The United States Government through its Department of State, has released the 2020/21 Fiscal Transparency report on Liberia, with the country failing on most of the criteria spelled out as benchmark during the period under review.
According to the report, a copy of which reached this paper, the Government of Liberia did not make its budget documents including the executive budget proposal, enacted budget, and end of year report, publicly available in a reasonable period of time. The report furthered stated that significant deviations between projected and actual revenues during the review period undercut the reliability of budget information thus casting serious transparency issues on the government’s management of the economy
The Report did not speak well of how the government handled funding externally sourced which are largely project based, as they were neither adequately captured in the budget nor subject to the same audit and domestic oversight as other budget items.
The report also slammed the government on its audit mechanism and stated that past audits did not meet any international standards of independence. “The supreme audit institution did not meet international standards of independence and did not make its audit reports publicly available within a reasonable period of time”, the report said.
The US State Department report, while being positive that the criteria and procedures for awarding natural resource extraction licenses were outlined in law, it however said there have been reports of corruption and inconsistent application of regulations in practice. It stated further that basic information on some but not all, natural resource extraction awards was publicly available.
In similar vein, the government got some marks on the availability of information on its debt obligations which was widely and easily accessible to the public, including online, with the exception of state-owned enterprise debt
The report which widely discussed about other countries globally stated that Liberia will improve on its financial transparency by adopting some recommendations among which are that the government makes budget documents publicly available within a reasonable period of time, making state-owned enterprise debt publicly available, ensuring the budget is substantially complete and off-budget accounts are subject to adequate audit and oversight and producing and publishing a supplemental budget when actual revenues and expenditures do not correspond to those in the enacted budget.
Others are ensuring the supreme audit institution (the General Audit Commission-GAC) meets international standards of independence, making supreme audit institution (GAC) audit reports publicly available within a reasonable period of time, ensuring the criteria and procedures used to award natural resources extraction contracts and licenses are consistent with the requirements set by law or regulation and making basic information on natural resource extraction awards publicly available.
Some financial experts who spoke to this paper said that Information on budget documents are key to checking transparency as they reflect the financial characteristics of the government’s plan for the forthcoming period and are used to analyze the consequences of those plans on the economy. When this information is not available, according to them, there is no proper way to have an in-depth understanding of the economy, especially its performance and impact on its people.
For some time now, the executive branch of government has had serious challenges with meeting up the time to submit its annual budget for approval to the national legislature which by extension has also affected the legislature to properly debate the document and approve it within the stipulated time frame spelled out in the constitution.
Since 2018, there has been series of delays in presenting and approving the national budgets because managers of the economy have fallen far behind in putting the documents together.