Liberian Government Priorities Are Up-Side Down, Says Governance Reform Commission


By Josephus Moses Gray

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 13, 2004


Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
The Governance Reform commission (GRC) chaired by Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has documented that recent unfolding events together with national and international pronouncements clearly suggest that the Liberian Government national priorities have been upside down.

The GRC, in its Quarterly Report to the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA), said budgetary process is one of the mechanisms by which national priorities are determined, established, and executed. Assumptions related to desired growth rates, inflation and sect oral needs are of essence and one of the core elements of good governance is getting the national priorities right”, the GRC noted. The Commission report addresses three vital issues, which include strengthening local governance administration; the need for Government to get its priority right particularly in the allocation of budgetary resources; and enhancing accountability and transparency in public transactions. The GRC chair-person in the report read to members of the Liberian First Branch of Government, among other things said analysis of the 2004-2005 national budget supports the observation that priorities are not rightly established, and said misplaced priorities can be found in a number of areas within the budget.

According to the Commission, Budgets should achieve goals and should not be in isolation of macroeconomic targets. The Commission added that to the contrary, the national budget lacks macroeconomic policy orientation. It noted that macroeconomic targets such as expected GDP growth rate, rate of inflation, wage policy, pricing policies and monetary policies are normally established within the framework of the national
economic policy objectives set by Government, saying that these policies set benchmarks and standards for setting of national priorities, direction and evaluating the performance of the economy.

The GRC said while a post-conflict situation does not allow sophistication, at least some simple development objectives with set targets could have been established and added that mandate of the NTGL with respect to resettlement; reintegration and rehabilitation should therefore be prioritized in the allocation of budgetary resources.

Additionally, the Commission said the overall program objective and results of the NTGL are clearly stated in the RFTF. As cost sharing arrangement, the Government, GRC said is under obligation to meet some of the essential costs in producing the results. There is no clear linkage to the budget for achieving these sets of results in the budget, it noted. “It is recommended that the NTLA takes a more active role with the highest degree of seriousness to ensure that the budgetary process assist in getting our national priorities”, GRC propounded.

According to the Commission, the 2004/2005 budget is heavily biased against program and in favor of payout to workers and personnel expenditure or wages of public sector employees represent the largest single item in the budget, amounting to US$41,728,356 or 52%. Assuming an average monthly wage of LD$1,000 per employee the allocated amount for personnel services expenditure implies that the number of people receiving wages is not fewer than 170,000.

This situation, the GRC said understandably results from the prolonged instability and economic retrogression that have plagued Liberia in the last two decades. As it were, the commission said under normal economic conditions and stability such a phenomenon would imply a bias for supporting a welfare system as opposed to enhancing development priorities.

Expectedly, as the well-being of the State improves, the GRC said personnel payroll share to development share would switch appropriately. A better system of allocation might have resulted in some form of personnel redeployment without undermining the need for ensuring income for survival.

The GRC revealed that Security Service Sector accounts for a sizeable 14.84% of the budget and said establishing a rational justification for the nearly 15% allocation would be difficult given that under the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, UNMIL is primarily responsible for national security. “One would have thought that in order to exert greater impact on short-term rehabilitation and reconstruction, the security allocation could have been reduced by at least 50% and the balance reapplied to say the Education, Health, water, roads Public Works and Rural Development sub-sectors”.

The GRC further stated that enhancing these sub-sectors with increased funding should indeed facilitate resettlement of our displaced population to their original bases, adding that given existing road conditions and food shortage in the country, reintegration and resettlement would be difficult for returnees and displaced persons to resettle in their places of origin, when Public Works and agriculture sectors are allotted a merger share of 3.65% and 1.39 % of the budgeted resources respectively.

As a case in point, the GRC added that the disarmament process is currently being impaired as a result of the bad road conditions through out the country, noting that allocation to labor intensive infrastructure improvement would also have an effect of job creation and positive implications for civil service redeployment.

The lack of accountability and transparency in government operations, including restriction on information regarding the decision making process, is contributing to the growing crisis of confidence in the NGTL, the GRC noted, and added that there are a
number of institutions whose functions are intended to ensure public accountability.

One of such institutions is the General Auditing Commission established by the Liberian Constitution as an autonomous agency. An independent agency, then General Auditing Office (GAO) was established by an act of the National Legislature in 1956, and revised
in 1972 (Chapter 53 Executive Law of 1972) to perform the day-to-day activities of the Commission, the commission added.

The GRC said the law, as it is today, has eroded the independence of the Commission to be objective in its work and to report its findings without fear or favor.
The general purpose of the Commission is to “promote the principles of good governance in post-war Liberia”. More specifically, the Commission is mandated to: review the existing program for the promotion of good governance in Liberia, with the objective of adjusting its scope and strategy for implementation. Also to develop public sector management reforms through assessment, reforms capacity building and performance monitoring, ensure transparency and accountability in governance in all government institutions and activities, including acting as the public ombudsman.

The GRC says the basic principle underlying the Commission’s delivery strategy is the active involvement of the people of Liberia in the reform process. To this end, it said a robust nationwide consultation initiative has been put into motion since the beginning of September 2004. And added that the objective is to involve the Liberian people in determining the direction, focus and content of the reform process and recommended measures. The strategy also intends to create a national constituency behind proposed reform measures with the aim to ensuring that the measures are implemented by incoming governments.