By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
In some of my articles I have written relative to information dissemination by the government to the people; I have always cited the poor level of communication by the government to the people. That is, the government has failed to provide needed information to the public on some of its activities, thus creating room for speculations, misinformation on a particular subject matter, as now in the case of the budget shortfall that has generated many concerns in both the public and private sectors. The situation which is now of serious public debate has reached the National Legislature, with members of the House of Representatives citing Finance Minister Amara Konneh for this ‘persistent’ budget shortfall since he became minister.
The issue of the budget shortfall has been lingering for sometimes now and that there have been no explanations from the government on the causes that led to this shortfall. Unsurprisingly, some individuals are attributing this to corruption or bad governance. For me, I would not tread the issue of citing any reasons on grounds that the government is yet to give official explanation for this.
As it is known, budget refers to “a summary of income and expense for a given period of time,” and that “t is an estimation of revenue (what the government expects to collect from taxes and other forms of income) and expense (what the government will expend) in keeping with its fiscal policy. In a simple sense, a budget is what is projected in terms of what one expects to receive financially and how the person would use what it received, with specific items or allocations, in terms of the amount for each item of the expenditure. Budget is not only circumscribed to government alone, but also the family, a person, business or organization. It is a useful tool to serve as a guide.
As for” budget shortfall,” a phrase that is self-explanatory, it refers to failure of the authority to come up with what it had expected. In other words, it means that the authority projected a certain amount of revenue, but did not occur, thereby affecting its power to financially meet certain obligations in keeping with what were projected in the national budget. This may affect the overall operation of the government such as the payment of salaries and the settlement of its obligation with creditors.
Howbeit, this piece is not intended to delve into the technical issue of budget shortfall, budget deficit, or budget surplus, but to look at the prevailing situation of budget shortfall and the failure of the Liberian government to actually give reasons for this. One of the hallmarks of good governance is communication dissemination so that the people will be au courant or conversant about what their leaders are doing, especially so in such a situation of a shortfall that has a serious implication or consequences on the overall operation of the government.
By this time with this issue generating such a concern and interest, the government should have given reasons for this shortfall. But to just wait until it reached this level, with even as citation to the Minister of Finance by the Lower House on the matter is unfortunate. The governing knowing that it is faced with this, should have been proactive by coming out immediately upon this, to give explanation.
Lest this government is not aware that information is power and knowledge. If the people are given the information (reasons on such matter, the people would be in the position to know the causes or reasons. And so if people are citing corruption and other financial malpractices for this shortfall, such people should not be blamed because there is no information available to them on the matter. This is what usually transpires when people are not provided the proper information needed on a specific matter.
In the first place, the issue of the budget is nothing secret. It is subjected to public scrutiny and legislative hearing, which usually attract public attention and discussion. And so if there is anything about this, it is equally important for the public to be informed. If the government experiences a shortfall, or conversely a surplus, let the people be aware. Even if they would not welcome such report or be happy over this, it is better to inform them to avoid speculation, allegations and misinformation.
There have been too many concerns about government’s poor information dissemination. It is time that it realizes this and institute measures and strategies to improve the situation. Every civilized and democratic government holds it to the people to be informed of its modus operandi. And so in this situation of budget shortfall, the government is under obligation to give reasons or explanation to the people about the causes of this shortfall.
The issue of the government’s operation cannot be shrouded in secrecy. The people have the right to know what their leaders are doing. Frankly, anything other than this is suicidal for the very leaders.
Until this government realizes that its continuous failure to explain, or inform the people of its policies, programs, operation or shortcomings such as the budget shortfall, is tantamount to stabbing itself in the back; I Rest My Case.