According to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, “the National Budget is the Government’s plan on how to collect and spend money to deliver services to the citizens of Liberia. The budget begins on July 1, and ends the next year on June 30. This is known as the Fiscal Year. The first step in developing the National Budget is to estimate how much money will be available. This is known as revenue. Revenue comes from different sources, such as taxes and borrowing from other countries.
Donors also provide support — either through grants directly to the Government (known as budget support) or through delivering specific projects. Once the Government knows how much revenue will be collected, it must decide how this will be spent. This is known as public expenditure. Some money is spent on the basic costs of running ministries and paying doctors and teachers, while other money is spent on new projects, like supplying electricity, building roads, and supporting farmers.
Some money is spent at the national level, such as paying back debts owed to other countries and organizations, and some is spent at the county levels. The budget is the government’s balance sheet, but it’s also much more than that: it’s the list of major priorities the Government has committed to, and a plan of how it’s going to do it.
What does the law say about the budget?
Further, according to the Finance Ministry, the Liberian budget process is governed by the law: In article 34 (d) of the Constitution of Liberia, the legislature is authorized: “to levy taxes, duties, imposts, excise and other revenue, to borrow money, issue currency, mint coins, and make appropriations for the fiscal governance of the Republic.” The national budget is governed by the Public Financial Management Act of 2009.
“The Act specifies such matters as internal control, accounting and auditing of public finances, assets, and the arrangements for public debt. Once the National Budget is adopted, all transfers of funds within the budget must comply with the Budget Transfer Act of 2008. This act says that if the Government plans to spend additional funds after the passing of the budget, then it must pass a supplementary budget through the legislature.
The Budget Approval Process
Once amendments to the budget are approved by the National Legislature, the final document is published, and the Budget Act is passed. The Act now becomes the national spending plan against which the revenues and expenditures are measured. The approved budget takes effect on July 1st, marking the beginning of the new fiscal year, and the first round of funds are disbursed for projects to the ministries, agencies and counties.
This newspaper’s concern is drawn to changes made to the budget under the watch of Speaker Chambers after it had been passed into law. According to the Public Financial Management Act of 2009, after the passage of the budget all transfer of funds from within the budget must be in compliance with the Budget Transfer Act of 2008. It also means that should the government desire to spend additional funds outside of what is allocated in the national budget, it must pass a supplementary budget through the Legislature.
Given all the above and from this newspaper’s investigation, the transfers and reallocations done in the 2018-2019 budget under the watch of Speaker Chambers was illegal and in violation of the Budget Transfer Act of 2008 as well as the Public Financial Management Act of 2009. Through such illegal manipulations of the budget, Representative Jeremiah Koung of Nimba County succeeded in allocating US$150,000 to his wife’s private clinic in Ganta, while Speaker Chambers for his part neted US$300,000 for the St. Francis Health Center in Pleebo Sodoken District, Maryland County.
Other 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.
It can be recalled that the Daily Observer, in its November 23, 2018 editorial, called on Speaker Chambers to act to address concerns raised by some lawmakers over the illegal transfer and reallocation of funds in the national budget, noting that such illegal action by government officials often tends to create the impression that Liberia is being transformed into a criminal state in which officials at the highest levels of government can break the law at will without repercussions.
In other parts of the world especially in the United States of America, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will not wait to be prodded before it can commence investigations into illegal acts by officials of government. The ongoing probe of President Trump for instance, stems from investigations done by the FBI and even though it has been over a year since Trump was sworn into office the Mueller probe is still ongoing.
Sadly in Liberia, this is not the case and it is beginning to appear as though impunity is going to take center-stage even more than before and the bleeding of the nation’s resources shall continue without let. Meanwhile economic conditions appear to be worsening with the exchange rate of the US dollar to the Liberian dollar standing at 160 LRD to one US dollar. And there are growing fears that given the current outlook, Government may not even be able to pay salaries according to some noted economists.
These are all reasons therefore why leakages from the budget such as the illegal and criminal transfer of public money to private purposes should be treated with urgency with the view to bringing to book those legislators including Speaker Chambers accused of involvement in what appears nothing short of criminality. This is a charge for President Weah!