and one abstention in favor of a motion to cite Minister of Finance & Development Planning to clarify his recent statement in the United States, concerning his Ministry’s revenue collection and its utilization.
In her motion to cite Minister Konneh, Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence said due to the gravity of the issue and in the interest of the public, the Minister’s statement that 60% of the national budget goes towards administration indicates mismanagement.
“We all need to know through his justification to plenary on Tuesday with supporting documents why that statement was made and why the United States was selected as the venue when he had held several meetings and hearings without referring to such happenings within his ministry.”
In the communication that prompted the hours of debate which culminated in citing the Minister, Bomi County Senator Sando Johnson informed his colleagues that during a recent town hall meeting in Philadelphia, the United States, the MFDP boss informed a gathering that his ministry had collected US$3.1 billion in revenues since President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf took office.
Senator Johnson’s communication quoted Minister Konneh as saying that 60% of that money was spent on government administration which represented just 40,000 people out of a population of four (4) million; and warned that if revenue generated is not equitably expanded across the population, he foresees another April 14 Rice Riot style incident in Liberia.
The Bomi lawmaker who chairs the Senate Committee on Concession and Investment reminded the Senate plenary convening after a failed session last Tuesday, that the assertion by Minister Konneh is not only an indictment of the Executive Branch of government, but also of the Legislative and Judiciary branches.
“Honorable Pro Tempore, it is our fervent hope that the ministry could provide an explanation on how this foresight of violence could be avoided.”
During the hours of debate, Senators were divided on whether to invite the Minister to face plenary or send him to the relevant committees, considering that the plenary is the highest decision making body, and should be left to react to whatever report emanates from committees.
Senate Committee chair on Judiciary, Cllr. Varney Sherman, said the Senate was inviting itself into the prerogative of the Executive Branch of Government, and that “tomorrow, the President might want to invite herself into the prerogative of the Legislature.” If President Sirleaf has a problem with the statement made by her minister, who is member of the Executive Branch of government, she should go ahead and fire him.
“Suppose Minister Konneh comes and gives an explanation that you do not like, are you going to hold him in contempt because he spoke his mind? What happens to our Constitution? Did it say that because you are a minister you cannot speak your mind?” Cllr. Sherman asked.
He recalled that for the past years the budget of the country has been in excess of over US$500 Million and wondered whether it would be unreasonable for somebody to say “that we have collected US$3.1 billion?”
Margibi County Senator Oscar Cooper wondered where the Senate wanted to go with the statement of Minister Konneh: “What is the objective of this body wanting to discuss the utterance of a Finance Minister? I don’t think we need to justify this,” said Sen. Cooper.
But in strong words, Lofa County Senator Stephen Zargo who chairs the Senate Committee on Defense, Intelligence and Veterans Affairs countered earlier comments by both Senators Sherman and Cooper, saying the statement has both national security and economic implications, especially considering the imminent UNMIL drawdown.
River Gee Senator Conmany Wesseh agreed with those who believed the Minister’s statement was a very serious matter if indeed he made it, and suggested that the best place for him to appear to give clarity will be to meet with the executives of the Senate that include the heads of Statutory Committees and others the Pro Tempore might invite.
Secondly, Wesseh noted, if what the Minister said is true, then the matter is very serious with economic, social and above all security implications. “If it has all of these implications, I think the best way that we can be able to see if it does have these implications will be if we listen to what happened between what he (Konneh) said and what the Minister of Defense had to say.”
He concluded by warning his colleagues that there was nothing simple about what the Ministers of Defense and Finance, the key economic and security leaders, have to say, stressing that they cannot be dismissed.
“What does the President know about this, what is she doing about it and what should we encourage her to do about it? We need to have an indication that there is a coherent government,” cautioned Sen. Wesseh.
Meanwhile, Grand Gedeh Senator Alphonso Gaye announced a motion for reconsideration which was granted. It is not clear whether Minister Konneh will appear after the motion for reconsideration hearing on Tuesday.