Opposition Senators are warning that a lack of due diligence on the actual amount required in President George Manneh Weah’s proposed stimulus package for the government to pay loans owed by marketers and petty traders could open the door to serious fraud and abuse like the US$25 million mop-up exercise.
“If the Legislature approves, they would be giving the President a blank check which was never intended by the Constitution, even in times of a State of Emergency,” the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) warned during a debate Wednesday, 15 April on Capitol Hill on the Senate floor.
Senators NyonbleeKarnga Lawrence, Jonathan Kaipee, J. Milton Teahjay, Daniel Naatehn and Darious Dillon said the president’s proposal for government to pay loans owed by marketers and petty traders does not specify the number of persons to benefit, who the creditors are and what is the total amount of loans to be defrayed, leaving this burden to the Legislature.
They strongly question President Weah’s stimulus package document submitted to the Legislature for possible concurrence without details on who are the recipients and the creditors for loans that the administrations intends to pay for.
In President Weah’s communication to the Legislature, he proposed that the government should fully pay the loans owed by market women, and petty and small traders in affected counties as part of the requested budgetary reallocation.
The CPP lawmakers’ communication which was read by Senator NyonbleeKarnga – Lawrence of Grand Bassa County, contains the argument that the proposal indicates a lack of due diligence on the actual amount required to fund this intervention.
They warn that this could open the door to serious fraud and abuse, noting that the loan scheme would [be] like the US$25 million that was intended for mopping up excess Liberian dollars but ended a deadlock.
“The proposal does not identify any controls [that] exist to ensure legitimacy of these “loans” and of the recipients of these payments,” the opposition Senators continue.
“Who are the “other creditors” to whom the President refers? Are they Susu Clubs, Credit Unions, friends? What are the controls in place to ensure that we do not have a repeat of the ‘Mop Up Exercise’ where unknown, unregistered, and nonexistent Foreign exchange bureau and businesses were used to “buy” USD?” the CPP Senators question further.
They indicate that without these controls in place, this would be an easy avenue for the government to channel moneys to CDCians (partisans of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change) in the various communities under the guise of paying the loans of market women and petty traders.
According to them, the lack of monitoring and compliance measures put donors and government’s funds at a huge risk of not being expended for the intended purpose.
Rather than rebuild public trust around transparency and accountability, the CPP Senators argue that the president, yet again, is looking to exploit a public health threat which the country faces for financial gains through malpractices to benefit himself and his friends.
The opposition lawmakers point out that until more clarity is given on the potential beneficiaries, the exact amount owed by each potential beneficiary, the financial institutions owed, and the grand total of the loans, this proposal should not be approved.
They further argue that even if a listing of beneficiaries and the amount owed are presented along with the financial institutions concerned, such listing should be subjected to verification by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) before payment is done.The lawmakers state that the “other creditors” as alluded by the president creates a big opening for fraud as was the case with the US$25 million mop-up exercise.
They note that channeling payments through these informal means presents too many loopholes for theft and political manipulation and should be abandoned as it is a dangerous option.
Senator Lawrence says on behalf of her colleagues, the government should consider giving it directly to the women and petty traders so their children don’t go to bed hungry or die of malaria, instead of giving the money to creditors.
She notes that before approving US$40 million for a food aid program, the Legislature needs to ensure that the funding requirements for an effective holistic fight against COVID-19 are secured.She indicates that this includes adequate and prompt payment of salaries and incentives of health workers, purchase of equipment including ventilators, personal protective equipment, and hospital beds, among others.
“Additionally, the Legislature needs to assure itself that the Government has the capacity to make timely payment of civil servant salaries, as the current delay in the monthly payment of civil servants’ salaries is still an issue of concern,” she asserts. She suggests that the government identifies the proposed sources or budget lines that will be cut to fund the US$25 million program and specify the World Bank projects that will suffer cuts in order to fund the food aid program.
By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor–Edited by Winston W. Parley