UP Slams Govt for Increase in LACE’s Budget -Says Increase Is To Foster Weah’s Political Agenda

The former ruling Unity Party said it is registering its deep concerns about the astronomical increase in the amount allocated in the draft budget to the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE) for 2022 and accused President George Manneh Weah of increasing the allocation with the intention to foster his partisan political agenda and cater to his insatiable craving for self-glorification.

The position of the party was contained in a press statement issued yesterday, Thursday, November 25, 2021 and signed by its Secretary General Mohammed Ali where it said the allocation raises eyebrows for a couple of reasons, one of which is the entity is headed by a well-known crony of President Weah, Pepci Yeke and the entity is currently being run with little or no oversight and has therefore become an attractive channel for high level graft and abuse.

“Secondly, it borders on callous insensitivity for the CDC Government to be allocating such huge amount to Weah’s County Tour at a time when the same Government has gained notoriety for its failure and/or protracted delay to fully disburse to the 15 counties the meager sums allocated to them in the budget under the County Development Fund (CDF). A nearly similar situation is obtained with the disbursement of the Social Development Fund (SDF) to the few counties where major concession companies operate.  (The Government reports that it spent only US$1,500,000 under the CDF in Fiscal 2020/2021 and has budgeted only US$3,000,000 for CDF in 2022)”, the statement said.

Given background of how the government increased the allocation, the party said, “The CDC Government has allocated US$12,186,799 to LACE for 2022, an increase of over 859% over the Fiscal 2020/21 spent on LACE in the amount US$1,270,211. A deep dive in the LACE budget shows that this huge increase is explained by an allocation of a whopping US$10,000,000 (ten million US dollars) to what is titled “County Tour Implementation and Spot Check.” The allocation of such a humongous sum of money to a vague and opaque budget line is not only suspicious and troublesome but also leaves significant room for corruption and diversion of funds by the CDC Government”, the party said.

Going further in its criticism against the allocation the party said the CDC Government’s oversized US$10 million allocated to President Weah’s 2022 County tour appears even more unacceptable when the amount is  compared with the comical sum of US$150,000 (one hundred and fifty thousand US dollars) the CDC Government has allocated to all cities across Liberia for 2022 as well as the reduction of the 2022 allocation for the University of Liberia from US$18,325,203  actual in FY 2020/21 to US$18,1000,000  in 2022, in gross disregard to faculty, staff and students of the University who have been clamoring for increases in salaries of UL employees and other priorities of the University. “The huge allocation for Weah’s County Tour also comes against the backdrop of a drastic reduction in the budget of the Liberia Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) from a FY 2020/21 actual of US$1,296,003 to US$490,849 for 2022 and very negligible increases in the budget to overall education and health systems”, the former ruling party said.

“The asymmetrical allocations prove that the CDC Government has very little interest in practicalizing the concepts of decentralized development where counties and sub-structures of the state are empowered to carry out development. The CDC Government is unfortunately gravitating the country toward a situation where what county and district stakeholders and their legislators want for their respective counties and districts does not matter much, but what matters is what the praise-craving President wants for a particular county or district.  The CDC Government complains about lack of money to fund development priorities advocated by other branches and sub structures of government, but can easily find an abundance of resources for activities and projects that can be credited to “The Weah Project.”’, UP stated.

The party said in light of the foregoing, the Unity Party strongly calls on the National Legislature to reallocate the bulk of the US$10 million allocated for President Weah’s County tour in 2022 to help fund the critically needed increase in the County Development Fund for the 15 counties and the allocation for cities across the country. It noted that the reallocated funds from Weah’s County Tour and other sources could also help address the funding gaps at the University of Liberia and other critical institutions of Government including the Judiciary where judges have been left with no option but to the take the CDC Government to Court for slicing their salaries and allowances in breach of Article 72 (A) of the Liberian Constitution.

“Given that LACE is being operated largely to satisfy the ego and whims of President Weah, the reallocation of the funds would prevent the repeat of abuse of presidential discretion, which President Weah clearly demonstrated a few years ago when he and Mr. Pepci Yeke chose to allocate half (300) of the 600 low-cost housing units constructed from Japanese Government funding to Weah’s hometown Sasstown, Grand Kru County, while shamelessly allocating the balance half of the housing units to the rest of Liberia.

“Finally, considering the very loose accountability and governance systems at LACE, the Unity Party calls on the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to conduct audits of all projects undertaken by LACE to ensure full accountability of public funds. In this regard, the Unity Party assures the Liberian people and friends of Liberia that the audit of LACE will be among the top priorities of the future Liberian government”, the party concluded.

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