Drama at Finance Ministry

What appeared to be a drama reportedly ensued on Thursday, February 14, 2013 before the main entrance of the Ministry of Finance when the pro-Open Budget group  clashed with  some angry youth who  are against the Open Budget Initiative at the Ministry of Finance.

The Finance Ministry is situated downtown Monrovia. On Wednesday of this week, the angry youth, who are against the Open Budget Initiative at the Finance Ministry, paraded the front view of the Ministry,  chanting anti-Open Budget slogan and demanding the resignation of Minister Konneh.  But some of the placards displayed invectives against the Minister.

Accordingly, the drama, which attracted the attention of some bystanders, stretched out as  the  pro-Budget Initiative group   outnumbered  their opponents. Like the anti-Budget Initiative group, the pro-Budget  Initiative group held placards. But they  praised the Open Budget Initiative and commended  Minister Konneh and the USA Government for the Initiative, the eyewitnesses  told this paper. One placard read: “We want Open Budget to hold our official accountable when they steal our money. Only a crazy person will go against this initiative.”

As the pro-Open Budget group thronged  the area, their opponents disappeared in thin air, the eyewitness averred.
At the same time,  credible sources within officialdom  have  hinted The Heritage that the protest action against the Open Budget  Initiative was allegedly masterminded by certain individuals in government, including cabinet ministers who are vehemently   fighting behind the scene to relegate the initiative for selfish motives.
But our sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not disclose the names of the cabinet ministers and individuals in government they claimed were behind the protest action.  However, our sources vowed to discloses their names at the appropriate time.

In a ceremony celebrating the government’s commitment to transparency and accountability, President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf recently inaugurated an electronic billboard, located at the Ministry of Finance, to display an updated profile of Liberia’s public finances in a manner that the ordinary man and woman on the street will understand.

The US Government, via the USAID-funded Governance and Economic Management Support (USAID-GEMS) project, provided funding and technical assistance for the billboard; and the African Development Bank through support to the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) is also providing support to capacity needs of the effort.

The billboard, this paper has gathered,  is one way in which the Ministry will be implementing its Open Budget Initiative to make sure the 2012/13 approved budget is publically available to the public. The Ministry said it has produced a Citizens’ Guide to the budget for the first time to give the public first hand information on the budget.

This paper further gathered that since the launch of the billboard, a symbol of the Government’s desire to open the budget process, some members of government, including cabinet ministers, who are against exposing their financial records to the public, have been inciting young people to protest and condemn the initiative.

When contacted, the Ministry’s Information Chief Sidiki Trawally said the Open Budget Initiative should be applauded by all Liberians who want to know how government is doing business with their money. “We did this to further improve transparency. Minister Konneh, behind the extraordinary leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has worked harder to get this become a reality in Liberia.”

Mr. Trawally said it was unfortunate for some young people protest in the manner they did. “Everyone has his or her right to protest, but they must do so dealing with issue and not personal attacks like they did against the Minister.” He dispelled rumors that the bill board was bought for $250,000 US dollars. “It was not bought with tax payers’ money like its being speculated,” he stated.

The National Coordinator of the Open Budget Initiative, Mr. Del Francis Wreh also told The Heritage that the electronic billboard facing the street in front of the Ministry of Finance - served by dynamic information systems linked into the MOF financial data – will allow the Ministry to describe and track the budget, and its execution. He said the Ministry of Finance has also produced a citizen guide to the FY 2012/13 budget with support from the African Development Bank.

The target audience for the OBI electronic billboard, he said,  is the ordinary man and woman on the street - the person who is not necessarily serviced by the internet or newspaper. The Ministry of Finance and USAID-GEMS team designed the content and layout of the billboard display specifically for this audience.

The electronic billboard will serve as a powerful symbol to demonstrate the Ministry’s emphasis on transparency in conducting its affairs. The Ministry hopes that it will eventually assist in holding line ministries, county governments and other funded entities to account.

Liberia signed to the international Open Government Partnership in November 2011, which commits it to increasing the availability of information about governmental activities, supporting civic participation, establishing the highest standards of professional integrity throughout Government, and increasing access to new technologies for openness and accountability.

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