President Julius Maada Bio has returned the 2020 Finance Bill, unsigned to the House of Parliament after it was approved by Members of Parliament last week. According to a Statement issued by the State House Communication Unit dated 26th November, 2019, the President returned the Bill through a Memorandum to the Clerk of Parliament. “Pursuant to Part V, Section 106(7), in the Memorandum, the Secretary to the President stated the reason for the refusal of the signature of the President: “His Excellency the President has perused the document and has expressed grave concern over the open-endedness of the ‘non-accountable imprest’, as provided for in the said Act. He is of the view that this is prone to improper use of public funds”. It could be recalled that the Ministry of Finance included in the 2020 Finance Bill, Section 42 an amendment of Section 65 of the Public Financial Management Act 2016 by inserting new subsections stating that: “Notwithstanding any provision to the contrary contained in the Act or any other legislation there shall be a non-accountable imprest to provide for daily international travel expenses excluding purchase of ticket incurred by the President and the Vice President…” This subsection was further amended in Parliament by including the Speaker of the House. In a position paper issued by Civil Society Organisations (Budget Advocacy Network (BAN) and Non State Actors (NSA) on 20th November, 2019, it stated that the said provision in the Act will limit the Audit Service’s mandate from auditing that particular budget line, hence decreasing accountability as opposed to increasing it as stated in the New Direction Manifesto.
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In his reaction to the statement from the Presidency, BAN’s National Coordinator Abu Bakarr Kamara said that they welcome such stand by the President and call on him to continue to listen to the people’s concern, “this stance will increase transparency and accountability on the use of people’s money” he added. Moreover, the Statement went further to note that to address the said provision of Section 42, the President has proposed to Parliament that Section 42(6) be amended so that it makes provision for a ceiling for the non-accountable imprest. “Unlike the past, the fact that Parliament and members of the public are now discussing Presidential imprest demonstrates the President’s avowed stance on transparency. If amended by Parliament, imprest of such nature and the proposed ceiling will now be guided by law. Members of the public are reassured that His Excellency the President has an unwavering commitment to democratic accountability, transparent governance and prudent management of public funds” the statement ends. The Bill was accompanied with a Minute Paper dated Friday 22nd November 2019 from the Clerk of Parliament requesting the President’s gracious assent for the Finance Bill, 2020, pursuant to Part V, Section 106(1) of The Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991 (Act No. 6 of 1991).
By Zainab Iyamide Joaque
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