Education Min. Fails to Defend US$66m Allotment
The first public budgetary hearing at the Liberian Legislature left lawmakers and senior government officials bowing their heads in shame, even Finance Minister Amara Konneh, could not withstand the embarrassment as he practically held his head, removed his eyeglasses and took few bites on the handle when Education Minister Edmonia Tarpeh, who stood in the witness stand, struggled and failed to defend the over US$66 million allotted to her ministry in the 2012/13 draft fiscal budget.
Education Minister Etmonia Tarpeh
The Joint Senate-House Committee conducting the hearing immediately adjoined the proceeding in an apparent move to save face as Minister Konneh shocked his head in total disbelief and repeatedly looked at his deputy Sebastian Muah.
It all started Tuesday morning in the William Richard Tolbert Joint Chamber of the Liberian Legislature where several cabinet ministers from the Executive branch of Government had gathered to defend their respective allotments in the draft national budget before members of the joint assembly.
The education boss Tarpeh had earlier sent her deputy Matar Kpankpan to represent the ministry, but was rejected by the hearing committee on grounds that the Minister controls the budget so she or he should be in the position to provide justification for every cent allotted.
In no time, Minister Tarpeh immediately surfaced in the chamber with the intent of defending her ministry’s allotment, but performed dismally much to the disappointment of both the public and her colleagues from the cabinet who were in attendance.
“We are calling for increment in this year’s budget for the ministry because education is the bed-rock for development for our country. As you may be aware, our last year budget, we under spent…We did not use all of the monies allotted to us so as to create room for increment in this year’s budget. We did not use all of the money, but for this year, we have more programs upcoming,” said the minister without detailing in clear terms what those might be.
Responding, Representative Emmanuel Nuquay said it makes no sense to seek increment when the ministry failed to spend allotments in the previous budget, adding, “people should know that we are not joking; the Finance Ministry makes the allotment for you or the ministry; you should be able to tell us the spending plans - that is your programs earmarked for accomplishment in this fiscal year.”
A rather dumbfounded Tarpeh, who failed to present her performance report from the last fiscal budget, and spending plans for this year’s budget felt short of explaining to the lawmakers and members of the public why the Education Ministry should receive US$66m.
When Representative Nuquay inquired what happened to the past budget, Minister Tarpeh stood mute for minutes, but within that period, Grand Bassa County Senator John Francis Whitefield went to the rescue of the minister, and recommended that the hearing be suspended until Friday where Minister Tarpeh will have another opportunity to tell the Liberian people why she deserves budgetary increment.
At the same time, the joint committee mandated that every spending agency of government should submit performance report and spending plans before the hearing process in line with the Public Financial Management law.
Meanwhile, the hearing continues today (Wednesday August 8) with the appearance of the Ministry of Public Works with an allotment of US $146,532,559, to be followed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, US$34,494,321; Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, US$84,079,084; John F. Kennedy Medical Center, US $8,520.348; Jackson F. Doe Hospital, US$2731, 128 and Phebe Hospital, US$1,817,943, respectively.