MONROVIA: The Plenary of the House of Representatives has refused to act on President George Weah’s communication, requesting the Legislature to approve the draft restated budget for Fiscal Year 2023.
The House took the unprecedented decision during its Tuesday’s sitting following a motion proffered by Rep. Clarence Massaquoi (UP, District #3, Lofa County).
“… I move if I could be seconded, that the communication from the Executive … constitutes the President’s Official communication. However, given that copies of this bill have not been distributed to every member of this House which is a requirement of our rules, given also that the decision will require research of the current budget, given that it will take some time for the copies to be distributed, it is my motion that this communication is not considered officially read on the floor until copies are distributed. When the copies are distributed, members will now entertain that the document be read on the floor.”
President Weah had submitted to the House of Representatives a proposed restatement of the FY2023 national budget in the total amount of US$759.4 million.
The draft amended budget at US$759.4 million reflects a net decrease of US$23.5 million or 3.0 percent below the originally approved budget of US$ 782.9 million.
In March this year, the 54th Legislature passed the 2023 budget at US$782.9, approved by the president and signed into handbill.
Following its passage, the government lauded itself for guiding the passage of the biggest fiscal budget in Liberia’s history.
However, with two quarters into the fiscal year, President Weah returned to the Legislature, informing the august body to make an adjustment because it would be impossible to attain all of the projections made prior to the approval of the FY2023 national budget due to some challenges.
The president stated that the confluence of reduction in the volume of trade, expiration of surcharge on petroleum, reduction of tariff on excise on petroleum and a six-month-running slump in global market prices of export commodities in the mining sector have engendered revenue underperformance in both tax and non-tax categories since the beginning of the current fiscal year.
This underperformance, the president noted, has posed a challenge for executing the budget in the first two-quarters of FY2023 and has also prompted early reprioritization and program deferrals in some instances.
“It is against the foregoing that realization of the aggregate amount of US$23.5 million or 3.5 percent of the total projected domestic revenue of US$672 million has been deemed a risk and untenable,” he stated.
“To ensure that year-end spending is in line with available resources, adjustments in spending entities’ program allocation balances have been made such that the risk is absorbed by all and sundry. However, critical priority allocations for the ensuing elections and the national electricity grid have been ring-fenced.”
According to the President, the total adjusted recurrent expenditure is estimated at US$612,558,028 or 80.7 percent of the total proposed expenditure.
The revised expenditure estimate for public sector investment is US$146,857,790 or 19.3 percent of the total proposed expenditure.
Following the reading of the president’s communication, the plenary voted in favor of a motion to table his request until each of the lawmakers is served with a copy of the proposed restated budget.
The proponent of the motion, Rep Massaquoi, noted that it would be impossible to make any informed decision if each lawmaker is not given a copy of the draft restated budget.
Massaquoi noted that the lawmakers’ research will cover the original approved FY2023 budget.
He noted that Tuesday’s reading should be deemed as null and void until copies of the bill are distributed.
His colleague, Rep. Larry Younquoi (District #8, Nimba County) said since the approval of the original budget, the Executive has not served the Legislature copies.
The House’s rules say before a bill can be acted upon; it should be read three times in plenary.
Observers say the move by the legislature is unprecedented given that the House always prioritizes the president’s items, especially financial instruments including budget requests and concession agreements.
In the past, the 54th Legislature has come under staunch criticism for their “failure” to thoroughly scrutinize the national budgets that have been submitted by the Executive branch of government.
Last year, a number of legislators from the opposition bloc claimed that the budget was hastily passed without a proper scrutiny as spending entities did not submit their performance reports as required by Section 36 of the PFM Law.
The law, among other things, states that “It is a general responsibility under this Act for all government officials handling public financial transactions to ensure that financial information is reported in a timely, comprehensive, and accurate manner, in the manner prescribed in this Act, under its regulations, and in instructions issued by the Minister.”