Blank Check Domestic Debt Payment ‘Deedeebah’? -Senator Dillon Wants Comprehensive Breakdown

The issue of transparency remains one of the main bottlenecks for development in Liberia, which has been repeatedly highlighted by the country’s traditional development partners, evidenced by the recent cautionary statement from Dana Banks, Special Assistant to US President Joe Biden, to the effect that though Liberia has made significant progress in terms of peace and stability, more needs to be done to maintain the gains of peace. Coming against that backdrop, Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon is now calling on the Executive branch of government to provide explanation to the Liberian people, how come the current fiscal budget cycle carries a US$84 domestic debt tag when the past 2021 budget stated $72million. Dillon also wants the Ministry of Finance to submit a list of domestic debt vendors, inclusive of services provided.

Making his position known during plenary last week, Senator Dillon said when he and his colleagues at the Upper House deliberated on the National Budget, and kept on requesting for certain information, and it was noticed that the domestic debt part of the budget will need a list of debtors, those the government owes and those that are about to be paid.

“That list was due within one week. Today is one week. Pro Tempore will not be here by then. So we will prevail on the plenary for their vote for the Minister of Finance to be cited here to bring that list. I don’t want to make it sound like someone within the Finance Ministry or the Executive would want to do something fishy. But I think it helps us. That $84 million is a bulk blank check in my view. Let them break it down.  I want to know who we are paying. What goods and services the individuals or the institutions provided to the government and the people; what qualified them for payment; what if government pays entity x today, whether their name will not come up in future documents to double pay; whether the institutions on those lists are legal or bogus. I have the right to know on behalf of the people of Montserrado, and I am sure everyone here representing other counties will want to know.

“I don’t think it should be a big deal. Let us not make it look like somebody is hiding something, and that’s the only thing Dillon wants to talk about. I’ve been talking about this thing ever since October last year. We need to know Liberia’s debt portfolio, domestic and foreign. We received 2021 budget with $72 million for domestic debt payment. We just passed a budget with $84 million, and that budget is projecting 2023 the same $84 million. Who are we paying and this money can’t reduce?” Senator Dillon wondered.

He said, once the public sees the legislature as nontransparent regarding this list, and especially when some like-minded lawmakers keep harping on these perceived anomalies, it makes even the Executive to look bad, as if they are hiding something.

“So I am asking plenary to please impress upon the committee to get the Minister of Finance to tell us or submit to us, that $84million, who we are paying. Because when we finish paying $84 million this year, there may be some vendors who will be saying they were not paid. I was on the radio this morning and the Finance Minister called, respectfully though, to give me verbal report on the radio, that we are supposed to pay commercial banks, and xyz. Since you know it already, just put it on the paper and bring it here,” Senator Dillon intoned, in apparent reference to Finance Minister Samuel Tweah.

It can recalled that since the submission of the 2022 Draft National Budget last November, and throughout the budget hearings, up to the passage of the Budget, Senator Dillon has been on record for requesting and demanding to know Liberia’s foreign and domestic portfolios; for which the Ministry of Finance has failed to submit same.

“Notwithstanding, we will not rest contend until the Ministry of Finance submits the list of people and institutions supposedly owed by Government for “goods and services” for which over $84M USD has been appropriated in the 2022 National Budget.

“We are similarly demanding performance report on the $72M appropriated in the 2020/2021 National Budget for “Domestic Debt Payment.” Who was/were paid? What were the goods and services provided? How many Liberians and Liberian-owned entities were contracted and paid to demonstrate that “Liberians would no longer be spectators in their own economy”? Senator Dillon wondered.

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