Secret Budget Meeting Backfires -Senators Demand Saytumah Ejected from Hearing

MONROVIA – Amidst recent contentions from some aggrieved members of the Liberian Senate who threatened to boycott concurrence of the National Budget if the George Weah administration failed to cough up their respective shares of the County Social Development Funds, news from Capitol Hill speak of a secret budget hearing held last Tuesday without the knowledge and consent of the vast majority of the budget committee members and the senate.

Raising the issue on the Senate floor on Tuesday, January 30, 2023, Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon voiced his consternation over an alleged secret budget hearing that did not even meet the acquiescence of the Senate Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee.

“We are in session and there is a budget hearing going on. If it’s a joint hearing, there should be 15 senators under here at that hearing because each county should be represented. But members of the committee on budget don’t even know that there is a budget hearing.

“Pro Tempore, I raise this issue not because it’s a political year, but because it’s crucial for many reasons. We want to start and develop a new concept and way of doing budget hearing; accepting the budget and appropriating it. And if we don’t set the basis, few senators will not hold budget hearings behind us, bring it here and say they’ve finished doing the budget and we should do yea and nay. It won’t happen,” Senator Dillon angrily interposed.

“This is troubling. It is scary. The senate has commenced a joint budget hearing and it is strange to the senators. Moreover, a joint hearing has commenced with only one or two senators representing the senate without any information. Where is the senate budget? What are they discussing there?” Dillon further wondered.

Supporting Dillon’s argument, Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Kargar-Lawrence called on Pro Tempore Albert Chie to institute remedial action against the Chairperson of the Senate Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee, Senator Morris Seytumah, for what she termed as his unilateral action to represent the senate at a secret budget hearing.

“We are on the budget committee. And before we can even start to talk about the budget, we should have our in-house meeting, before the senate should agree to a joint hearing, but we are not aware. We have not seen any performance report; we have not looked at those documents that are needed to inform us about how to handle the revenue aspect. We will have to take action against Senator Seytumah as Budget Chairperson,” Senator Lawrence fumed.

Amplifying the concerns of his two colleagues, Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman wondered what Senator Seytumah was doing in a secret budget hearing behind the backs of other senators.

“We are a body by ourselves; and we have our own Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee. That budget should have been discussed by us; and we decide whether all 15 Committee members will go, or a sub-committee of our committee will go to join with the others and keep reporting to us. Our problem is that those 15 members of the Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee have never met.  We have never met. So, what is our chairman doing over there?” Senator Sherman pondered, just as the Co-Chairman of the Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee, Senator Prince Moye of Bong County, also expressed shock over the holding of a budget hearing when the committee had not met.

Responding to the rancorous contentions from across the floor, Senate Pro Tempore Chie tried hard to restore calm.

“I assume that your representative on that committee will brief you continuously. I have already worked out the modalities for the Joint Hearing. If the majority decides that there is no need for a Joint Hearing, we will come back to you,” Senator Chie tried to reason with his colleagues who repeatedly insisted that Senator Saytumah be recalled from the secret budget hearing, a motion that was moved and seconded, thus leaving the Sergeant-at-arms with no option but to obey the ejection of Senator Seytumah from the secret budget hearing.

It can be recalled that Senator Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County recently threatened to boycott the concurrence of the National Budget if President Weah failed to restitute the US$7.5 million owed the citizens of Nimba as their portion of the County Social Development Fund (CSDF) from ArcelorMittal Liberia’s payment.

Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe also recently threatened to boycott budget hearings if the government failed to pay Bomi County its share of $5 million CSDF that Western Cluster recently paid to the Government of Liberia.

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