MONROVIA, Montserrado – Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence has voiced disapproval that the recast 2019/2020 budget was sent to the Senate Committee on Ways, Means, and Finance and passed without being debated. The budget was being adjusted to accommodate for changing national priorities due to COVID-19.
“This is the first time in the Senate we received a budget and don’t have the opportunity to scrutiny or debate it,” the Grand Bassa senator said. “Those things should have been done even before having a resolution and that is why I didn’t sign the resolution.”
Karnga-Lawrence, who is co-chair of the key committee, said some senators had flagged issues about the budget a day before it was passed on May 22.
“But unfortunately, the Senate did not have the numbers to protest it,” she added.
She said a performance report of the budget should have been submitted and distributed across senators’ offices to allow for scrutiny and debate.
“Today should have been the day for debate,” Karnga-Lawrence said during an interview last week. “We couldn’t have started a debate if we didn’t meet as a committee.”
The lone female member of the Senate also stressed that the recast budget should have focused more strongly on health issues.
“In different counties, hospitals are broken. Not much supplies or medicine is going to the hospitals – even in Grand Bassa County,” she said. “As a result, I recommended that we don’t concur with the House of Representatives, but make all of the adjustments and have a conference committee meet to make sure that this budget is done properly and in accordance with the standard that is needed.”
She accused the Senate of violating its own rules by not debating the budget.
Another senator added his voice of dissent to Karnga-Lawrence. Sen. Armah Z. Jallah refused to sign the recast budget because he said the process violated the Senate rules.
“By law, we don’t use resolutions to pass budgets,” he said. “We debate it. And that’s why I did not sign it, among other reasons.”
The Gbarpolu senator said there should have been stronger consideration for enhancing Liberia’s ability to combat infectious diseases. He also noted that deplorable roads could make it difficult to transport testing samples and to move COVID-19 patients to the 14 Military Hospital, the main facility being used for treatment.
On the other side of the debate was Montserrado’s Senator Saah H. Joseph, who called the process used to pass the recast budget “nothing new.” He emphasized the need to move speedily amid a national emergency.
“We already have $25 million in the budget; all we said is divert it to the food,” he said. “We are not changing anything; we are only making re-appropriations of the budget. Why would the Senate want to delay this? With the passing, now food distribution is on the way. Salary for our health workers is on the way. Food and medicine supplies are all on its way.”
Sen. Joseph saw some of the tactics as strategies of the opposition to slow down the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change party that he belongs to.
He added, “I served as an opposition lawmaker at the House of Representatives and know how oppositions operate. That’s politics. When it comes to our institution, we don’t compromise that. We are working in the interest of the people and have passed the budget on time and not to delay the budget.”
Although there were some positives and negatives attached to speedily passing the recast budget, Sen. Joseph said the executive branch could now focus on distributing the stimulus food package. Additionally, the health sector can receive the necessary support to meet its targets.
When the recast budget was first passed by the House of Representatives on May 18, it came as a surprise and appeared to violate the Public Financial Management Act, which requires budgets to be made available to the public before and after the legislature votes. The budget only appeared on the Ministry of Finance’s website on May 27, five days after it was passed into law.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah