Bility Opposes $41m Budget in A detailed Memo -Says, “This is not the transparency we seek”

MONROVIA: In what has been described as a robust disagreement with majority decision by his colleagues  in plenary with respect to the requested special budget from the Presidency, District #7 Nimba County representative, Musa Hassan Bility has said despite his opposition to the budget, the request however sailed through but asserted that the decision was “not the transparency we seek”, adding the lawmakers were closing “our  eyes to blatant violations of our laws by the Executive and making the Legislature accomplices in that violation”.

In a detailed memo addressed to his colleagues in plenary to express his disagreement a copy of which is in possession of The Analyst, Representative Bility historicized that on December 20, 2023, former President George Manneh Weah submitted a proposed National budget for fiscal year 2024(FY2024) in the amount of Six Hundred Twenty-five million and Five Hundred and Seventy Thousand ($US 625,570,000). He said in January 2024, the current House members rejected the FY 2024 on the basis that the elections had produced a new President, H. E. Joseph N. Boakai, and therefore the submission of the Budget was his prerogative.

He said on that basis, the current administration of President Joseph Nyuma Boakai in a bid to avoid government shutdown, evoked section 22 of the Amended Restatement of the Public Financial Management Act of 2009 (PFM LAW) which states, ‘’In the case where the Legislature is unable to approve the National Budget before the start of the fiscal year, the Minister is authorized to collect revenues and approve expenditures, in line with the proposed budget, up to one twelfth (1/12) of the Budget of the previous fiscal year. Expenditure of said (1/12) by the Minister shall be included in the subsequent financial outturn”.

“The approved Fiscal Year 2023 (FY2023) Budget was Seven Hundred and Eighty Two Million Nine Hundred and Forty Thousand Dollars (US$782, 940, 000) making the 1/12 amount available for the month of January 2024, Sixty Six Million Seventy Eight Thousand and Three Hundred Thirty Three (US$66,078,333) as per the provision of the PFM Law cited herein above.

“On February 16, 2024, the Executive submitted to the Legislature a budget summary request to approve expenditures for the month of February 2024 in the amount of Forty One Million and Three Hundred Thousand (41,300,000). This request was discussed in Plenary and forwarded to the House Committee on Ways and Means for consideration”, Bility said in his memo..

In the memo he circulated among his colleagues for their consumption and clarity on the issues he raised, Bility outlined his position and asked his colleagues in plenary to reconsider their decision to send this request to Committee on Ways and Means. Below is the detailed explanation of his position:

1). Lack of a detailed budget attached to the Budget Summary: The document that was presented to the Honorable House and read in Plenary was a two-page document which included a cover letter and a budget summary. This summary did not include details on each budget line item, which would clarify the issue of  transparency on the budget. For instance, the budget summary includes payments of Debt Servicing in the amount of Five Million Seven Hundred Thousand United States Dollars (US$5, 7000, 000.00) but falls short of outlining what specific debts are to be paid out of the requested amount. It is important that a copy of the detailed budget is provided to this body for review and to further inform our decision on its approval.

2). Lack of Explanation as to why the Executive has not submitted an amended FY 2024 National Budget: Section 22 of the Amended PFM Act pre-supposes that the budget approval process has been delayed for valid reasons and, as such, allows for expenditure pending the finalization of the Budget. This exception was not intended for arbitrary application and should not be used for reasons that are not justified, albeit the prerogative of the Executive. To date the Executive has not submitted and the Legislature has not received and amended FY2024 National Budget nor an explanation or justification for this lapse.

3). Lack of adherence to PFM Act: The PFM Act specifically provides for the use of 1/12 of the previous year’s budget, pending the approval by the legislature of the current year’s budget. Therefore, there is no need for the Executive to seek further approval from the Legislature for this amount. However, the PFM Act clearly states that any amount used under this provision must be in line with the proposed Budget for the current fiscal year which is as follows:

  1. Recurrent Expenditure:$594.54million (allocated as follows: Compensation of Employees: US$307.81million, Goods & Services: US$68.23million, Subsidy: US$3.56million, Grants: US$108.23million, Social Benefits: US$17.94million, Non-Financial Asset: US$8.00million, Debt Service: US$80.89million)
  2. Public Sector Investment Plan: US$ 1.03milliom
  3. Budget Allocation by Sector allocated as follows- Public Administration Sector: US$229.58million, Municipal Government Sector: US$28.11million, Transparency and Accountability Sector: US$23.93million, Security and Rule of Law Sector: US$89.53million, Health Sector: US$71.95million, Social Development Services Sector: US$7.58million, Education Sector: 100.73million, Energy and Environment Sector: US$19.50million, Agriculture Sector: US$4.75million, Infrastructure and Basic Services: US$44.36million, Industry and Commerce Sector: US$6.56million)

Even if this request was within the purview of the Legislature, the request is not detailed adequately to verify that the proposed expenditure amounts are in line with the proposed FY2024 budget. Additionally, several categories including Policy Priorities, and Goods and Services for MOS, VPO, JUD, Senate, and HOR are not included as expenditure items in the proposed FY2024 budget.

4). Lack of legal basis for this request: In the absence of the applicable provision of the PFM Law, there appears to be no legal basis stated for the request of this US$41Million Dollars budget. The framers of the existing laws, in their wisdom, considered and anticipated the delays in our governance system and provided for such delays under Section 22 of the Amended PFM Act. As current lawmakers, our actions must be based on legal authority to act and we must ensure that any such action is backed by law. What is the legal basis for the Executive not to submit an Annual Budget for FY2024, not utilize the 1/12 provision for February but yet request a budget of US$41Million Dollars? Is this request in addition to the 1/12?

“These questions require answers. For these reasons, as I did in Plenary, I am again urging my colleagues of the House to withdraw the budget request from the Committee and send it back to the Executive with recommendations addressing these concerns and on how to proceed thereafter”, he concluded .

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