President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has sent to the Senate the proposed Reconstructed Budget for Fiscal Year 2015/2016, with an expected shortfall in revenue estimated at US$70 million.
According to the letter accompanying the proposed Budget, the bulk of the shortfall is attributed to the mining and rubber sectors, which she said are unable to meet their tax obligations due to the sharp decline in global prices.
In this regard, President Sirleaf maintained that her government will continue to work with the companies involved to take measures that would lead to recovery, while keeping job losses at a minimum.
“In keeping with our policy to have a balanced budget the reduction in revenue has to be matched by a reduction in the level of expenditure. In doing so we applied the equity principle by ensuring that all entities are subject to reduction, with the exception of strategic institutions such as the Revenue Authority.
We must also ensure that appropriations which cover external and domestic obligations are kept intact,” she said.
The President concluded her letter by informing Senate plenary that she has already instructed her Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amara Konneh, to stand ready “to provide you with more details and work with your committees as you will dictate.”
In relation to the Finance Minister, the Senate Committee on Judiciary, headed by Senator Varney Sherman, yesterday briefed plenary about last Tuesday’s conference held at the Supreme Court regarding a petition for stay order filed against lawyers representing Minister Konneh, who was sentenced to 48 hours in jail on charges of Contempt of the Legislature.
According to Bomi County Senator (Cllr) Morris Saytumah, who briefed the plenary as co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, Justice in Chambers Jamesetta Howard-Wolokollie ruled that the motion for prohibition was premature and ordered both parties to return to their positions prior to the petition.
With the ruling, the Senate will now hear the motion for reconsideration filed by their colleague, Grand Gedeh County ranking Senator G. Alphonso Gaye, against the 48 hour jail sentence imposed on Konneh by plenary with 15 for, three against and three abstentions. The motion for reconsideration is now slated for next Thursday, and there is a slim chance that Konneh will escape the 48 hour sentence.
It can be recalled that Deputy Finance and Development Planning Minister for Fiscal Affairs, Dr. James F. Kollie, in a letter dated January 21, 2016, informed the Senate that after a careful review and analysis of the impact of the global economic downturn on the Liberian economy, the revenue forecast for FY2015/2016 has been revised downward citing declines in the prices of iron ore and rubber, and the economy’s recovery from the 2014 Ebola crisis.
In light of those developments, Kollie’s letter informed the lawmakers that subject to their (Legislature) endorsement, “your revised recurrent appropriation for FY2015/16 is now set at US$14,043,570, down from US$15,306,416.”
The letter further clarified that the new ceiling reflected projected government of Liberia funds and included the US$7,756,575 that has already been allotted to them, as of December 31, 2015.
“Therefore,” Kollie’s controversial letter continued, “only US$6m will be available to support your entity’s activities for the remainder of the fiscal year (January to June).”
“Due to the urgency to complete processing allotments for the quarter,” Kollie informed the Senate, “we are requesting your prompt response with information on how the adjustment should be distributed in your Budget. Notwithstanding, if you do not respond with regard to said distribution by 4 p.m. on Wednesday, January 27, we will use our discretion to reallocate the amount appropriately and proceed with the processing of allotments for the remainder of the 3rd quarter.”
The latter is the paragraph that lawmakers consider a violation of the Constitution, accusing Minister Konneh of trying to usurp the functions of the Legislature by attempting to make appropriations, which is solely a Legislative responsibility.