-Internal Affairs Minister frowns on law giving legislative caucus Chairpersons the power to chair CSDF Meetings
A portion of amended Section 9 (nine) of the 2018/2019 Budget Law, which says the County Council of the County Social Development Fund (CSDF) shall be presided over by the Legislative Caucus Chairman or Co-chairman has been harshly condemned, and criticized by Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf.
Minister Sirleaf said the ‘new Budget law’ under which a Legislator is the presiding officer in the meeting to distribute or allocate the county’s money is wrong, “because it poses fears in the indigenous to express their views or to make tangible input.
Sirleaf said that the lawmaker will be dictating, capitalizing on the fears of the “common people, and have more say rather than the people for whom the money is intended to benefit.”
He voiced out his disagreement with the law on Wednesday, September 5, during a high Level Dialogue on County Social Development Funds Reform under the auspices of the USAID-funded Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative (LAVI), and its partner, Natural Resource Management (NRM) Coalition, but implemented by IREDD.
Minister Sirleaf, who made the statement when he served as guest speaker at the one-day Policy Dialogue, said before the “new Budget Law,” the chairperson, Assistant chair, and two recording secretaries of the Council Sitting were elected by and among the accredited delegates, and seated the indigenous (common people.)
“In the past, because the people know that one of them is the chairperson, they were able to talk freely, and contribute without fear, but with this new law, in which a lawmaker –especially the chairman of their Legislative Caucus, is the chairperson of the Council Meeting, the people are afraid to freely express their views and also make their inputs,” Min. Sirleaf said.
He added, “the new budget law will lead to continuous influence of the County Sitting processes by the Legislators.”
Minister Sirleaf then encouraged the counties to use their County Development Agenda (CDA) as their tools in the Council Sittings, and will inform every County Sitting, and make it easy for the value of the money.
He however, thanked the Senators for the passage of the Local Governance Act, and expressed the hope that members of the Lower House will concur.
Former Internal Affairs Minister Blamoh Nelson, in a panel discussion on Policy Options for Reforming the County Social Development Funds, also accused the lawmakers of violating the ‘New Budget Law. He said, quoting the new budget law, “the County Superintendent Council, in consultation with the Legislative Caucus, shall convene, in the Capital City of the county anytime during the Annual Break of the Legislature…”
Nelson said, already, three counties have had their County Sitting, while the Legislature is still in Session, including River Gee, Lofa and Nimba Counties.
According to reports, Representative Francis Dopoh, Chairman of the Caucus presided over the County Sitting from July 28 to August 1; Senator Steve Zargo’s Lofa County Sitting was in mid- August, while Nimba County had their Sitting with Senator Prince Y. Johnson presiding, from the August 31 – September 2, 2018.
Other delegates at Wednesday’s Policy Dialogue, said the ‘Standing Protocol and Agenda for the formal Sitting of the County Council’ was not done, which says, the County Sitting process, and agenda will be public thus making delegates adequately prepare and inform of discussion points prior to the meeting.
Deputy Finance Minister Augustus Flomo, argued that the “County’s Money should be taken from the hands of the Legislators to promote accountability and transparency.”
Dorbor Jallah of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC), also urged the lawmakers to refrain from taking part in the procurement process of the CSDF.
Dorbor said that for his unbending attitude, pressuring the Legislators against the procurement of the CSDF, the PPCC’s budgets have consistently been reduced over the years.
In response, Nimba County District #8 Representative, Larry P. Younquoi, clarified that besides a lawmaker being chairman on the Council Sitting, the lawmakers do not handle the CSDF funds.
Younquoi insisted that the government has reduced Social Development Funds to counties, “because of appeals from the concession, but such behaviors, should be criminalized.”
Representatives Lawrence Morris (Montserrado County District #1 and George Boley of Grand Gedeh County) also rejected the claims.
As of 2006/2017 budget, the 15 counties have been equally receiving County Development Fund, and at present, each county receives US$200,000.
In 2008, the Social Development Fund was established for counties hosting concessions from international extractive concessionaires as negotiated in the Mineral Development Agreements (MDA).
Three years later, in 2011, the SDF was merged to form the CDF legislative framework under the annual budget law, whereby the Legislature assumed de facto control of the process in a consolidated County Social Development Fund (CSDF).
Meanwhile, in the new Budget law, Civil Society Organizations, preferable community based, will be playing a more proactive monitoring role at the county sitting.