Liberia: Speaker Fonati Koffa Defends Passage of Special Budget: ‘I Cannot Withhold Civil Servants’ Salaries’

CAPITOL HILL, Monrovia – House Speaker Cllr. Jonathan Fonati Koffa has clarified that the House of Representatives made the right decision to pass the President’s special budget to save the government from shutting down.

By Gerald C. Koinyeneh – gerald.koinyeneh@frontpageafricaonline.com

Last week, the House passed the US$41.3 million special budget to be used for the month of February as requested by President Joseph Boakai. The President had sought the Legislature’s approval to use US$41.3 million for the month of February while his administration prepares the draft 2024 national budget to forward to the Legislature for approval.

The House granted the decision based on the recommendation of its Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance, and Public Accounts and Expenditure headed by Rep. Dixon Seboe (District #16, Montserrado County). It then forwarded the budget to the Liberian Senate. FrontPage Africa has gathered that the Senate has already concurred with the House and sent to the President for signature.

Despite majority support for the President’s proposal, some lawmakers, including Rep. Musa Bility, contested its legality and urged rejection. Rep. Bility said the budget lacks detailed explanations. He emphasized the need for transparency and clarity, especially regarding debt payments. He said the request to use additional US$41.3 million was illegal and violated the Public Financial Management Law of Liberia.

However, speaking to legislative reporters on Capitol Hill, Speaker Koffa said the decision was a just political decision in line with the law. He explained that since the Legislature took an unprecedented decision to send back the draft budget to allow the Boakia-Koung administration make realignment in line with its programs, granting the President’s request to spend US$41.3 million while it works on the budget was not wrong. In addition, the Speaker said he was not prepared to lead a political maneuvering that could strangulate the government and deny civil servants their salaries.

“I was not prepared to hold on to civil servants’ salaries on political maneuvering or political stunt. I simply can’t do it,” said the Speaker during his maiden press roundtable with legislative reporters at the Capitol.

“Could I hold on to the budget and embarrass the government, yes, that could have been a nice thing to do; everybody will be lifting me up and saying he is a hero because he opposed the government. But what happens next when people have to get paid and they can’t. So, yes, people will talk about political things, but sitting in this chair, as the third most powerful person in this country, I am not willing to play politics with people’s salaries or people’s livelihoods.”

On claims that the budget was not detailed and that the House did not review properly, the Speaker clarified that the budget was properly scrutinized by the Joint Committee and in plenary, the committee’s chairman did an “excellent” job in explaining why it should pass. And before passage, it was debated lengthily on the floor. He said the national budget is a sensitive instrument that needs proper review void of politics and personal feelings.

“When you are looking at the budget performances, we have to look at it holistically. And on the issues of what the budget lines are based on, and not on the issue that one is a CDC [Coalition for Democratic Change) opposition so he should oppose the President’s budget or he is with the President so he will support the budget. It should be whether or not this budget passes the test of time. And I am telling you this 41.3-million-dollar budget passes it.”

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