By: Mathew Turry
MONROVIA – The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) said it welcomes the recent statement of the United States Ambassador to Liberia, Ambassador Michael A. McCarthy on the state of decentralization and how the national budget has been manipulated to serve the interests of those who control power and made a six count recommendation intended to improve the governance system of the country.
In a statement issued to the media yesterday, Wednesday, April 26, 2023 the Executive Director of CENTAL-Liberia Anderson Miamen indicated that there can be no better affirmation of recent reports issued by CENTAL detailing how the national budget is being used as a tool for corruption and how decentralization has been reduced to a political token rather than a deliberate effort to devolve power and resources from the central level in Monrovia to counties and communities on the periphery.
“Indeed, not only does the Ambassador’s statement reflect courage, it transcends any actual or perceived diplomatic boundaries for the good of the Liberian people,” the CENTAL Statement pointed out and further asserted, ”We see that the disservice meted out against the Liberian people by their own leaders is so great that it cannot be overlooked by our international partners, Ambassador McCarthy in this instant case. Surely, the American Ambassador engages as a true Liberian patriot and campaigner for good governance and true decentralization.”, Miamen said.
He said even as corruption brazenly has its way, Ambassador McCarthy faces the odds and speaks truth to power. The question, he said, is “when will we, Liberians, engage our democracy and governance as true patriots wanting the best for the country and its people? When will leaders truly lead, selflessly, accountably, and transparently? And when will citizens satisfactorily live up to
In January of this year, CENTAL recalled that it shared the results of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2022 released by Transparency International, and stated that there is a further decline in Liberia’s score on the index from 29 in 2021 to 26 in 2022, an unfortunate 15-point decline since the score of 41 in 2012.This is corroborated by CENTAL 2022 State of Corruption Report (SCORE 2022), which reveals that 90% of Liberians think the Corruption level is high in the county, with declining confidence in the executive branch of government to fight against corruption, from 30% to 26%.
According to Mr. Miamen, findings of the US Ambassador’s recent trips to the counties, as contained in his recent statement to the published further light on how corruption continues to deprive Liberians of access to crucial services, as a few Monrovia-based power brokers binge on public funds with no pricking of conscience.
“And while the Ambassador identified county-level challenges, it is important to note that ‘ghost allocations’ are not only akin to entities in the counties. Spending entities in Monrovia have themselves complained that in addition to budgetary allocations not covering essential activities and operations, they are hardly received in full,” he said.
The Liberian budget paper released last month entitled: ‘Making the Budget Work’ , Miamen said, goes at length to lay bare the problems with our budget process and how addressing them is critical, if the budget must truly work for the people. , pointing out that the key themes covered include public participation, overspending, failure to report, budget corruption, misplaced priorities, decentralization, etc.
He cited an example, when he identified seven spending entities that spent more than what was allocated in the 2022 national budget. Over $35,810,406 was spent without legislative approval. “Unapproved spending not only raises questions of diligence applied during budget preparation, it also fuels suspicions of corruption,” he added.
He said since public expenditures must meet legislative approval through the budget, spending in excess of amounts approved by the Legislature raises significant concerns. “This is coupled with the fact that contrary to law; reports on how budgetary allocations are used are not available, thereby making it difficult to follow public spending.”
Regarding decentralization, CENTAL said it highlighted that the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) continues to get the lion’s share of allocations to political subdivisions. While counties receive a meager $219,333 in 2022, the MCC received $7,501,678 in direct budgetary allocation and through the Public Sector Investment Program (PSIP). The Paynesville City Corporation (PCC) received $2,249,230, he maintained, stating that these cities receive astronomically more than entire counties, raising questions about how decentralization is expected to work.
CENTAL’s report on budget corruption, the institutions’ executive director noted, indicated that public officials continue to use the national budget to their own advantage. For example, he explained that the E&J Hospital in Ganta, Nimba County was built and owned by Senator Jeremiah Koung, who has claimed that the facility has been turned over to the government, but no documents have been disclosed in this regard.
As a private business, he explained further that E&J received close to $1 million United States Dollars through the national budget. “Besides, the African Dream Clinic, owned by Representative Samuel Enders has benefitted US$95,000 from the national budget through subsidy. The fact that a lawmaker’s clinic is included in the national budget, in the midst of limited support to government-owned hospitals and clinics speaks volumes,” he reasoned.
“In 2021 and 2022, $3.6 million was allocated each year for ‘legislative engagement’ amid public outcry. The amounts were distributed to each lawmaker in portions of $30,000 per year. The recent outcry against Representative Marvin Cole regarding diversion of funds meant for a clinic in Gbondoi Town in Bong County is another example.
“CENTAL is deeply concerned about the perennially mind boggling neglect of the citizens by their elected and appointed national leaders. This extremely unfortunate development has to stop, if the people must truly and measurably benefit from the resources and other assets of the country. We call on national leaders, especially the President and Lawmakers to forge collaborations that placed citizens at the center of their engagements and decisions and not otherwise,” he said.
In part, he said they should make the national budget Work for the people by adequately funding educational, medical, agricultural and other agencies and institutions directly serving the needs of the public.
CENTAL then concluded their statement with recommendations, which if fully implemented will help to make the national budget and other resources work for the people.
Making the recommendation, Mr. Maimen suggested the Liberian Government should reduce funding to the President, Vice President, Speaker, and other high political offices and redirect those resources to activities and programs in health, education, and other sectors that will directly benefit citizens and that the Liberian Legislature should be robust in performing its duties; although highly disappointing in its performance, the Legislature still remains the Agency of Government responsible to provide the necessary oversight in safeguarding public resources and assets. It should do so, if it must be regarded as truly representing the people and not itself.
The institution then applauded development partners for their tireless support in strengthening democracy and accountability cultures in Liberia and urged them to continue doing so, at an even greater scale. A blended support and engagement that sees development partners not only providing financial and technical support to civil society, government, and other institutions but also openly commending and criticizing major developments in Liberia is welcomed and or she be pursued; and admonished civil society and the media to increase and diversify their engagements to educate the public, checkmate national government as well as monitor and report on the development and implementation of the national budget and other key national policies and documents.
Public Integrity Institutions such as the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, they further recommended, should be adequately funded and robust in their engagements and performance of their duties. For example, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission should enforce laws on Asset Declaration and ensure timely investigation and prosecution of corruption cases.
The anti-graft NGO then advised that have a greater responsibility to ensure that our leaders are held accountable. Development partners cannot do for us what we ought to do for ourselves.
Therefore, Liberians should stand up and demand accountability from their leaders at all times. As the October elections draw near, let us summon the courage to engage all those seeking our votes for their visions and practical actions in dealing with corruption and making our resources work for all.