The woes of Finance Minister, Amara Konneh, which have been heating up since it was announced that government is experiencing a shortfall within its budget, seem to be worsening with a recent barrage of criticisms over his performance.
This time around, a member of the Joint House committee on Public Accounts is calling for Minister Konneh’s resignation if he is unable to handle the responsibilities of his ministry.
Senator George Tengbeh of Lofa County said the issue of budget shortfalls is becoming a serious embarrassment to the country as it is stalling development projects.
Senator Tengbeh spoke yesterday, Thursday, April 17, at the opening ceremony of the Liberian Legislature validation workshop on the legislative guide to the National Budgetary Process.
The validation exercise is an initiative of the Legislative Budget Office (LBO). The document is intended to adequately prepare and inform lawmakers on how to constructively engage the budgeting process in order to curtail all of the fiscal challenges of the national budget.
The Lofa County lawmaker said, “I, quite frankly, have a serious problem with the finance ministry when it comes to budget implementation. We always seem to fall short, and it is becoming an embarrassment to all of us.”
He explained, “Today when I go to Lofa County, projects from the 2012-2013 fiscal year are yet to be implemented. I think it is our right to know what the cause of the hold-up is.”
“I am not afraid to tell the finance minister to resign if he is unable to manage the ministry. We cannot spend all of our time falling into holes every time a budget shortfall is announced,” he said.
The issue of budget shortfalls has hit the country for two years running. The current situation seems to be the worst, with every government entity seemingly in financial crisis.
For some, this brings into question the ability of the minister of finance and his deputies, who are the focal persons in the preparation and implementation of the budget.
The Finance boss and his four deputies were on Tuesday summoned by the Full Bench of the Supreme Court to give reason (s) if any, why they should not be held in contempt for “arbitrarily reducing the 2013/2014 budget of the Judiciary in total violation of the “Judiciary and Financial Autonomy Act.”. This move to arbitrarily reduce the budget of the Judiciary may have been a result of the national budget’s shortfall.
The lawyers representing Finance Minister Amara Konneh and other senior staff pleaded for ten days to appear before that body.
The reason given was that some of those summoned by the Supreme Court were conducting government functions outside of the country.
Minister Konneh was recently summoned by member of the national legislature to provide some clarity about alleged lapses within the budget.
In regards to the validation exercise, Senator Tengbeh said the work of the LBO is integral to the national budgeting process.
He said: “I believe the LBO is the fulcrum of the national budgeting process, especially from the legislative perspective.
According to him, “it is rather frustrating that we have been forced to hear the terminology ‘budget shortfall’ over and over during the past year. At some point we must sit and think about where we are heading to. What is the work of the LBO? We need to make more efforts to come up with solutions.”
He said people feel motivated only when their works and actions are put into practical terms and implemented to the fullest.
“When we go into our various constituencies as lawmakers it is an embarrassment to us because the budget year elapsed without us implementing projects that we earmarked due to lack of money.
When we go back the people remind us that we promised we were going to construct bridges, youth centers, or markets. Who should they blame when these projects fail to manifest, are they going to blame the executive or the budget office? We are caught between a rock and a hard place,” Senator Tengbeh explained.
“I hope that from this point on we can expect to see great changes. We will leave to our committee to make sure that happens,” he concluded.
The Co-Chair of the Joint Public Account Committee, Representative Ben Fofana, said he and other colleagues are equally disappointed with the way the budget process has been handled between line ministries, agencies and the finance ministry.
The Margibi County lawmaker said the creation of the LBO was intended to bridge the gap inconstancies that may arise in the budgeting process so Legislators would know how to go through the process appropriately.