Local Group Criticizes National Budget


President George Weah’s 2018/19 national budget lacks pro-poor investment and could lead to the CDC-led government recording the biggest revenue shortfall in Liberia’s history, a group calling itself Center for Policy Action and Research (CePAR) said Thursday in Monrovia.

“The draft budget offers a poor start for development planning and is remarkably different from a policy instrument that tends to address poverty,” Alieu F. Nyei, a member of the group said.

According to him, figures assigned to interventions were done arbitrarily and the budget seems to be hurriedly prepared with the aim of only meeting the submission deadline.

He said analysis of the revenue component of the budget suggests a potential budget shortfall based on unrealistic revenue projections. “Many revenue lines are projected significantly higher than their performance trends,” Nyei added.

“Twenty-one public sector institutions in the budget are only receiving salaries with no programmatic activity. Total allocation for only compensation to those entities is $8,544,461.00 and zero to programs.

“ They include Liberia Intellectual Property Office, Liberia Industrial Free Zone, Liberia Agriculture Commodity Regulatory Agency, National Housing &Savings Bank, National Commission on Higher Education, Bureau of State Enterprises, LACE, Board of Tax Appeals, National Food Agency, National Veterans Bureau, LRRRC, NEC, Liberia Medical & Dental Council, Governance Commission, Independent Information Commission, Liberia Pharmacy Board, Liberia Board for Nursing and Midwifery, Liberia Land Authority, National Commission on Small Arms, Financial Intelligence Unit, LEITI and the Human Rights Commission,” he said.

He explained that even as allocation to the health sector was increased, frontline service delivery institutions like hospitals and health centers were not prioritized. “This is not pro-poor and will certainly lead to health crises.”

Nyei stated that the budget makes no effort to tap on the potential of both agriculture and tourism subsectors. Like tourism, agriculture is a high job growth and labor-intensive sector. The spending plan is not married to the professed pro-poor agenda with on-the-ground action.

He claimed that financing model for education remained relatively the same like it was done over the last 12 years. The draft budget is designed in a way that keeps the current spending model of routinely dishing out subsidies, constructing more schools and racking up enrolment as opposed to placing focus on improving learning outcomes or overall quality of education.
The group is recommending in this report, significant re-appropriation be conducted thereby moving needed finances away from less productive expenditure items to projects that are truly pro-poor. Firstly, the report argues that the Government of Liberia could have done more to expand the capital investment envelope above the $73,420,000.00 allocation.

Mr. Jacob V. Jallah, another member of CePAR said waste in the budget is appallingly high. As you have read in the report already, proposed appropriation to Intelligence and Special Operations Services in the Security Sector is $12.7M.

Mr. Jallah explained that National Security Agency, Executive Protection Service and Ministry of Defense combined accounts for $11.3M of the total appropriation. “The unexplained and clearly unjustified rise opens up the extreme likelihood for corruption and swindling since in fact financial management scrutiny on undercover security financing is normally heavily relaxed due the covert nature of its operations, Jallah explained.

He noted that in a cost saving measure, this report argues for a drastic slashing of the $12M proposed appropriation for Special Operation Services by $10M.
He maintained that the savings should be redeployed under the Public Sector Investment Projects (PSIP) and allotted for investment in projects with the most potential to create employment and tackle poverty. This addition will bring to total the amount of $83,420,000.00 for capital investment.

“Additionally, the appropriation of $1M for “humanitarian services” for the first
lady’s office is a classic example of wrongful allocation of badly needed
resources for productive programs with enormous benefit to the poor. The office
of the first lady must engage in philanthropy financing and seek charitable
donations from the vast amount of goodwill financing available in the social
sector both locally and internationally, he noted.

According to him, the over dependence of the office of the first lady on the already tight budget envelope to finance her activities is not only wasteful but a display of severe lack of fundraising capacity. This report recommends the first lady utilize external expertise to help build staff capacity to fundraise and seek generous donation in the ever expanding social sector worldwide.

“Finally, $13M expenditure on the renovation of the Executive Mansion as
proposed in the draft budget shows a clear lack of vision by the administration.
The Executive Mansion is by all means not a pressing priority currently. The current Foreign Ministry office is more than conducive for the hosting of the President and the Ministry of State. We therefore recommend cut of the $13M for Executive Mansion renovation for redeployment to more pro-poor spending,”Jallah concluded.

Writes P. Nas Mulbah