The Liberian Legislature became disjointed in May 2012 over debates regarding the hydrocarbon sector on a House committee request for renegotiation of oil concession agreements the Liberian Government entered into with 10 oil companies. Their contention was that the agreements violated the petroleum laws of Liberia.
The Liberian Senate is said by sources to have felt uncomfortable with the House of Representatives position as it had the potentials to create legal arguments, drag Liberia before the international court of arbitration and dent the Liberian Government image as a dependable partner and creating confidence crisis in the investment world. Based on those alleged considerations, the Liberian Senate pulled out of the conference committee established to review the concession agreements.
Not appreciating the position of the Senate, a battle line was drawn between both Houses. This was a dangerous development with the highest propensity of stalling national programs and development. The constitution provides that both Houses must concur in the passage of laws, international agreements, and fiscal budget.
The President of the Republic of Liberia had submitted her Legislative Agenda before a joint session of the National Legislature. Without cohesiveness or cooperation, the nation would be paralyzed and achieved nothing. In such a case, the nation would be at risk and the alternative solution would be Executive Order which would have to wait for adjournment of the National Legislature.
The friction derived from the Senate walk out of the Conference Committee extended to war of words by individual legislators against each other on the electronic and print media. The spirit of Liberians was being broken and the National Legislature was at the point of ridicule. In the midst of this, the Executive presented its most important legislative agenda to cover development programmes and expenditure. Without legislative concurrence, every aspect of life in the nation would come to a standstill. Who would broker the peace?
Each House was separately analyzing the National Budget without a Conference Committee. This was untraditional and an endangerment to the peace and unity of Liberia. As a hero was being searched for in the minds of Liberians and perhaps in the minds of both leaderships of the Legislature, Senator Alphonso Gaye of Grand Gedeh County made an intervention.
As a Senator who understands the national implications of a disjointed Legislature, he successfully intervened and today, to the pride of Grand Gedeh County and Liberians, the Senate and the House now sit as a Joint Budget Committee to review and appropriate the budget formulated by the Executive Branch.
Honorable Gaye pointed out in his letter to Speaker Alex Tyler and Members of that August Body that they (legislators) “were elected by popular suffrage of citizens and residents of their respective localities to advance and protect their interests at all times.” He noted that his “experience since taken seat at the Liberian Senate in January 2012 has shown that often times Legislators openly criticized each other mostly during radio talk shows.”
As a democrat, the Senator accepted the fact that divergence of views on issues is healthy in a democratic society but frowns on the timing when crucial national issues were at stake. I think, in my interpretation, the Senator was suggesting that an atmosphere where Lawmakers would interface and establish interpersonal relationships which could be most effective in resolving national issues and questions rather than to avoid such opportunity that would bring respectability and maturity in governing processes.
Senator Gaye advised that prolongation of the stalemate could attract strange bed fellows, meaning, those who hope to see the failure of government programmes could use the opportunity to infiltrate and cause a conflagration. The emphasis of this lawmaker became the Fiscal Budget. The Wisdom of Speaker Tyler and the Honorable House has resulted into acquiescence and a communication to the Senate through Senator Gaye through the Chie Clerk Hon. Mildred N. Sayon.
Much as Senator Gaye is appreciated by the public, the budget itself has so much deficiencies and sophistications. From recurrent expenditure, the budget has been transformed into program expenditure budget. Unfortunately, the budget under legislative review lacks or ignored a budget framework paper, detailed annual budget estimate set alongside the previous year outturns, financial report of state-owned enterprises, and national debt portfolio according to the Legislative Budget Office.
What is more alarming is that discrepancies have been noted in this year fiscal presentation with questionable budget lines and unexplained programmes that have very high figures. The Senate President Protempore described the Budget as a bundle of papers with high figures and no interpretations. Cabinet Ministers find the new budget form complex and difficult to defend.
The Ministry of Finance Budget created a line for youth’s empowerment with a staggering figure of US$20m and Muslim Youths with an amount of about US$1m. These have no programs objectives relating to the whys and hows and what to be achieved. The Ministry of Youths and Sports also created a budget line for Agriculture in the tune of US$1m. does it have the expertise for Agriculture? Why not transfer such program to the Ministry of Agriculture?
Personnel compensation comes in bulk figures without interpretations. Unlike the Tubman, Tolbert, and Doe’s Administrations, interpretations were much easy and transparent. From the President to the janitor and all Ministries, bureau, Chief Justice and Judges to the least judicial officer and the Legislature, salaries were displayed in the budget along with other expenditures. The current budget form has done away with all those. In the words of the simple, it is a zoe bush.
Citizens interviewed say that the programme nature of the budget promotes corruption and that this and others were the reasons which led the, former Auditor General of Liberia, Hon. John Morlu to make a startling revelation that the Sirleaf’s Government was ten times more corrupt than previous administrations. President Sirleaf was taken aback and so was the bewilderment of Liberians. The Government had only spent a year and so far, it had declared corruption as public enemy number one. My first reaction to friends was that Molu’s declaration was absurd. The new Auditor General needed attention for the insignificant General Auditing Commission which had, over the years, made no impact to justify its existence.
But Morlu’s assertion, as I later learned, was predicated on systems review, analysis, and forms. When there are loop holes in systems, objectives to be attained run into complex problems just as a simple preposition can alter the meaning of a sentence. Society comprised of people and systems are designed to help them achieved their objectives. However, designers can either leave loop-holes to further their own objectives or those loop-holes are products of human imperfections. Morlu could have looked at them from the two angles.
Under the Sirleaf’s Administration, a new concept of budgeting has been initiated. Whether they conform to changing trends in the world or intended only for the understanding of budget experts have left its own defenders defenseless
The description given the budget by the President Pro-Tempore, means that the national budget is increasing going through metamorphosis of intricate forms that those who are charged with the constitutional responsibilities to pass it into law do not have an understanding of it. How then can such budget be passed without delay?
For the past six years, Senator Findley and his colleagues have passed similar budgets with huge figures. Though, they have radically departed from Liberia’s traditional forms and methods of budget formulation yet, under strenuous circumstances, through performance reports indicated from past fiscal year, they were able to captured how monies were spent and for who and what purposes.
As intricate as the budget is, Minister Konneh has added additional intricacies. This time, he has left out performance reports and transformed the budget into bundles of papers with huge figures that lack interpretations. For the first time, he has religiouslized the budget by the inclusion of Muslim Youths while at the same time seeking appropriation for US$20m for youth empowerment. By implication, the Muslim Youths are estranged.
I think, the budget must be transparent. The United States of America’s model of budgeting took into account years of training and public education. If we must continue same, both the Executive and Legislature should be trained to understand. This would avoid the kind of embarrassment the defense of the budget has brought to their defenders.