Two days after it was introduced on the floor, the plenary of the Senate voted 17 in favor, four against, with no abstention to pass the “Financial Autonomy Act of the Legislature.” The vote was, however, short lived as Margibi County Senator Oscar Cooper filed a motion for reconsideration.
According to the edited version of the original Bill, the Legislature would be “hereby granted Financial Autonomy; wherein funds allotted to the Legislature in the National Budget for each given fiscal year, shall, on a quarterly basis, be deposited by the Ministry of Finance and Development
Planning into the Account of the Legislature at the Central Bank of Liberia.”
The said quarterly deposit, the Act noted, “shall be made not later than the two weeks at the beginning of a given quarter; and that the management and processing of all documentations relating to the administration of the budget of the Legislature shall be subject to compliance with all provisions of the Public Procurement and Concessions Act of 2010 (restated), the Public Financial Management (PFM) Law, the Internal Audit Agency Act and the National Budget Law. The Act will also comply with Government’s Adopted Accounting Standards and Procedures, and shall be audited annually by the General Auditing Commission.”
The Act, sponsored by Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, stipulated that the Comptroller of each House, after passage of the National Budget and in consultation with the head of the Secretariat of each House, “shall adopt a system of sound financial management policies in conformity with financial regulations of the Government of Liberia to ensure prudent and efficient management of funds allotted for operation of each House concerned and the Legislature in general.”
In furtherance of the Act, “each House of the Legislature shall establish the proper financial management systems and controls consistent with applicable laws and regulations; establish an operating account in its name at the Central Bank of Liberia into which the Ministry of Finance and
Development Planning shall deposit all funds allotted to the Legislature in the National Budget on a quarterly basis, and from which the House concerned shall disburse its funds in keeping with all regulations and procedures.”
The Act maintained that the annual accounts of each House of the Legislature shall in collaboration with the Director of the Legislative Budget Office and Comptroller be prepared and submitted quarterly to the Internal Audit Section of the Legislature and to the plenary of both Houses.
The Director of the Legislative Budget Office shall ensure that a budget performance report of the Legislature is prepared and made available at the end of each fiscal year; and that any conduct which leads or results to noncompliance with the provisions contained in the Act “shall constitute Contempt of the Legislature and punishable consistent with law.”
Giving few justifications for the Act, Senator Taylor, who chairs the Senate Committee on Education, declared that the constitutional separation of powers between the three arms of the state is the basis for striving towards a strong and an independent Parliament (Legislature).
“Independent Parliaments,” the Senator maintained, “are strong and effective in discharging their constitutional duties, and are able to define their oversight and lawmaking agenda independent of other arms of the state; however, this is done in the interest of advancing the broader governance agenda.”
Speaking theoretically, Senator Taylor said independence implies Parliament’s unfettered control over its financial and other related resources. “It must be said, at the outset, that most Parliaments lack complete administrative and financial control; as such, this has contributed towards an ineffectual Parliament that is incapable of exercising effective oversight over the Executive, and the implications of these are that the electorate will not be well served if Parliaments do not have sufficient resources to carry out their constitutionally mandated functions.”
The implicit truth, noted Sen. Taylor, “is that the process whereby Parliament is subject to the same process as government departments is inconsistent with its status as an independent arm of the state. In this regard, there are useful models which Parliaments can draw from, where Parliaments exercise full autonomy over their financial allocations.”
The Senator concluded by saying that an Act of this nature ensures that Parliament enjoys greater autonomy from the Executive and thus can be true to its mandate of oversight.
Meanwhile, Senator Cooper, before filing his privileged motion for reconsideration, among other things, argued that the nomenclature attached to the document as an ‘Act’ was misplaced, and that it should have been referred to as a Bill, saying, “an Act is a Bill that has been passed and not the other way around.”
The four Senators who voted against the Act wanted the instrument to be opened for debate, but their plea was rejected by Senator Thomas Grupee (Nimba Co.) who proffered the motion for passage of the Act.
The hearing for the motion for reconsideration is expected within the next few sittings, but it is unlikely that the majority Senators will defeat themselves by overturning their vote.