The 2012/2013 National Budget-hearing exercise under the auspices of the Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Budget of the Liberian Legislature ended last weekend, even though the exercise is continuing in Committee Room at the Capitol. Two weeks of the exercise have been characterized by dismal performances and unpreparedness of cabinet ministers and heads of autonomous agencies and bureau to justify their respective budgets and allotments.
While most officials of government could not only properly present their performance reports, but also failed to convince the Committee on their respective budgets or allotments, a few was able to provide justifications what they have before the honorable men and women on Capitol Hill for increment or approval.
If there should be sympathy and considerations for ministries and agencies of the Liberian Government, it is important that the Legislators give credence the few which sincerely proved to them that they indeed deserve their respective budgetary appropriations or more judging from their performance reports for their last budgets and all that they must achieve in this fiscal year. One ministry that may have attracted not only members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Budget, but observers and other followers of the exercise was Foreign Affairs.
Even though in its performance report, the Ministry noted that its last proposed budget of US$13 million was adjusted to US$12.88 million of which 97% was spent and 2.7% unspent due to pending ratifications at the time which stalled the scheduled establishment of the Mission in Brazil, the attention of many may have been attracted by
news of the deplorable state of embassies of the Republic of Liberia around the world, especially in countries which mean so well for our country, including the People’s Republic of China, Japan and other major donors as mentioned by Deputy Foreign Minister Sylvester Grigsby during his interaction with the budget committee last Thursday.
Liberians who have had the opportunities to travel and visited our embassies abroad may agree with Minister Augustine K. Ngafuan and his ministry of Foreign Affairs that Liberia’s missions in these countries are not only under staff with discouraging remuneration, but characterized by poor representation as evidenced by the un-presentable vehicles which our diplomats ride. Most of these missions have either two vehicles or less than that with the staff left to find their way to and from work.
It is an open fact that most of the buildings housing our embassies abroad do not meet the municipal standards of the countries in which they are located, and just as Minister Grigsby said to the Joint Committee, there are urgent needs for these embassy structures to be repaired to appear more presentable and representative of a country that is 165 years ago with all of the God-given vast natural resources and first female President of the African continent.
With all of the justifications provided by the Ministry of Foreign affairs, through its Deputy Ministers for Foreign Affairs and administration, including its unquestionable performance report for the fiscal year 2011/2012, we can only join the Foreign Ministry family to appeal to the consciences of honorable men and women in the senate and House of representatives, through the Joint Legislative Committee to see reason in augmenting the ministry’s budget to the neighborhood of US$40m to engage the challenges of our diplomatic missions, as well as the ministry’s activities at home.
The US$16m given the ministry in the current draft national budget is unfairly inadequate to meet the challenges of staffing and staff retention, the hiring of professionals and compensation, an automated data storage system to preserve treaties and archives, document tracking system including Legislative Acts , in-house printing equipment and the Ministry’s future electricity and renovation, as well as address the burning of benefits and amenities of our ambassadors and other diplomatic staff, including insurance, medical, educational allowances and transportation, among others.
Considering the ministry’s bilateral engagements and efforts (contributions to the national budget) resulting to China’s bilateral assistance of more US$115m in 2010-2011, a recent donation of US$6m worth of custom scanners and US$50m expected for the construction of a ministerial complex, we think it deserves far more than the US$16m allotted to it by the budget committee. Such discouraging allotment is just a misplacement of priority.
The wisdom of our honorable men and women of the 53rd Liberian Legislature must appeal to their consciences for an increment of at least U$40m so as enable the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that our diplomatic missions abroad measure up with the municipal standards of countries in which they are located. As other officials of government ride or drive between US$65,000 to US$85,000 vehicles just in and around Monrovia, it is also fair for our ambassadors and other diplomats to ably represent our country by ridding vehicles that are representative of diplomats.