Warns of major budget shortfall in 2019-2020 if Legislature does not act immediately
Opposition lawmaker Robert F. Womba has said he will pursue punishment for Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, for his ‘illegal spending’ in the 2018/2019 Budget, as far as writing a formal complaint to that effect to the House of Representatives.
According to legal observers, Minister Tweah could do jail time for his ‘unilateral’ actions, but the Bong County District #4 Representative believes that such action as to order the minister jailed can only be determined or directed primarily by what he called the wisdom of the Plenary — the highest decision marking body of the House of Representatives.
In a news conference with reporters on Wednesday, September 4, 2019 in his Capitol Building office, Rep. Womba said during the 2019/2020 Budget of the Expenditure Component, Youth and Sports Minister Zoegar Wilson admitted that, in spite of the US$300,000 being allotted for sports, the government expended over US$1 million.
Further, despite the appropriation of US$51 million for the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) in the 2018/2019 by the Legislature, it was discovered that an additional US$10 million was added without approval, which was unlawfully spent.
The Unity Party lawmaker said that certain ‘ministries spent surplus over their approved budget allocations and contributed to the shortfall in the 2018/2019 national budget.
“In the budget law, switching of a budget allotment to another allotment (or another budget line), including off-budget expenditure, is an offense,” Rep. Womba said.
The Bong County lawmaker expressed his frustration over the off-budget expenditures and said: “I will formally complain to the House of Representatives for the Ministries of Finance and Youth and Sports to be subjected to audit.”
He commended the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) for the collection of lawful revenues across the country but said the Ministry of Finance is not adhering to financial best practices and standards with illegal spending.
Rep. Womba stressed that he wants the Legislature to use its oversight responsibility to investigate off-budget expenditures executed by the Finance Ministry to serve as deterrence. He also maintained that, if the Finance Ministry is not investigated and halted, the 2019/2020 national budget in the tone of US$532 million might also experience budget shortfall.
There are reports that the government’s 2018/2019 budget has deeply fallen short after it was passed in the tune of US$570 million or its equivalent of L$84,333,327,390. Unconfirmed reports said over US$50 million were not actualized.
The Bong County District #4 Representative also accused the Ministries of Finance and State for Presidential Affairs for the “insincere austerity measures” being effected on other Ministries and governmental agencies, while the two Ministries increased their allotment of goods and services.
According to Rep. Womba, in the budget for the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs, most of the allotments and budget lines have been increased in the 2019/2020 as compared to the 2018/2019 Budget.
He said among others, the “Use of Goods and Services allotment” has been increased from US$617,063 to US$1,369,200; Foreign Travel-Incidental Allowance from US$87,504 to US$195,375; Domestic Travel-Daily Subsistance from US$25,858 to US$363,903; Use of Goods and Services from US$4,157,654 to 5,531,678; while the Presidential Advisory Board from US$92,054 to US$130,288; Technical Services from US$430,259 to US$904,226; and Public Affairs, Communication and Technology from US$108,499 to US$216, 574.
The Bong County lawmaker indicated that in the Domestic Travel-Means of Travel is from nothing to US$19,655; Scratch Cards from nothing to US$49,310; Food and Catering Services from nothing o US$25,528 fuel and Lubricants (Vehicles) from US$85,005 to US$118,309; Fuel and Lubricants (Generator) from US$6,328 to US$47,424; Repairs and Maintenance (Generators and Machinery Equipment) from US$2,529 to US$14,200 and US$20,406 to US$48,800; Cleaning Materials and Services from 11,311 to US$41,000 and stationery from US$68,242 to US$95,620.