This newspaper’s attention is drawn to media reports of unwholesome manipulation of the budget by some legislators and officials of the Executive branch of government who are accused by their colleagues of having made alterations in the draft national budget which were never discussed nor approved by the body. Such manipulative actions on the part of some legislators have drawn very harsh reactions from their colleagues and from the public as well.
According to a leaked memorandum from the Ways, Means and Finance Committee, unauthorized changes were made to the budget by some members of that very committee before it was printed into handbills. Sources tell the Daily Observer that over a million US dollars which were allocated to some public health institutions were instead inappropriately and illegally diverted to private health outfits in which legislators are said to have interest.
From all indications the changes were illegal and were intended for the singular purpose of stealing from the national coffers. The illegal actions of these lawmakers, have served to create the distinct impression that Liberia is now being run as a criminal cartel. The cases of the missing billions and the unaccounted for US$25 million infusion have only served to reinforce that impression.
Some of those health facilities to which funding was illegally transferred include African Dream Clinic – US$125,000; Baryata Clinic – US$75,000; St. Francis Health Center, Pleebo – US$300,000; Yorwee Clinic – US$50,000, Ma-Watta Medical and Eye Clinic – US$225,000, all of which amount to a grand total of US$775,000.
Included also were the E and J Medical Clinic whose budget was increased from US$150,000 in the approved draft budget to US$300,000 in the printed National Budget, while allocations to the Sunrise Clinic increased to US$100,000 in the printed National Budget.
According to the Memo, the reduction in the appropriation for the country’s health system was to affect all counties and to facilitate employment of health workers who were on the pool fund incentive scheme. Instead they observe that proceeds from the reduction were rather used to increase the appropriation of Montserrado County and other private health centers and clinics that were not included the draft budget.
These revelations could not have come at a worse time with increased economic hardships facing the people. Whatever the reasons being provided by these lawmakers for making such unauthorized changes to the budget, those reasons by themselves do not change the fact that those legislators acted illegally and should therefore be made to face a criminal investigation. Interestingly, the chairman of the Joint Legislature Budget Committee, Representative Thomas Fallah (CDC-District #5), claimed to have no knowledge about the changes in the Budget. The question therefore is who authorized the changes and how come Speaker Chambers, who should in fact be the last gate keeper, claims not to be aware of the illegal changes to the budget?
Rather than singling out Representative Yekeh Kolubah for retribution only because he has accused President Weah of complicity in the missing billions and the questionable US$25 million infusion, individual legislators involved in illegal diversion of funds should instead be held to account. From a cursory review of the beneficiaries of this illegal scheme, there are strong and almost compelling reasons to believe, according to a former criminal justice practitioner and legislator (name withheld) that the so called St. Francis Health Center in Pleebo, Sodoken District which Bhofal Chambers represents and to which a staggering sum of US$300,000 has been allotted, either belongs to or is partly owned by Speaker Chambers.
It does indeed appear unusually strange that the allocation of such a mouthwatering sum of money (US$300,000) to an obscure health center in Pleebo will escape the attention of Speaker Chambers. For it is a well-established fact that the health needs of the people of Pleebo Sodoken District are, for the most part being met by facilities provided by the Cavalla Rubber Plantation, which is run by SIFCA under a concession agreement with the Government of Liberia.
This newspaper must commend those members of the Ways, Means and Finance Committee who appended their signatures to the memorandum to Speaker Bhofal Chambers calling for an investigation into the matter. Speaker Chambers should therefore call for a probe into the matter and he should remain mindful of the fact that he is under obligation to do so.
Our dear nation and country Liberia appears to be drowning in a sea of unbridled corruption which President Weah at his inauguration pledged to fight. Liberians at the time cheered and hailed him with their hearts filled with hopes for the dawning of a new day. Those hopes now appear to be fast fading with the revelation of one corruption scandal after another.
As concerned members of the House’s Ways, Means and Finance committee stated in their memorandum to Speaker Chambers, “Our cooperation to allow a speedy and timely passage of the National Budget for the FY 2018-2019 was not in any way a support to the level of gross deviation from the draft budget as was printed,”
“The process and action, which is just a tip of the global deviation, disregarded the existence of the Ways, Means, Finance, Committee and plenary, and a misappropriation of the national resources. Such an act should not go without notice and correctness. We therefore seek an urgent meeting with you, the Deputy speaker, and the entire membership of the ways, Means, and Finance Committee to address this matter.”
This is a call to action, Mr. Speaker. You must now act without delay to erase the impression being conveyed of the nation’s relapse into a criminal state was it once was under the reign of now imprisoned and disgraced former President and war criminal Charles Taylor.