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Friday, July 19, 2024

CENTAL LAUNCHES A REPORT CONTAINING ANALYSIS OF BUDGETS…  

Date:

MONROVIA – Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) says it is pleased to formally launch a report containing an analysis of budgets from 2016 up to and including the draft 2023 national budget, which has now been approved by the Liberian Legislature albeit with some changes.

Addressing the media today at CENTAL headquarters in Monrovia, Anderson D. Miamen, CENTAL Executive Director stated that this is part of efforts to independently track and mainstream accountability and transparency in the national budget process so that it works for everyone and not a selected few individuals and groups.

“The report follows a careful review and analysis of the draft 2023 national budget, the budget process, as well as expenditures,” said Miamen.

The CENTAL boss also stated that additionally, it covers media tracking and monitoring visits to selected locations, Gbondoi Town in Bong County, for example, to gather firsthand information from residents on budget performance and impacts.

According to him, the report places a spotlight on efforts to make the budget process more transparent and inclusive, development projects and programs, underfunding of integrity institutions, and discrepancies in allocations and actual expenditure. Others include disparities in allocations to cities, ‘zero budgeting’, and recommendations for making the national budget more transparent, inclusive, and impactful. See the full statement below

Distinguished members of the Press. Thank you so much for your continuous collaboration with CENTAL in the fight against corruption in Liberia. We strongly rely on the support of your various media outlets to succeed in weeding out corruption and bad governance and promoting transparency and accountability across all spectrums of the Liberian society.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are pleased to formally launch a report containing analysis of budgets from 2016 up to and including the draft 2023 national budget, which has now been approved by the Liberian Legislature albeit with some changes. This is part of efforts to independently track and mainstream accountability and transparency in the national budget process so that it works for everyone and not a selected few individuals and groups.  The report follows a careful review and analysis of the draft 2023 national budget, the budget process, as well as expenditures.

Additionally, it covers media tracking and monitoring visits to selected locations, Gbondoi Town in Bong County, for example, to gather firsthand information from residents on budget performance and impacts. The report places a spotlight on efforts to make the budget process more transparent and inclusive, development projects and programs, underfunding of integrity institutions, and discrepancies in allocations and actual expenditure. Others include disparities in allocations to cities, ‘zero budgeting’, and recommendations for making the national budget more transparent, inclusive, and impactful.

As you may be aware, in every country, the national budget is the principal financial tool used by the government to drive development, the same being in Liberia. The budget outlines programs and allocates resources based on revenues generated from taxes and other external sources.

Because of the significance to driving development in Liberia, over the years, CENTAL has developed keen interest in the budget process, especially in respect to how transparency, accountability, gender, and integrity are mainstreamed. We run an open expenditure program, funded by Sida and the Embassy of Sweden in Liberia, which goes beyond publication of budget figures to investigate how allotted resources are disbursed and actually expended.

In part, this entails assessing transparency and accountability around recruiting companies/contractors to perform certain services, citizens’ involvement in such processes, in the case of the County Social Development Funds (CSDFs) and other projects, and whether or not the resources actually reach the target beneficiaries. Articles, reports and other analyses related to this program can be found our budget portal:https://www.liberiabudget.info as well as our official website: www.cental.org.lr.

Our analysis points out a few positives, which are worth noting. We applaud the government for making appreciable efforts to make the budget process transparent and participatory, although much more is needed. Doors are beginning to open for institutionalization of meaningful public participation in the budget process.

There are two notable initiatives in this regard: Fiscal Transparency Advocacy Group (FTAG) and Pre-budget consultations. The FTAG was inaugurated on 19 July 2022 with the mandate to select, design, and implement public participation mechanisms in relation to the budget process. It is comprised of equal number of representatives from civil society and government who have been working to make the budget process more participatory and inclusive. As part of the initiative, pre-budget consultations for formulation of the 2023 budget were held with over 300 representatives of CSOs and other citizens in 5 counties.

Also, civil society organizations developed a shadow budget, which was submitted to government with a focus on prioritizing citizens’ interest in the budget process. This adds to other efforts, including publication of the draft budget by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to allow citizens and other stakeholders gain access to make informed decisions. Additionally, huge allocations to the National Elections Commission for the upcoming general and presidential elections; relative increase in support to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and General Auditing Commission; 2.5 Million to the Ministry of Education to abolish registration fees charged at public schools are all laudable.

However, there are major issues, including corruption and abuse of power that continue to make the national budget less impactful to citizens. The will power is still not strong enough to make the national budget satisfactorily work for all, especially ordinary citizens and those living in remote parts of the country. The perennial issue of underfunding of public integrity institutions, discrepancies in allocations and actual expenditure, misapplication of budgeted resources, huge disparities in allocations to cities, ‘zero budgeting’, and undue prioritization of certain offices, especially those occupied by politicians as opposed to sectors and institutions with direct impacts on the lives of ordinary citizens.

For example, over the last few budget years, over 80,000 USD has been allotted for a Health Center in Gbondoi Town in Bong County. However, the resources have not reached the people, neither are residents of the town aware if they had such resources in the national budget. The funds were diverted by Representative Marvin Cole of Bong County to Kpayah Town Clinic in his district, a clear abuse of power and misapplication of budgeted resources. This is a classic example of how policy makers use the national budget to their own advantage, at the expense of others and the population, more broadly.

On funding to transparency sector, CENTAL observed that the sector is expected to receive increased budgetary support, from $42,142,578 in 2022 to $55,404,476 in 2023. However, much of the increase goes to the National Elections Commission to support the October general and presidential elections. This is welcoming, as Liberians need to support and take ownership of their own elections.

Sadly, institutions leading the fight against corruption and promoting integrity building efforts are given visibly less attention. This is concerning, particularly since offices of politicians continue to receive more than adequate support. For example, while the allocation to the PPCC in 2023 is put at $819,600, the Office of the Speaker is allocated a whopping $2,075,702, the Office of the Deputy Speaker a mind-boggling $1,292,196, and the Pro-Tempore a lavish $1,995,358.

Upon further scrutiny, one realizes that the combined allocation to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker alone exceeds combined allocations to entire entities such as the PPCC ($819,600), (LEITI) $403,627 Independent Information Commission ($226,275), and the Financial Intelligence Unit ($1,410,114). We also note the unfortunate decrease in funding to the PPCC, Independent Information Commission (IIC), Internal Audit Agency (IAA), Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA), and the Liberia Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).

In the areas of decentralization, it was observed that power and resources remain concentrated at the national level, while cities and counties in the rural parts partake in crumbs. A comparison between the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) and other cities does well to place this issue in proper context. In 2022, the city of Monrovia received $5,305,457 in direct budgetary allocation, and $2,196,221 through the Public Sector Investment Program (PSIP), totaling $7,501,678.

Also, in the 2023 draft budget $4,528,311 is allocated to the city of Monrovia, and $1,500,000 allocated through PSIP, totaling $6,028,311. These amounts are exclusive of municipal taxes and other revenues generated by the city. Meanwhile, a contiguous metropolitan city and one of the largest cities, the city of Paynesville, receives far less than the city of Monrovia. Allocations to the Paynesville City Corporation (PCC) remains $1,499,231.28 and $750,000 for PSIP, totaling $2,249,231.28. In fact, only these two cities are directly featured in the budget. This reality is disturbing to say the least.

In conclusion, we wish to make the following recommendations as critical pathways to making the national budget citizens-driven, more inclusive, transparent and impactful. In this regard, national government should do all it can to ensure that the national budget works more for citizens. The need to mainstream transparency and accountability throughout the budget cycle cannot be overemphasized.  Recently initiated budget consultations must continue and be expanded to budget hearings at the Capitol Building.

Civil society organizations and experts as well as communities should be invited to provide valuable inputs to shape the budget drafting, review, and approval processes. Hearings must remain open and not held behind closed doors. Citizens must closely monitor the budget process and make their voices count by directly and indirectly making the necessary suggestions to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the process.

Most importantly, there is need for quarterly expenditure reports as required by the Amended and Restated Public Financial Management Act. These reports are cardinal if citizens must follow the money. Additionally, Audits must be conducted regularly to safeguard public resources, while there is an urgent need for public integrity institutions to be prioritized by giving them adequate support to deliver on their mandates.

Lastly, we encourage civil society, the media, citizens and other stakeholders to thoroughly review the national budget, discuss its contents on national and local radio and other platforms as well as closely monitor spending entities to determine whether or not budgeted resources are being/have been used for the intended purposes.

CENTAL wishes to thank the Embassy of Sweden in Liberia and the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency for funding its Open Expenditure Initiative, which has made this report and analysis possible. Also, we like to thank our many donors and partners, including citizens whose support and motivation have sustained our work over the years. We recommit to remaining constructively engaged with the governance process and meaningfully supporting anti-corruption, integrity building, fiscal transparency and other well-meaning efforts in Liberia.

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