The New National Budget and the President’s Veto: What Happened to Legislative Leadership?

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf last Thursday signed into law the National Budget for fiscal year 2014/15.  But she vetoed a line item which called for signature bonus in the amount of US$25 million on account of oil blocks. 

But that was not the only thing that needed to be vetoed.  The legislators gave themselves   sizeable salary and allowance increments in the new budget and allotted several millions of dollars more for special projects in their individual districts.

The Legislators also unilaterally and unrealistically included in the budget several additional revenue items, an initiative assigned exclusively to the Finance Minister.  Why?  Because it is he who is working closely with officials of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and knows how much revenue the government expects to  generate during each fiscal year.  It is on that basis that the Finance and Development Planning Minister, in collaboration with the President and her Executive Mansion team, constructs and submits the national budget to the Legislature.

We appreciate the hard work which the Legislators did in scrutinizing and voting on the passage of the Budget into law.  However, we would have hoped that they would have realized that they are among the nation’s first branch of LEADERS—why?  It is because they are in the first branch of government.  There is nothing else for a leader to do but to LEAD.

Since they are our first leaders, they should be among the first to know what is going on in the country.  This is why we are compelled to ask whether our Legislators have ever heard about something they call Ebola—the deadly virus that spread fear and death everywhere, shattered our economy and cut us off from family and friends, including our closest neighbors?

Do our leaders not read the newspapers?  If they do, how come they did not see the Friday, November 21 issue of the Daily Observer that carried the disturbing banner headline: Liberian Economy shrinks to 0.4%?

That particular story was not the subject of newspaper speculation.  No, it came from one of the top officials in the second tier of national leadership—the Executive—from Finance and Economic Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh himself, the man who, along with Central Bank Governor J. Mills Jones, manage the Liberian economy. 

In that story, Minister Konneh said the national economy had been projected to have grown to 5.9%.  But because of the Ebola crisis that has impeded most of the country’s economic activities, and caused a catastrophic downturn in the commercial sector, the economy has all but come to a halt. 

In addition, the Minister told the nation that the problems had been exacerbated (worsened) by the  drastic decline in the world prices of Liberia’s two principal foreign exchange earners, iron ore and rubber.

We want to bet that our lawmakers did not read that issue of the Daily Observer—or any of the other dailies, most of which carried the identical story.  Had they done so, they would have known that the economy is in deep and serious trouble, in which case no one in his/her right mind should be asking for a raise in this shattered (devastated) economy.

But NO!  Our first leaders, in the first branch of government, may also not have heard of the thousands of people whom Ebola has killed and the thousands of orphans and other loved ones their deceased relatives have left with no one to care for them.

Yes, these first leaders of ours, in formulating the national budget, have thought ONLY of themselves—their increased salaries and allowances and perks for their Districts.  So preoccupied have they been with themselves and their own comforts that they have not looked back to consider where the money will come from to pay them these fabulous salaries and allowances.  Nor have they considered where the money will come from for their district projects.

We Liberians need to get serious with our business.  And our leaders need to take leadership seriously and LEAD and set a good example for the rest of us.

We commend President Sirleaf for her forthrightness in vetoing the line item in the budget.  That was the only responsible thing to do.  

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