Serious bad blood has developed between the Ministry of Finance, Development Planning and the Liberian Senate after Deputy Finance Minister for Fiscal Affairs, Dr. James F. Kollie, wrote the Senate, informing members of the august body of US$1 million cut in their annual budget with an ultimatum to respond to the communication before January 27, 2016 or the ministry would take discretionary action.
But the Senate describes the communication from the deputy minister as an insult and has summoned the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amara Konneh, and his deputy, Dr. Kollie, to appear before plenary next week to give reasons why they shouldn’t be held in contempt.
Dr. Kollie’s letter to the Senate dated January 21, 2016 reads, “Due to the urgency to complete processing allotment, we request your prompt response with information on how the adjustment should be distributed in your budget. Notwithstanding, if you do not respond with regards to said distribution by 4 P.M. on Wednesday, January 27, 2016, we will use our discretion to reallocate the amount appropriately and proceed with the processing of allotment for the remainder of the 3rd quarter.”
He says the decision was taken based on a careful analysis of the impact of the global economic downturn on the Liberian economy, which has led revenue forecast for the fiscal year 2015/16 to be revised downward.
“This challenging global environment, attributed largely to the significant decline in the price of our major export commodities (iron ore, rubber, etc), have placed considerable strain on our already fragile economy. Moreover, recovery from the Ebola Crisis remains slow in all primary sectors and this has significantly impacted the broader economy as well as our fiscal position,” he further explains in the letter.
He says in light of these developments, the recurrent appropriation for fiscal year 2015/16 is now set at US$14,043,570, down from US$15,306,416, adding, “For additional clarity, please note that the new ceiling reflects projected Government of Liberia funds and includes the US$7,756,575 that has already been allotted to the senate as of December 31, 2015.”
The letter suggests that therefore, only US$6,286,995 will be available to support senate’s activities for the remainder of the fiscal year (January to June) 2016. “Although the provided amount may be less than the amount required to accomplished your entity’s objectives, we suggest that your carefully review your priorities and employ innovative means to efficiently allocate the recommended appropriation among those priorities that will assist the government in reducing poverty,” the letter concluded.
But following the reading of the communication by the Secretary of the Senate, Mr. Nanborlor Signbeh, the Chambers of the Senate went into total noise with senators referring to the letter as disrespect to them with some arguing the communication is a gross violation of the Constitution of Liberia.
Article 34 (d) of the Constitution says: 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: And (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.
According to Article 44 of the Liberian Constitution, “Contempt of the Legislature shall consist of actions which obstruct the legislative functions or which obstruct or impede members or officers of the Legislature in the discharge of their legislative duties and may be punished by the House concerned by reasonable sanctions after a hearing consistent with due process of law. No sanction shall extend beyond the session of the Legislature wherein it is imposed, and any sanction imposed shall conform to the provisions on Fundamental Rights laid down in this Constitution. Disputes between legislators and non-members which are properly cognizable in the courts shall not be entertained or heard in the Legislature.”
By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor-Edited by Jonathan Browne