–Calls for collaborative advocacy
Some civil society organizations(CSOs) at a one-day advocacy meeting organized by the Public Health Initiative Liberia (PHIL) in association with the African Health Budget Network over the weekend in Monrovia called on the government of Liberia through the Ministries of Finance and Development Planning, Health and the Central Bank of Liberia to exercise transparency and accountability by telling the nation what it has done with the 24.7M SDR given by the International Monetary Fund as well as called for collaborative advocacy from other stakeholders to make sure that the said money is not misappropriated since it is at risk of going down the drain without a trace.
The gathering which took place on the campus of the United Methodist University came on the heels of the mystery surrounding the fund which was packaged for Liberia as part of the USD 600bn earmarked by the Bretton Woods institution for its global intervention for countries to address their peculiar challenges in the wake of the advent of the COVID 19 pandemic. For Liberia, the money was meant for boosting the reserve of the Central Bank of Liberia, fighting economic growth, and fighting against Covid 19 through the provision of vaccines.
While giving the overview of the objective of the meeting, Miss Joyce L. Kilikpo, Executive Director of PHIL and Convener of the event said as part of the global community, Liberia benefited from the SDR USD$600 bn, stating that on August 23, 2021, Liberia got the allocation of the 24.7 M in SDR( USD 345.3M) in the context of the grant to IMF member countries. She added that by April 2022, PHIL playing its role as a civil society organization in the health sector was credibly informed that the government has received another USD$ 80 Million out of the fund earmarked which were received and signed for on behalf of the government by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning(MFDP) and the Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Samuel D. Tweah, Jr and J. Aloysius Tarlue.
She said upon receipt of the information, her institution embarked upon engaging stakeholders connected to the fund and the IMF reaffirmed that the money was released to the Liberian government as per the press statement from the international lending institution and that several meetings were scheduled with the World Bank to get its side of the development could not hold due to repeated postponements from the World Bank.
The PHIL boss said unfortunately the government has not been encouraging to give out the information. She said while the CBL acknowledged being in the custody of the money, it stated that it could not give information on how the money is being used, the Ministry of Finance and Development to date has never given any information about the money and the Ministry of Health said it has nothing to say about the money.
“We have observed that there has been limited or no stakeholders engagement on the proper and transparent use of the SDR and consequent accountability have been left solely to the discretion of the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning with no involvement and dialogue with other key players within civil society, The Business Community, the media and Legislature. This, therefore, puts the SDR at risk of mismanagement or having them used for other purposes that may not be in the interest of the state”, she said.
Ms. Kilikpo said PHIL took on the challenge to reveal the facts behind the money because it has bearing on the COVID vaccines if Liberia is serious to combat the scourge of the pandemic. Money meant for the purpose should be accounted for and put to the right use, reminding the audience that it was one of the reasons that brought out the conversation around the situation because according to her, there are many people who wanted to get access to the vaccine but they could not have the vaccine as health workers are not supported to take the vaccines to the people.
She said the fact that information around this fund is being kept secret puts a serious question mark on the funds available and that informed the decision of the organizers of the event to invite members of the national legislature because they should be able to provide oversight function in the premise.
“It is like a taboo if we write no one wants to talk about it, the people who should know about it don’t want to talk about it, this raises a huge red flag, how do we inform the people and information is lacking, it puts more risk to it that people can use it as they feel. We are a civil society organization in the health sector, we are applying advocacy efforts surrounding the SDR and we believe we need collective advocacy on it and that is why we are calling on other stakeholders to get involved in it, so the money coming in the country are not pocketed by individuals and but used for the intended purpose”, she said.
Several other persons who spoke at the program concurred with the position of PHIL and called for a concerted effort to put the information in the public space while constructively engaging key stakeholders connected to the fund.
A proxy of Senator Abraham Darius Dillon said his boss has a keen interest in flagging it up in the plenary session of the Senate but called on the organizer to do a formal communication detailing all the information needed to make a good presentation before the senate.
Narvin Ireland, Head of Policy Analysis, Fiscal Transparency and Budget at Integrity Watch, and Anderson Miamen, Executive Director of Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia ( CENTAL) respectively called for more education and further consultations from a wider spectrum of the civil society organizations so as to build up a consensus how to engage the relevant institutions with the view of achieving tangible results. They all agreed that the lawmakers will be key in getting the government’s commitment to the process and ensuring that the information needed around the fund will be made public and decisions are taken.
Cllr. Jamal Deltho Vice President of the Liberian National Bar Association said the LNBA is aware that Liberia has entered into agreements with international groups to receive funding for the covid 19 and the money thus far received is in the custody of CBL. He noted that there are serious concerns regarding the receipt of the money allaying the fear that the MFDP and CBL will not just receive the money and put it elsewhere, but the national legislature is deeply aware that the money was received. He said the lawmakers are the ones that allocate money and they should be in the purview to launch a full-scale investigation to bring to public notice everything about the money.
He drew attention to the development in Malawi where several government officials were dismissed, prosecuted, and jailed upon conviction of stealing money meant to combat Covid 19 in the country. The gathering was attended by representatives of the CENTAL, Integrity Watch, the Liberian Student Union(LINSU), the Student Unification Party(SUP) from the University of Liberia, other CSOs, and students from the United Methodist University, etc.
All efforts made by this News Network in contacting the government including Finance Ministry and CBL proved unsuccessful.
Reported by: Stephen G. Fellajuah