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Budget Cut Draws Battle Line

The chambers of the Liberian Senate came under serious tension when Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh and his Deputy Dr. James Kollie appeared before that august body to give reason while they should not be held in contempt for a proposed budgetary cut in the fiscal year allocation of the Liberian Senate.

Bad blood had earlier developed between the ministry and the Senate over a letter by Deputy Minister Kollie to members of the august body informing them of the budgetary constraints which would see their (Senators) overall allotment slash by US$1 million.

They were, like other institutions informed that due to the limited time frame in preparing the recast budget, as a result of the downward adjustment, to effect their adjustment on or before January 27, 2016.

The minister further informed the Senate that due to the limited time it needs to effect the downwards adjustment before sending it to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for onward transmission to the Legislature, it would be compelled to effect such adjustment on behalf of that body if it fails to meet the deadline before sending same for their approval.

But the Senate described the tune of the communication from the deputy minister as an insult and summoned the minister and his deputy to appear before plenary to give reasons why they shouldn’t be held in contempt.

The move by the Senate has raised public perception to the effect that the anger being directed at the minister and his deputy is due to the fact that the proposed cut will affect their salaries and benefit and not just the tune of the letter.

So on Tuesday, February 2, 2016, in the chambers of the Senate at the Capitol, things took a different trend after Minister Konneh, along with Deputy Minister Kollie apologized for the aspect of the letter directly relating to what the Senators described as ultimatum, but not the aspect dealing with the reduction of the budgetary allotment to the senate.

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The Senators, led by Margibi County Senator Oscar Cooper, described the letter in total as a violation of Article 34 (d) of the Constitution, which states that “to levy taxes, duties, imposts, excise and other revenues, to borrow money, issue currency, mint coins, and to make appropriations for the fiscal governance of the Republic, are subject to the following qualifications: (i) all revenue bills, whether subsidies, charges, imposts, duties or taxes, and other financial bills, shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills. No

other financial charge shall be established, fixed, laid or levied on any individual, community or locality under any pretext whatsoever, except by the expressed consent of the individual, community or
locality. In all such cases, a true and correct amount of funds collected shall be made to the community or locality”.

But according to Minister Konneh, there was no need to apologize on grounds that he had not violated any provision of the Liberian Constitution, noting that the letter was a proposal for the endorsement by the Legislature.

“In light of these developments, we would like to inform that subject to legislative endorsement, your revised recurrent appropriation for Y2015-16 is now set at US$14, 043, 570.00, down from US$15, 306, 416.00, “ Konneh indicated, further noting: “For additional clarify, please note that this new ceiling reflects projected GOL funds and includes US$7, 756, 575.00 that has already been allotted to you as at December 31, 2015. Therefore, only US$6, 286, 995.00 will be available to support your entity’s activities for remainder of the fiscal year (January to June). Although the provided amount may be less than the amount required to accomplish your entity’s objectives, we suggest that you carefully review your priorities and employ innovative means to efficiently allocate the recommended appropriated among those priorities that will assist in reducing poverty.”

He pointed out that the communication was intended to inform and not disrespect the august body, but the senators demanded an open apology to which Minister Konneh rejected. He further explained that the economy of the state was in serious crisis that needed quick response, indicating that the letter was done in the direction to quickly put things under control financially.

Sources within the Finance Ministry also suggests that the cut is intended to add some funds to the allocations of both Education and Health Ministries for smooth operations. Meanwhile, the plenary of the Liberian Senate voted overwhelmingly to postpone the summon to tomorrow, Thursday, February 4, 2016 for Minister Konneh to return with his lawyer before the charges of contempt is taken.

By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor

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