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The Budget Hearings: The Case of the Foreign Ministry

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As a way of cautiously analyzing the 2012/2013 National Budget, the Liberian legislature, in consonance with Constitutional responsibility and through its Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and budget, on August 1, 2012 initiated hearings on the revenues component of the draft budget.

For two uninterrupted weeks, members of the Joint Legislative Committee engaged cabinet ministers or their designees, as well as heads of public corporations and autonomous agencies of the Liberian Government for an understanding of “why and how of what” they projected as their expenditure for the 2012/2013 fiscal year.

Earnestly unlike previous exercises wherein officials of government played on the intelligence and ‘weaknesses’ of our Legislators, the 2012/2013 budget hearings cared not to compromise the interest of the nation. Realizing the flaws in terms of the misplacement of priorities and ‘covert’ appropriations in most of the allotments in the budget, members of the Joint Committee remained steadfast in ensuring that the flaws which characterized the budget were corrected in the interest of the people of Liberia.

Interestingly, because crafters of the budget had, perhaps, anticipated poor comprehension on the part of the legislators as they have always been perceived, the opposite became the reality as evidenced by the thorough encounters which ensued between the former and latter. The constructive engagements pursued by members of the Committee during the hearings were indicative of their understanding of each ‘line item’ in the national budget.

Unfortunately, the expectations of many of us that these officials would have “bull-dozed” the hearings were never the reality, owing to their lack of capacity to defend their various appropriations.

Perhaps the confusion which may have characterized their poor performances before the Joint Legislative Committee was due to the misplacement of allotments and the sinister motives behind such, as well as the belief the Legislators would not have known their way through.

A few other ministries and agencies must also be praised for their interactions with the honorable committee. The level of sincerity and commitment imbedded in their respective performance reports for the fiscal year 2o11/2012 and justifications provided for their 2012/2013 expenditure must lead them through to approval by the honorable Liberian legislature.

Among them, one ministry that may have attracted not only members of the Joint Legislative Committee, but observers and other followers of the budget hearing 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 drawn to

news of the deplorable state of embassies of the Republic of Liberia around the world, especially in countries of Liberia’s interest, 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 old 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, couple with its unquestionable  performance report for the fiscal year 2011/2012, I can only join the Foreign Ministry family to appeal to the consciences of the 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$30m so as to engage the challenges of the country’s diplomatic missions, as well as the ministry’s activities at home.

The US$16m allotted 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 Liberia’s ambassadors and other diplomatic staff, plus 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, I think it deserves far more than the US$16m allotted to it by the budget committee. Such discouraging allotment is just a misjudgment of the ministry’s capacity to properly conduct Liberia’s foreign relations.

The wisdom of the honorable men and women of the 53rd Liberian Legislature must appeal to their consciences for an increase in its allotment of at least U$30m to enhance its capacity to implement our country’s foreign policy. Liberian diplomats and representatives deserve the best of modern vehicles while serving our interest abroad. Just as other officials here at home ride and 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 do the same while serving our interest abroad.

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