Liberia: Senate’s Public Account Com’tee Blames Road Fund Diversion on Legislature; Says US$7m Was Reappropriated in 2019/2020 Recast Budget

MONROVIA – The Liberian Senate’s Public Account Committee has disclosed in its investigative report on the diversion of the US$7 million from the National Road Fund that the amount was re-appropriated by the Legislature in the 2019/2020 recast Budget.

According to the Committee, the amount was diverted to address critical national issues that arose because of the covid-19 pandemic.

The Committee further indicated that any future audit of the Road Fund should fully capture the final budgetary appropriation made by the Legislature to the Road fund Authority. The Committee also recommended that for future audits of the Road Fund, the Road Fund Steering Committee, which includes the Ministry of Finance, should review and approve responses to audit queries from the AG.

In response to the Plenary’s Report, Sen. Nyounblee Karnga-Lawrence of Grand Bassa County said the decision by the Senate to approve such a transaction was wrong and may make legislators who approved such an illegal act ‘criminally liable’ in the future. She asked them to revisit the decision.

“My distinguished colleagues, while in transit yesterday on my way out of Liberia, I was informed of the vote by the Senate to support the action of the Minister to redirect the funds. It is clear we must revisit our actions to take responsibility for this matter by calling on Minister Tweah to give us a complete report on the expenditures and if the reports are proven to be correct, the Ministry must be instructed to replenish the Road Fund from the Government revenue in the next Budget while the consequences of taking such unilateral actions are being considered.”

She further stated that Minister Samuel Tweah claims of receiving verbal authorization to spend money from the Road Fund is wrong because the Legislature does not give verbal authorization, and neither does the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate or the Speaker has such authority to do so.

She emphasized that such a decision must be made by the majority of the Plenary through a resolution.

“Therefore, authorization for the redirection of funds was never given because ‘verbal authorization’ as claimed by the Minister of Finance does not qualify as legal authorization. There is no provision of the National Road Fund Act that grants the authority to the Road Fund Steering Committee or the Minister of Finance and Development Planning to redirect road funds for other purposes other than those provided in the Act, and there is no provision in the PFM Law of 2009 that supersedes the Road Fund Act.

“Please also be informed that acquiescence by some donors for the redirection of funds in the Road Fund does not legalize the process. Such actions must go through an operational process to legalize it – tabling of the request before the Plenary of both Houses and the subsequent signing of an appropriate resolution by a majority of the legislators.  We do not think that even those donors that, in principle, supported the redirection of some of the funds expected the Minister of Finance to flagrantly violate the law by arrogating unto himself the authority and responsibility that resides only in the Legislature.”

She also called on the Senate to investigate the road funds collection process including the millions that are outstanding, particularly the status of the receivables that the General Auditing Commission (GAC) was unable to confirm during their audit of the Road Fund.

“While the illegal redirection of funds is of serious and urgent concern, the Liberian Legislature must also be seized of the less than transparent process by which road maintenance contracts are awarded under the Road Fund.  We deserve a complete report that will delineate the procurement process followed for each contract awarded, the value of money achieved during the execution of the contract, and the legal status of the contractors including their beneficial owners.”

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