Liberia: House Divided over US$24 million supplemental budget

By Own Correspondent, from Monrovia,Liberia with support from LiberianObserver – The draft Supplemental Budget submitted to the Legislature by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been a key root cause of things falling apart on Capitol Hill.

The US$24 million supplemental budget was earlier this week submitted by the President in keeping with Part III Section 18 of the Public Financial Management Act passed in 2009. Of the above mentioned budget, US$1,396,280 has been allotment [by the President] for the celebration of this year’s July 26 festivities in Lofa County, an Executive communication to the Legislature has said.

The document disclosed that the Chief Executive has also set aside US$150,000 for use by the General Services Agency (GSA) to provide logistical support in preparation for the 2011 July 26 festivities. This put the allotted amount for a single Independence Day (July 26, 2011) celebration to US$1,546,280.

The decision by the President to spend such amount on ‘26’ Day has caused stir among lawmakers, especially those of the Lower House.

Although the House has passed the legislative instrument forwarded to them by President Johnson Sirleaf, Barron Brown, along with dozens of lawmakers, remained vocal about his displeasure over the decision to pass the document.

For Rep. Brown, the instrument was unhealthy for the Liberian society and only intended to fulfil the campaign plans of President Johnson Sirleaf.

As in previous years under the Johnson Sirleaf-led administration, Liberia’s Independence Day festivities have continuously targeted populated counties; a move seen by members of the country’s opposition bloc as a strategic way of targeting the voting population.
In an interview with the Daily Observer minutes after Thursday heated session on Capitol Hill, Rep. Brown averred that the Executive’s quest for festivities while the people continue to suffer the brunt of financial malpractices being perpetrated by government officials was totally unacceptable.

The Grand Bassa County Lawmaker argued that the allotted resources could best be used to restore basic social needs of the people of the Lofa County, the County hosting this year’s July 26 celebration.

Rep. Brown further expressed dissatisfaction over the setting aside of US$2,250,000 for renovation of what he called “a man-made disaster victim — Executive Mansion.” According to him, He stressed the President’s continuous stay at the Foreign Ministry was wrong and that there was a need for an immediate satisfaction of that Constitutional provision.

The Executive Mansion is the official home of the Liberian President. Unfortunately, during the nation’s 159th Independence Day anniversary celebration on July 26, 2006, when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her visiting friends gathered at the Executive Mansion to celebrate the nation’s and to turn on lights, the 4th floor of the Liberian presidential palace was suddenly seen in flames.

According other displeased lawmakers, the set aside money would only enrich a few at the expense of the masses. They suggested that the resources rather be used to provide more scholarship opportunities for Liberian youths, increase salary arrears and provide improved healthcare services to the people. However, others in favor of the document have stressed the need to speedily pass the bill in an effort to allow government effectively steer the affairs of the state.