By: Aminata S. Kromah
Monrovia-December 18, 2023: The Draft National Budget submitted by the Ministry of Finance to the National Legislature for Fiscal Year 2024 shows a decrease of over US$157 million, indicating the difference between the current instrument and the approved budget of Fiscal Year 2023.
On Tuesday, December 19, 2023, the Deputy Finance Minister for Budget and Development Planning, Tanneh Geraldine Brunson presented the draft budget to the House of Representatives through House Speaker Dr. Bhofal Chambers in the tune of US$625.57 million.
The 2023 FY budget finally signed into law by President George Manneh Weah was in the tune of US$782,943,000, a US$5 million increase to the version submitted by the Executive.
The current draft instrument submitted by the Executive through the Ministry of Finance and Development is in the tune of US$625,570,000, which points to a whopping decrease of US$157,373,000.
Accordingly, the draft budget for FY2024 should have been submitted to the Legislature in October, 2023 in consonance with the Public Financial Management Act (PFM) for further legislative actions but President George Weah formally asked the Legislature to extend their sitting by 10 additional days to receive the budget.
During the presentation of the budget, Minister Brunson initially apologized to the Speaker for delay in the submission of the budget, attributing the delay to the national preoccupation and distraction associated with the 2023 competitive elections.
She noted that the submission process is in line with Section 17.1 of the Public Financial Management Act, covering the period January 1, 2024, to December 31, 2024.
The Deputy Finance Minister for Budget and Development Planning added that of this amount, US$623.14 constituting 99.6 percent is projected as domestic revenue, while the amount of US$ 2.43 million or 0.39 percent is projected to come from external resources.
Minister Brunson indicated that the recurrent component of expenditure is US$ 594.54 million, or 95 percent of the total proposed expenditure, while the total cost of Public Sector Investment Projects is projected to be US$31.03 million, or 5 percent of the total proposed expenditure.
According to her, the first claims on available resources are focused on those obligatory expenditure categories that must be satisfied.
She averred that in this regard, the total amount of US$ 594.54 million earmarked for recurrent expenditure has been allocated and guided by the following order of priority: Debt Service (Domestic & External), Compensation for Employees, Grants, Goods and Services for Education and Health Sectors among others.
“Honorable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives, while this budget is a reflection of the programs and priorities of the out-going administration, it should not be unexpected that the incoming administration may institute measures to tweak, recalibrate, or even recast the programs and priorities herein to indicate policy change, hopefully in the spirit of continuity in governance”, she said.
“In the wake of mounting pressures, especially national debt burden and recurrent expenditures, only critical cross-cutting national programs and projects in three sectors have been proposed under the Public Sector Investment Program (PSIP) segment of the budget. Among these is the National Road Fund under the Infrastructure and Basic Services Sector”, the Minister added.
Receiving the budget, House Speaker, Dr. Bhofal Chambers called for an automatic scheduling of the budget process.
“As you know and we accept the apologies, this instrument should have been brought here three months ago so that we would have carefully looked at the process and ensured diligence”, he said.
Speaker Chambers said the legislature would do the utmost to ensure passage in the interest of the Country and its people.
He noted the body will pay keen attention to the Supreme Court’s ruling instructing the government to settle the arrears of former legislators.
According to him, the payment to victims of the shipwreck will be of majority priorities under the review process in up keeping coordination amongst the three branches of government.
Meanwhile, the draft budget for FY2024 is pending thorough scrutiny by both Houses of Representatives and Senate and following all legislative actions, shall be sent back to the Executive through the Office of the President of the Republic of Liberia for approval thus qualifying it as a law.