‘Big Fish’ Boycott Budget Hearing

By Alva M. Wolokolie

Top spending entities including the office of the Vice President, the Ministry of State of Presidential Affairs, and the Senate Pro-tempore yesterday deliberately boycotted the public hearing on the expenditure component of the draft national budget for 2013/2014.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Ways, Means and Finance, Rep. Emmanuel Nuquay at the beginning of the hearing held in the William R. Tolbert Joint Chamber did a roll call of spending entities that were invited to appear before that body but the powerful few abstained.

Sitting twisted in his presiding seat with uneasiness of those top officials’ refusal to explain how they would use the tax payers’ money for the fiscal year 2013/2014, Rep. Nuquay said it was unfortunate for such officials to stay away from the hearing without sending any communication to his committee.

Others expected to discuss the expenditure component of the budget including the Liberian Senate, the National Oil Company (NOCAL) and the Civil Aviation Authority.

Although the Margibi County Lawmaker was disappointed, he however announced that the committee will extend another invitation to those concerned for next week Monday, July 22, 2013.

But speaking at the hearing, Rep. Edwin M. Snowe who chairs the Committee on Rules, Orders and Administration representing the House of Representatives and the offices of the Speaker told the audience that the House has reached a decision to increase the salary and benefits of its staff in this fiscal year budget and there would be no increment in lawmakers salaries and benefits as it is speculated by the public.

In his presentation, Rep. Snowe said the total amount allotted for the House during the 2012/2013 budget was US$21 million but failed to disclose the proposed 2013/2014 budget currently before the Ways, Means and Finance Committee.

Rep. Snowe, a former Speaker of the 52nd Legislature told the committee that there are 1,574 employees at the Lower House and the issue of capacity building has been a major challenge for that working body.

He said the offices of the Chief Clerk, the Controller, Directors and office Chief of Staff at the House agenda has been placed high in the draft 2013/2014 budget. Rep. Snowe narrated that it is unfortunate that directors, controllers, secretaries and others are making huge salary in line ministries and agencies whereas those working at the first branch of government are earning far low than what is expected.

As a result of this, the Montserrado County lawmaker was repetitive that there will be no pay increase in their salary for 2013/2014 but other areas including the staffs will be prioritized.

The lawmaker disclosed that this budget will address allotments for media outlet which would include the establishment of a radio and television stations to be operated within the Capitol Building. Although the lawmaker appreciates the work of independent media institutions assigned at the Capitol, but indicated that the stations would report more events that are not reported by independent journalists assigned there.

Rep. Snowe outlined that during the fiscal year 2012/2013, the office of the Speaker received US$144,000 for foreign travel and medication, US$12,000 received and expended for domestic travel, USD12,000 for home maintenance and US$24,000 for fuel and lubricant of generator and additional US$1,34000 for fuel and lubricant for vehicles. The grand total of the Speaker’s office was not disclosed but went on to say that US$10,000 was approved for local scholarship in the office of the Speaker.

As for the Deputy Speaker, Snowe said the Deputy received and expended US$2, 27259 for 2012/13. He has 24 persons assigned at his office. The Deputy Speaker used US$14,200 for domestic travel and US$38,000 for telephone and additional $24,000 for rental or lease. US$41,000 was used for fuel and lubricant for generator while US$3,000 was expended for domestic scholarship and US$29,000 for entertainment.