In its November 23 editorial under the caption, “A call to action for Speaker Chambers” this newspaper drew attention to the illegal changes made in the budget by some members of the House of Representatives.
The changes were made in the budget after it had been passed into law. There is nowhere on the records where it is stated the changes met the approval of both Houses of the Legislature.What this means is that until amendments are made or until the law is repealed, the budget as passed stands as law and it compels compliance. This means therefore, that any changes to the law must receive the concurrence of both Houses of the Legislature
This newspaper is however troubled by reports that changes were made to the budget after it had been passed into law. These changes to the budget adversely affected the County Health Team budgets as appropriations were diverted from there and redirected to private health facilities and to health institutions owned or managed by legislators.
During the recent extraordinary session of the Legislature, some members of the House, particularly Representative Samuel Kogar who initially raised concerns about the illegal changes, called on the Speaker to place the matter on the agenda for discussion and action. Shockingly, the Speaker deliberately refused to do so, according to some members of the House who raised the contention.
According to the Ministry of Finance, the budget process is protected by law. In Article 34(d) of the 1986 Constitution, the Legislature is authorized “to levy taxes, duties, imposts, excise and other revenue types, to borrow money, issue currency, mint coins, and make appropriations for the fiscal governance of the Republic.”
Hence the National Budget is prepared and implemented in accordance with the Public Financial Management Act of 2009. The Act specifies such matters as internal control (tracking spending in each spending entity), accounting (holding people responsible for what they spend), and auditing of public finances, assets, and the arrangements for public debt.
Once the National Budget is approved, all transfers of monies 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..
As things currently stand, Speaker Chambers appears to have no interest in finding out why some of his colleagues acted in the manner they did. It must be observed that the decision, therefore, by some members of the House to arbitrarily change figures in the budget and reallocate appropriations therein to private purposes is for all intent and purpose a criminal act which rightly deserves a criminal investigation.
This newspaper must again remind our legislators that membership of that body does not confer any extra privileges other than those spelt out in Article 42 of the
Constitution which reads as follows:
“No member of the Senate or House of Representatives shall be arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried as a result of opinions expressed or votes cast in the exercise of the functions of his office. Members shall be privileged from arrest while attending, going to or returning from sessions of the Legislature, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. All official acts done or performed and all statement made in the Chambers of the Legislature shall be privileged, and no Legislator shall be held accountable or punished therefor”.
In this regard, Speaker Chambers must be reminded that the impeachment of former Speaker Alex Tyler was based on allegations of criminal conduct-bribery. And it therefore goes without saying that irregular changes to the budget after it has been passed borders on criminality and Speaker Chambers under whose watch such illegal activity occurred must provide answers far beyond merely placing the matter on the floor for discussion something which he has even refused to do.
Speaker Chambers, it can be recalled, prior to his election to the post was a loud voice in the legislature railing against perceived ills in government. He once described former President Sirleaf as a criminal and called her by the worst names. He even publicly refused to shake her hand after she had extended it.
Returning to the issue, our focus is however drawn to the St. Francis Health Center in Pleebo, Maryland County because Speaker Chambers hails from that area. The Health Center is owned and managed by the Catholic Church and it is run by sisters of the Holy Family. It is a completely private institution as compared to the Pleebo Health Center, owned by the Government of Liberia but renovated, rehabilitated and run by the Partners in Health(PIH) a foreign NGO.
A cursory review of the 2017-2018 budget shows that allocation to Maryland County’s largest health referral center, the JJ Dossen Hospital, is put at US$270,000. For the Pleebo Health Center a public owned facility, there is zero allocation in the 2017-2018 budgets. Yet for the Church run St. Francis Health Center, a staggering US$300,000 is allocated.
Sources in Maryland County have told this newspaper that the head of the Catholic Diocese of Cape Palmas, Bishop Karnley is not aware of the so-called allocation to the St. Francis Health Center, and not even the Catholic sisters of the Holy Family who run the health center are aware of such allocation to their facility.
According to sources, the same situation also applies to the other facilities to which money was illegally transferred in the budget. And fear of exposure and the attending public shame and ridicule are, in the view of some legislators, all the reasons why Speaker Chambers refused to place the matter on the House’s agenda.
Speaker Chambers must be made to realize the consequences of his action. The Police, without waiting to be prodded should launch a criminal investigation into the matter and the sooner it is done the better especially in view of growing but widely held negative perceptions portraying this government as one run by an Ali Baba and his band of thieves.
And this constitutes OUR LAST WORD to Speaker Chambers!