Amidst the challenges posed by the onslaught of the COVID-19, it appears that the promises made by President Weah to, for example, provide free electricity to the public at a cost of US$4 million and another US$40 million to, amongst others, clear arrears owed to media institutions, provide loan assistance to small Liberian business and to provide food assistance to the people could be impaired. Part of the costs, it was revealed, was to be shouldered by the Liberian government through budgetary outlays in the 2020/2021 recast budget while the other portion was to be shouldered by the donor community.
Currently, reports are rife in the public about what is described as an overnight passage of the budget by the House of Representatives which now awaits concurrence of the Senate for passage into law. According to sources, the draft budget was submitted to the House of Representatives on last Sunday evening (May 17, 2020) and by the close of business on Monday, May 18, 2020 the House of Representatives had already passed it and sent same to the Senate for concurrence.
Now it remains to be seen whether the Senate, like its counterpart, would grant its passage without critical debate.
From the look of things, the House of Representatives appears to have thrown due diligence and accountability to the dogs else, how can they explain the tragic fact that they have not done sufficient due diligence and have not involved the public in discussions on the budget, although they claim to represent the people?
On the other hand, reliable sources (names withheld) have told the Daily Observer that officials are finding it difficult to convince donors of the workability of GoL’s COVID-19 response plan in view of what appears as inflated figures. One instance cited is that of the provision of free electricity to the public at a cost of US$4 million which according to sources is far above the US$800,000 LEC projected monthly income from the sale of electricity.
Further, according to sources, donors have also questioned the basis on which the food distribution is to take place with “vulnerable people” as beneficiaries. But just which yardstick is or will be used to determine categories of vulnerable people remains unclear. In some areas according to reports, individuals have turned up at various homes around the city seeking to identify heads of households apparently as part of GoL’s food distribution plan. It is not however clear whether the World Food Program (WFP) is involved in this undertaking neither is it clear what the food basket will contain.
Additionally, talks about an imminent 14-day total lockdown to be enforced by the military is again raising concerns from an anxious public, seemingly troubled by what the implications might be, especially for marginalized groups who have to eke out a daily existence on less than a dollar per day. Further, the prospects of AFL soldiers patrolling the streets to enforce lockdown measures appears not to be going down well with the public in view of its poor human rights record which continues even today, albeit not on the scale of previous years.
But in all this, accountability remains a key challenge. For example, sources (names withheld) have also told the Daily Observer that just about every piece of the thousands of Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) brought into the country have all allegedly been sold by those in whose care they were entrusted. This has created a situation where frontline workers, doctors, nurses and allied staff are going about their duties at great risks to their personal health and safety while at the same time donors are reportedly dragging feet on requests owing to accountability concerns.
For example, despite having proposed to provide soft loans to small Liberian business to mitigate the impact on their livelihood, there is to the best of available information, there is no assessment report on the ability and capacity of the proposed beneficiaries to repay the loans once contracted. There are ingrained public fears that this proposed scheme could share the same fate of the US$25m infusion money much of which ended in the pockets of government officials.
Above all, it must not be forgotten that millions of dollars contributed to the fight against the 2014 Ebola outbreak have since not been accounted for and there is no telling that the perceived donor reluctance about which GoL officials unfailingly lament could be driven by deep concerns about the lack of accountability. If these concerns are not addressed, the anti-COVID-19 fight could become seriously impaired with unknown but potentially negative implications for this nation and the longevity of this government. President Weah has the foremost responsibility to address these accountability concerns. He must for the buck begins and stops at his feet.
A Word to the Wise is Sufficient!