BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa â€“ Citizens in Buchanan, Grand Bassa have hailed the European Union for its support to the country through the national budget.
The E.U., in addition to supporting development activities through projects and non-governmental organizations, provides direct budget support to Liberia on conditions that the government has met certain general and specific conditions. They require the government to present a national development plan, take measures to improve the overall economy, adopt a strategic financial management plan, and educate citizens on the national budget.
Speaking recently in Buchanan at the second of a series of forums organized by the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia to educate citizens about the E.U.â€™s budget support, Clementine Rennie, the budget support officer of the National Authorizing Office, which is local government body responsible for managing the European development fund, disclosed that the E.U. had disbursed up to â‚¬91 million (US$103.2 million) as direct budget support to the country during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and George Weahâ€™s administration.
The participants, most of whom were surprised at hearing the magnitude of the support by the E.U., called on the government to increase awareness around the budget, including which partners were providing support.
Du-Ben Cleon, a resident of Buchanan, said although he was happy with the E.U.â€™s support, he was disappointed over the failure of the government to inform citizens about it.
â€œIf the least man [down there] knows that somebody is sending money for him, and if heâ€™s not receiving that money, he will be able to cry himself,â€ he said.
â€œThe government has not been doing well as it relates to information. This is why we have the Freedom of Information Act, but even if you went to them to ask about taxpayersâ€™ money, the leadership gets angry with you and would want to know why youâ€™re asking and donâ€™t know that thereâ€™s a law protecting you to request for information.â€
The executive director for Women in Development Network, who also serves as the regional coordinator for the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, Martha Treh, said from what she gathered at the forum, the E.U. has significantly contributed to the countryâ€™s peace and development for a number of years.
â€œHow are the citizens aware that the support provided to the budget is impacting them? So, they will hardly appreciate,â€ Treh said.
According to her, she has had no knowledge about the EUâ€™s contribution prior to attending the forum and wants the government work to increase awareness by working with national and county-based civil society organizations to carry out frequent awareness on the budget and its funding sources.
Another participant, Ojue Williams, said he was shocked by information provided by the E.U. and CENTALâ€™s officials on the past and current contribution the E.U. has made to the national budget.
â€œIf thereâ€™s any caption today, I would have written, â€˜E.U. breaks silence on support to the government,â€™â€ Williams disclosed.
He said hearing about the level of support the continental body has made to the country for the first time made him feel irritated about the governmentâ€™s failure to provide information to citizens.
â€œWe appreciate E.U. support, but there must be more monitoring of the budgetâ€™s implementation,â€ he said.
The broad lack of awareness was reflected in a past survey conducted by CENTAL on citizensâ€™ knowledge about the budget and its sources. That survey spurred the ongoing awareness campaign and is supported by the E.U. delegation in Liberia.
CENTALâ€™s program officer, Gerald Yeakula, said the ongoing awareness campaign is aimed at bridging the information concerning the national budget and the E.U.â€™s support.
â€œLast year, we launched a portal, liberiabudget.info where on that portal we are able to provide budgetary information, news around the development funds, news around the budget process, and all of that so that citizens can have access to even discuss the budget. So, today is just a follow-up and a reinforcement to what we have already started with the budget portal to be able to engage citizens,â€ Yeakula said.
Pia Buller, program officer for the E.U. in Liberia, thanked the citizens for sharing their views and assured them of the E.U.â€™s continuous support to the country.
â€œThe people were very engaged and had a lot of questions and opinions, and they were very interested to hear about what we do, but they also had a lot of concerns about what the government does with the budget support,â€ Buller said.
She said amid some citizensâ€™ concerns shown at the forum over the alleged poor management by the government, the E.U. would ensure that the government meets the general and all specific conditions required to receive the remaining â‚¬21 million (US$23.74 million) under the new agreement in 2019 and 2020.
The specific conditions require the government to generate revenues locally from the forestry sector, enable a suitable environment for businesses, use the national budget to deliver quality service to citizens, deliver key services for citizens through the county service centers, ensure compliance of the law in public procurement, and ensure that officials comply with the law by declaring their assets in time.
Last year, the E.U. disbursed â‚¬6 million (US$6.8 million) as the first tranche of â‚¬27 million (US$30.63 million) commitment under the new agreement signed with Liberia.
In 2017, the E.U. withheld â‚¬2 million (US$2.26 million) after the government failed to meet certain specific conditions which were also indicators to the timely publication of procurement plans for the judicial branch of government.
Featured photo by Gbatemah Senah