CSO, PARTNERS’ BUDGET CYCLE PROJECT TAKES ROOT -Citizens excited over budget awareness project

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The message of disconnect between the government and citizens, especially at the grassroots and local levels in Liberia about key issues that affect their socio-economic wellbeing is fast resonating with development partners in the country. The whole thing about budget and how it affects them still remains a challenge to them. The matter has been/is even being made worse by the inability of successive governments to effectively and continuously interface with the people at that lower strata of our population and provide education on what is meant by national budget and how it is used to undertake development in their areas. There seems to be a paradigm shift as funding from the World Bank and African Development Bank through the non-state actors’ secretariat, Ministry of Finance and Development Planning is scoring from the front line in rural Liberia. The Analyst Reports:

With funding from the World Bank (WB) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), two of Liberia’s foremost development partners, the Platform for Dialogue and Peace (P4DP) entered a short term agreement with the Non-State Actors Secretariat of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (NSA-MoFDP) to work in Senjeh District, Bomi County on increasing citizens’ participation in the National Budget Cycle processes.

The agreement is specifically geared towards recruiting, training and working with 5 local Community-based Organizations from Senjeh District, Bomi County to establish and operate locally-based budget cycle platform that will provide continuous information, support the conduct of analysis of budgetary allocations to the County, District and specific groups, as well as carry out the needed advocacy with both local and national leaders.

According to Mr. James Suah Shilue, the Executive Director of P4DP, the key objectives among other things are to establish and build the capacity of one District Budget Platform in Senjeh District, to engage in community awareness outreach and documentation and to some extent build trust in the citizenry, considering that domestic revenue mobilization is important for sustainable development. Shilue averred that the citizens’ budget platform is very crucial especially during the Coronavirus pandemic, period during which policymakers can make some impromptu decisions to tackle national health emergencies. Without such inclusive platform that provides robust information and understanding of the budget and expenditure, the likelihood for misconception and accusation of corruption could be high

When asked about the status of the project thus far, Mr. Shilue said 3 staff of his institution, Jackson W. Speare, Project Coordinator, Vlandy Freeman, Director of Administration and Finance and Moses Sah Project Field Coordinator under his supervision, are actively with local partners to ensure that all of the agreed project activities are implemented, monitored and reported timely.

He said his institution conducted assessments on the 4th and 5th of June, on some community based organizations (CBO), conducted interviews and selected 5 CBOs to help support the activities in Senjeh District, Bomi County. He named the groups as Liberia Children Foundation (LCF), Community Youth for Development Association (COYDA), Men United to Fight Violence Against Women (MUFVAWAC), Better Life Care for Transformation (BLCT) and Grand International (GI). He further said that 10 persons were seconded from the 5 CBOs to work with the project.

“Following the selection of the 5 CBOs, a Memorandum of Commitment was reached with all of them and duly signed, specifying individual roles and responsibilities over the project period. Also included in the MoCs is the obligation for these CBOs to serve as members of the established District Budget Forum, mobilizing and educating the public on the national budget cycle processes”, the Executive Director said.

Speaking on the challenges associated with the project, Mr. Shilue expressed appreciation to partners and donors but said delay in the remittance of funds for the project implementation is a challenge given that selected CSOs were asked to prefinance the project activities considering that the team needs to urgently operationalize the work plan.  “Accordingly, we would like to recommend that the process of remittance of the project funds be expedited, considering that the project period is too short for delays”, he said.

He also said that the road to Bomi from Monrovia is getting deplorable and requires extra travel time, especially during the rainy season.

Asked why Senjeh and not the other districts, given the challenges associated with accessing the area, he said they were assigned to Bomi, following a competitive process by MoFDP as one of the 13 organizations that emerged successful. Meanwhile, he noted that P4DP has done similar projects in other districts in Bomi during the previous regime. With our previous experience and the current engagement, we are trying to engender “national ownership” while doing everything we can to potentially attract more resources that could see the initiative spring up in the other districts and counties.

Our reporter who recently visited some of the areas where the project is being implemented took time to do a random interview with some citizens and residents in the area.

An excited Alieu Dorley, Executive Director for Man United Against Violence said the project has opened the minds of the people about the budget and how it is used to implement development projects across the country.

“There will be a change in the attitude of our people when they hear about the budget next time. Most of them think when you talk about budget, you are talking about some kind of money sitting somewhere the government can just put their hand in and take money and start to carry on projects but from what the people have been learning here, budget is a process, not an event. It must pass through so many processes before money can be spent”, he said.

Another citizen, a local woman political actor, commonly called “Children’s Ma”, said her excitement of the project has no bounds because there are things that used to be dark clouds to her when people are talking about budget.

“I don’t know how to say thank you to the people who brought this budget business here. I used to be vexed when we asked some lawmakers and county officials about when we will get so, so and so for our area and the only thing I hear from them is let the budget pass but no one was able to explain what it is or how it used to work. Now, these people are good, they told us everything about the budget, no secret inside. So, next time our people want to bring confusion about budget, I will tell them what is budget….my eyes now clear yahhhh….she enthused.

A senior civil servant who does not want his name to be put in the print and had gone home to engage in personal business, told our reporter that he was surprised to hear his uncle who is not lettered to be discussing about budget fluently through the local vernacular and with better understanding than his nephew that lives with him in Monrovia attending one of the universities.

“My brother, I could not believe that my uncle who didn’t go to school and barely spoke English was discussing this with me right here this morning. Our development partners scored big on this after I was told that the project was sponsored by the World Bank and the African Development Bank. I want to thank the Liberian NGO, P4DP for the good work they have done here”, he said.

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