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Budget ‘Earthquake’ Rocks HOR

-As ILC Wants Speaker, Ops, C’ttee Budgets Reduced; Legislature Audited; Including Vigorous Vetting of Payroll

By Reuben Sei Waylaun

As the debates over the reduction in the salaries, benefits and allowances of members of the National Legislature intensify, the Independent Legislative Caucus (ILC) and Like-minded Representatives of the 54th Liberian Legislature want the budget of the Speaker, operations and committees reduced by 75% and 40%, something political pundits described as ‘bombshell’ or earthquake that would create another division.

Recently, individual members of the House of Representatives including Montserrado County electoral district eight lawmaker Moses Acarous Gray elected to begin a very serious debate on the need to have a cut in the salaries and benefits of the Liberian Legislature as a way of what they called ‘addressing the current economic condition’ of the Country.

But in a statement issued in Monrovia, the ILC and the like-minded lawmakers, said these debates are welcoming only if they are on facts and seek to address the situation from a pronounced approach as oppose to creating a pool of sentiments only to mislead the public and cloud them with half-baked propositions.

Invoking Article 36 of the Liberia Constitution of 1986, the aggrieved lawmakers said this aspect of the constitution provides that the Legislature remuneration for services are fixed by law, but can be altered to take effect in the succeeding Fiscal Year.

This, they said suggests that the appropriation authority is vested in the Legislature; such decision can only be taken by majority member votes.

They reminded their colleagues that in the Fiscal Year 2018/2019 National Budget, the Legislature appropriated to herself US$49.2million against US$49.3million for FY-2017/2018.

“This Budget accounts for the following: Office of the Senate Pro-tempore US$1.38million, Office of the Speaker US$1.22million, Office of the Deputy Speaker US$0.766-million, Senate Members (including Central Administration and Secretariats) US$14.67million, House Members (including personal staffers and Central Administration and Secretariats) US$31.18million. Let it be clear that other then the Speaker, Senate Pro-tempore and the Deputy Speaker, all other members of the Senate and the House of Representatives have no discretion on the execution of the Legislature’s Budget,” the ILC said in a statement.

Of this budget, members of the ILC said “The Speaker of the Honorable House of Representatives receives the budgeted amount of US$29,700.00 as special allowance per month, inclusive of his discretionary budget of US$1.22 million.”

“Each member of the House of Representatives with no discretionary role in the Budget execution process receives as budgeted US$7,450 or US$5,500 net of taxes per month. The Honorable House of Representatives appropriated to herself US$1.6million for Operations and US$1.8million for Committee Hearings at the discretion of the Speaker, amounting to US$3.4million,” the group added.

According to them, if the argument is that the Government needs to take on austerity measures to address the developmental needs of the Country, then it makes sense to reduce the Operational and Committee Hearing Budgets of the House of Representatives by 75% so as to save about US$2.57million and that the Speaker’s Budget be reduced by 40% and be used as the standard for each member’s budget calibration.

They further noted that these and other measures, when taken by the National Legislature, could save about US$9.0 million for the government as oppose to a US$1.5million saving as be tokenized by their colleagues.

The aggrieved lawmakers also said while they welcome the debate, there is a need for budget performance review of the Liberian Legislature because there has been no budget performance review so as to assess the actual Fiscal Stance of the Government.

They also lamented that the gain from the executive salary cut is yet to be accounted for and distinguished in terms of its impact in reducing the government wage bill.

“It is unarguable that the budget lines other than wages and salaries that seek to impact the entire country at once are the Legislative Support Project and legislative Scholarship fund. As we speak, there is no significant discussion to increase the appropriations of the Legislative Support Project which was reduced from about US$78,000.00 to US$31,000.00 to accommodate Government budget constraints. Do you wish that we have a benefit cut that goes into a pool fund, with limited or no accountability, while the fats in our National Budget remain, or we cut all the fats, while a cut in our benefits be used to increase our District Scholarship and District Projects Budget that have far reaching impacts in the lives of our people,” they further added.

Meanwhile, the ILC and like-minded lawmakers further added “We see it befitting that the books of the Legislature be audited, including a vigorous payroll vetting and audit exercise that will set a benchmark for a transparent and accountable Legislature.”

According to them, this exercise will give the public a clearer understanding as to the actual remunerations of members of the Legislature and could help to prevent any possible waste and abuse in the National Budget.

“As the Executive is taking steps in these directions, the Liberian Legislature and the Judiciary should be of no exception. Therefore, the Independent Legislative Caucus and like-minded Representatives welcome the debate and remain undaunted in forging a realistic path to the National Budget process for the good of the Liberian people, and not by the pageantry of cleaning the mess,” the group added.

However, the aggrieved lawmakers have vowed to robustly and vigorously expose and by extension checkmate all budgetary channels, tunnels, cesspool, and camouflage that are being carved by those they called budget manipulators acting under the guise of being humanitarians.

When contacted, the Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives couldn’t answer as they remain tightlipped. The Pro-tempore, Albert Chie refused to take questions from assembled legislative reporters who had gone to speak with him, same with Speaker Bhofal Chambers.

                                                      TNR

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