Following reports of alleged US$27 million missing at the Ministry of Public Works, the entity denies the report, arguing that it is implausible to display at a Senate hearing within a limited period allotted for presentation, a dossier of contractual agreements covering various projects.
The Ministry of Public Works on Tuesday, 27 August strongly denied media reports here that US$27 million went missing or could not be accounted at a budget hearing at the Senate on Monday, 26 August.
The Ministry’s reaction on Tuesday, 27 August followed this paper’s publication the same day, indicating that the Ministry terribly failed to account for US$27 million allotted for road construction and rehabilitation in the country during budget hearing at the Senate for FY 2019/2020.
It all started when the Deputy Public Works Minister for Administration Joseph Todd appeared before the committee to justify US$40 million allotted to the ministry in previous fiscal year and to give reason why there should be increment in the fiscal year 2019/2020.
But Minister Joseph Todd could only account for US$13 million of the US$40 million allotted to his Ministry for the period under review.
Minister Todd totally went mute when asked to provide details, including documentary evidence of the remaining US$27 million. He stood mute, sweating profusely in the midst of air condition at the hearing.
Under the budget law, spending ministries and agencies are required to present performance report for the previous fiscal year which Mr. Todd failed to do on Monday.
During a news conference Tuesday, Mr. Todd said at no point in time did the Ministry fail to account for US$27 million of the 48 million that was allotted in the fiscal year 2018,2019.
“The Ministry is therefore unfettered by these unbalanced reportage, and is preparing for reappearance which will be soon at which time additional information will be presented to the Joint Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee of the National Legislature,” Mr. Todd says.
“The tentative deferment arising from the Tuesday, August 26, 2019 budget hearing is to afford the ministry the leverage to present documentary facts, contrary to media reports saturating the public domain,” he continues.
He argues that it is grossly implausible that a dossier of contractual agreements covering various projects including the pavement of several community roads and bridges across the country will be displayed at the hearing within a limited period allotted for presentation.
The Deputy Minister further clarifies that the US$27 million referred to in the media is actually the balance in appropriation that was never allotted by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to the Ministry of Public Works.
Following Mr. Todd’s presentation on Monday, Montserrado County Electoral District #5 Representative and committee chairman Thomas Fallah expressed disappointment, saying it was embarrassing that the Public Works Ministry, which heads the main pillar of the Pro Poor Agenda could not account for such amount.
Rep. Fallah said it was unacceptable.
The joint legislative committee during the period of quizzing established that Todd could not give technical details of the US$13 million spent by the Public Works authorities, but only told the committee and the public that the amount was used for road construction without stating clearly which roads or how many kilometers and exact location of the newly paved roads.
With his appalling failure to give account for the public funds, the Ways, Means, and Finance and Budget Committee set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the Public Works Ministry on the lost USS$27 million and submit findings in days.
The committee may forward findings to the plenary of both the Liberian Senate and the House of Representatives for tougher measures.
The Ministry of Public Works is the first ministry since the ascendency of President George Manneh Weah to have failed to justify funding allotted for road construction across the country.
On July 22, the Joint Budget, Public Accounts, Expenditure and Audit Committee of the 54th Legislature announced the beginning of scrutiny of the 2019/2020 Budget in the tune of US$532 million, as part of its oversight and statutory functions.
The Legislature’s Budget Committee comprises members from the Committees on Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning and Public Accounts & Expenditure, from the House of Representatives and the Senate.By Lewis s. Teh — Edited by Winston W. Parley