When he appeared before the Plenary of the House of Representatives at the Capitol on Tuesday, 21 January, the Minister of Finance of Liberia, Mr. Amara Konneh said to meet the current demand being placed on the current budget, which is little over half a billion United States Dollars, only a US$2 billion can stabilize the economy and provide basic social services to the Liberian people. Even though he did not state the ‘manner and form’ to achieve such projection, the London-based Banker magazine 2013 “Africa Minister of Finance of the Year” noted that such increased National Budget would put smiles on the faces of poverty-stricken Liberians.
The Finance Minister had appeared at the Capitol in response to a communication directed to the House’s Plenary by the Chairman of the Committee on Ways, Means and Finance, Margibi County Representative Emmanuel Nuquay for him (Konneh) to address a number of critical revenue issues affecting the Liberian economy. Minister Konneh, who continues to boast of a stable and progressive Liberian economy, attributed the current bad relations between the Liberian and U.S Dollars (L$86.00 to US$1.00) and other economic difficulties to the inability of revenue-generating government institutions to make their budgetary contributions a reality, pointing fingers at the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company or LPRC, National Port Authority or NPA, as well as the Liberia Telecommunications Authority or LTA, among others. He also blamed the current difficult economic situation on what he referred to as “serious task evasion” by several private businesses as it relates to real estate and income taxes.
In as much as one may sympathize with the Minister of Finance for the current disappointment with which the economy is engulfed, as well as the factors to which he attributed the problem, one would also suggest that the enforcement strategies for revenue generation at the Ministry of Finance either weak or characterized by vices (at the ministry) which continue to strangulate revenue collection-a situation Minister Konneh and his Deputy for Revenues may be last to control. Amara Konneh’s assertions before the Plenary of the House of Representatives on Tuesday may only separate his administration from those of his predecessors- Antoinette Sayeh and Augustine Nguafuan since the incumbency of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf eight years ago. Perhaps Minister Konneh reference the strategies employed by his predecessors that prevented revenue/budgetary shortfall and resulted to revenue surpluses when they stirred the affairs of the Ministry of Finance to deal with the unfavorable economic situation with which his administration is currently confronted, instead of blaming others.
For Minister Konneh to even suggest that our country would need an increased budget of US$2bn for “smiles to be on the faces of the Liberian people” when the Finance Ministry is currently experiencing difficulties in collecting revenues (with a shortfall’s of US$17m) remains to be seen. While the decision by the House of Representatives to have the Minister of Finance before Plenary to address a number of concerns, regarding the current economic situation in the country may have been in the interest of the people of Liberia, neither did the Minister do justice to the issues raised nor provide any relief.
And so, the urgent need for the Minister and his team at the Finance Ministry to revisit the strategies of former Ministers Sayeh and Ngafuan cannot be over-emphasized. In so doing, he and his team would then be thriving on the path to recovery as far as revenue collection and a stable economy are concerned. It is not about an imagined inflated budgetary projection “put smiles on the faces of Liberians”, but an effective and efficient regime to mitigate the current budget.