‘24 Budget To Face Critical Scrutiny Sen. McGill Vows; Says WECC A Must

MONROVIA: As major political actors continue to speak on critical national issues since the ascendency of the President Joseph Nyuma Boakai administration, Senator Nathaniel Farlo McGill of Margibi County also on last Friday took time off his busy schedule to address the media on some trending issues in the country.

Speaking to a panel of interviewers on the OK FM radio last Friday, April 5, 2024, the Senator zeroed on both the 2024 National Draft Budget which is now before the National Legislature and the War and Economic Crimes Court debate.

He opined centrally that the 2024 Budget deceptive and that the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) “is a must”.

Senator McGill said, having worked in the Executive branch of government as a Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Office Staff to the President and now a senator, he was in a better position to make informed opinion on any general governance issue in the country.

He emphasized: “There is nothing that is in government that I will not know about because I worked with President George Manneh Weah directly, made inputs in some decisions, participated in decisions, met and worked with several people from ministries, agencies and commissions, and I know how things were handled for the good of this country.”

Speaking specifically on the draft national budget which some unsuspecting members of the public may think the Boakai government took the right decision to reduce the amount in the financial instrument as opposed to the previous CDC regime, Senator McGill said people should not be carried away by the “budget engineering” which the current government engaged in while preparing the budget.

“Don’t be carried away by the budget engineering, as someone told me the last time,” he said. “What they did was to hide some money somewhere that they will go for later to take. I can tell you, for instance, that in the budget they have for domestic travel of the Vice President to be $10,000.00 for a year and you want to believe that for a trip on an average if he goes to Nimba County he will be given $800.00? That is not possible. That is the figure they are giving you, but in reality, they have another source they will take additional money from that you do not know.”

“Again, they allotted $200,000.00 for the President’s travel for the whole year which, form someone like me who have worked with the Presidency, is not realistic except they are telling us that President Boakai will not travel much to meet foreign leaders, his counterparts, development partners and that when he does travel he will be staying in a hotel room for $100, $150, when his other colleagues are staying in convenient hotels that cost on the average about $500,” McGill said.

McGill said the entire budget will have to be reworked and the Senate is not going to take lightly any realistic presentation to ensure that the budget reflects what the people need and not what someone writes for them without taking into consideration the huge task “of delivering services to the people”.

The Senator said he’s getting reports from line ministries, agencies and commissions that if the current budget is passed, there will be difficult challenges for them.

“I met the Minister of Education the last time when she returned from her trip around the country and she said what she saw was troubling.

“Now in the budget for Education, there is nothing for supplementary teachers; there is nothing for infrastructure. What you see mostly there are the salaries for the teachers, nothing much is there to improve the system. So these are things that are not in the budget which we are going to discuss and make sure that they are considered”, McGill further noted.

Speaking further on budgetary allocation to the education sector, McGill said he was not convinced that the present draft budget will address issues in a very important sector like education “because a lot problems are there and “no amount of budget manipulation” should be done to shy away the real problems that are plaguing the sector.”

He added: “I am thinking if the budget considers free WAEC fees; if it considers the free tuition scheme in our tertiary institutions that former President Weah introduced; if it considers putting additional qualified teachers on the payrolls; if there will be improvement in the infrastructure we have in our schools.”

Speaking further, the Margibi Senator who is also Chairman on the Senate Committee on Education, noted that the sector needs to be supported so that it will be able to bring out the best in students as there is no other better investment in the young people other than education.

He said after meeting some stakeholders in the sector, there is a consensus among them that serious policy measures should be considered to curtail the “proliferation of schools established for the purpose of making money but no interest in the standards of the institutions”.

He called for the establishment of a board to vet applications for the establishment of schools and emphases should be placed on standards and the cost of study and such cost should be linked to the quality of education being provided in every school.

“The Minister told me that there are schools in the various counties where students sit on the bare floor without chair or bench to learn; that the standards are so poor that you wonder if the sector has regulation and funding to put us at par with our colleagues in the subregion,” he asserted. “My committee is not taking this lightly and we will ensure that we fix the system.”

War and Economic Crimes Court

Speaking on the War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC), Senator McGill said he has held a series of consultations with his constituents and they were in full support because they too want the end of impunity in this country.

When asked why the former government where he served in a high profile position did not implement the establishment of the WECC but now he has been very vocal about it, McGill discounted the assertion and contended that former President Weah made it a policy statement about the WECC on the condition that if the Liberian people accepted it, there was nothing he was going to do to shield it from happening.

“Now let me tell you this,” he cautioned the panelists on the OK FM talk show. “Contrary to what you are saying, former President Weah made a policy statement about establishing the court. He said if the Liberian people had agreed to have it, he was not going to stand in its way and that is why he sent the position of the government to the National Legislature.”

McGill indicated that President Boakai promised there will be a war and economic crimes court and as the chief architect of our foreign policy in keeping with article 50 of the constitution, the senate got no reservation but to support him as it is expedient to do so.

He contended the WECC will go a long to reconcile the country, bring justice and ensure a closure for the victims and survivors of the senseless civil war.

He was however quick to say that while the Senate is expected to concur with the House of Representatives on the resolution for WECC, “resolution does not mean the court will now come; the final decision rests with the government to ensure that the resolution becomes the official policy statement of the government and we expect the President to approve of it”.

He recalled that for the former ruling party, CDC, the WECC was a done deal as they are voting with a block approval and having talked to others in the Senate who are passionate about the court, there is nothing that is going to stop the court from being established.

Asset Recovery

Responding to a question on the Asset Recovery exercise of the government, especially where CDC is seen to be opposed to it, McGill, who is also Chairman of the CDC Caucus, said it was wrong to say the party was against the government recovering  its legitimate assets because “we in fact had a similar assets recovery program too and there was no noise around it at the time.”

He continued: “Our position has been the manner in which they are carrying out the exercise without recourse to due process. In the first place, we believe that the assets recovery program is taking away the functions of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) which is clothed with the legal statue to engage in such activities.

“President Boakai issued an executive order on something that is already being legally assigned to the LACC and so it is illegal to do so. The law says you do not issue orders against the working of another institution of government and that has been our argument and not just being opposed to something.

“So they are going around in the streets and when they find you in a good car, they stop you and they tell you it is government car, we are seizing it. Which is wrong. It is like how they did when the coup took place on April 12, 1980 where the soldiers where just seizing people’s properties without any reason.”

McGill also spoke on how his transition from the executive branch of government, where he served as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and now the national legislature as senator enriched his knowledge and understanding of how governance works and vowed to the experience garnered in the process will assist him be a better leader in the senate.

He expressed the hope to form a synergy with likeminded senators to move the country forward because “we are the direct contacts of the people in the various counties”.

“In a sense, there is more rigor and tedious task in the executive branch of government than in the national legislature,” he added, saying, “You work every day in the executive but in the senate, it is about talking and less work. You work for two days and everything that is done there is by agreement from one person to another or agreement between parties.

“You may call that collaboration. You have a point or something to push for your people, you have to discuss that with others so that you get the support.

“In the executive it is about taking decision, what needed to be done because decisions taken at the national legislature have to be executed. You are busy, budgets in the line ministries must go through so that work will go on”, he said.

Senator McGill also discounted the notion that he was the “defacto Prime Minister” when he sway at the Ministry of State as Minister and also served as Chief of Office Staff to the President.

“No, that was a wrong perception. I was never anybody above being the Minister of State. President Weah was in charge of everything. Every decision ended with him and was the final.

“Of course as Minister of State you are the shock absorber. Everyone wants to see the President, even some ministers, every problem they have at their ministries ended at the Presidency and they want for you to ensure they see the President.

“If someone’s wife is pregnant, they want for you to make them see the president, for jobs, scholarships, dispute between friends or families, etc, they want for you to see the president, so the office of the Minister of State is demanding, you don’t rest and everybody believes it is only you that can make them to see the President”, he said.

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