‘Senators Angry Over Ultimatum’

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A letter addressed to the Liberian Senate recently by the Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Dr. James F. Kollie, has thrown members of that body into frenzy and they have promptly ordered Kollie and his boss, Minister Amara Konneh, to appear before plenary tomorrow Tuesday, February 2, for possible contempt hearing.

In the letter dated January 21, Dr. Kollie among other things told the Senate that due to the urgency to complete processing allotments for the 3rd quarter of the fiscal year his Ministry was requesting a prompt response with information on “how adjustment should be distributed in their budget.”

Minister Kollie then threw the killer blow by telling the lawmakers that “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 the allotment for the remainder of the 3rd quarter.”

That statement plunged the Senate Chambers into an uproar of disbelief that a junior member of the Executive Branch was issuing an ultimatum to the first branch of power that has the Constitutional mandate to approve budgetary appropriations.

River Gee Senator Conmany Wesseh did not mince his words when he told his colleagues that Kollie needs to seek assistance whenever he intends to communicate with senior officials of government.

“How in the first place can a junior official write the highest body of the Legislature with such words,” Wesseh wondered.

Some Senators demanded the immediate appearance before them of the two Ministers if it meant that they had to wait for the whole day while others suggested that Konneh and his deputy appear Tuesday with all relevant documents.

Some described the letter as an insult and an attempt to usurp the functions of the Legislature. “It is an affront to this body and he (Kollie) needs to appear with his boss to tell us where he received his authority to dictate the function that is allotted to us.”

In his letter Kollie informed the Senators that after a careful review and analysis of the impact of the global economic downturn on the economy, the revenue forecast for FY2015/2016 had been revised downward.

The decline in the prices of iron ore, rubber, etc, and the recovery from the Ebola crisis, according to Minister Kollie, had significantly impacted the broader economy and the country’s fiscal position.

Kollie said strategies were being deployed such as enhancing domestic resource mobilization, improving tax administration procedures, improvement in the business environment and accelerating government’s efforts in meeting disbursement triggers for full realization of external budget support. However “it still remains an extreme imperative that we employ austerity measures to cut back public spending by US$69.9 million,” he maintained.

Deputy Minister Kollie however informed lawmakers that efforts have been made to protect spending on compensation, debt payment and social benefits, as well as funding national priority projects and spending on programs in the health, and education sectors.

“In the light of these developments, we would like to inform you that subject to Legislative endorsement, your revised recurrent appropriation for FY2015/16 is now set at US$14,043,570, down from US$15,306,416. For additional clarity, please note that this new ceiling reflects projected Government of Liberia funds and include the US$7,756,575 that has already been allotted to you, as at December 31, 2015”

“Therefore,” the letter continued, “only US$6, 286,995 will be available to support your entity’s activities for the remainder of the fiscal year (January to June). Although the provided amount may be less than the amount required to accomplish your entity’s objectives, we suggest that you carefully review your priorities and employ innovative means to efficiently allocate the recommended appropriation among those priorities that will assist Government in reducing poverty.”

Concluding, Kollie reminded them of the obligation of each government entity to submit a copy of its FY2015/16 second quarter Budget Performance report by January 15, 2016, now two weeks past due.

Due to its importance Plenary agreed that the issue of the letter will be the only matter on the agenda for Tuesday’s sitting.

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