By R. Joyclyn Wea
A critical challenge to the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF) county-level management and accountability mechanism is that citizens are unclear which policies or legal frameworks govern fund management.
A 2015 United Nations (UN) Capitol Development Fund study found Liberia lack clear guidelines and procedures for planning and budgeting projects appraisal and selection, implementation support and monitoring.
Making matters worse, various policies and Legislature Acts governing the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF) have conflicting citizens’ participation and management approaches.
The budget law being the legal framework used for the management of CSDF, Liberia Accountability Voice Initiative (LAVI) is proposing to the Liberian Government to develop a ‘Stand-Alone CSDF Law’ that would seek to address the poor management of CSDF funds and projects as well as citizens having direct control over the management of the CSDF.
To ensure this works, LAVI and partners began interviewing community leaders; almost all respondents interviewed by LAVI favored developing a new, unified law to clarify CSDF terms, actors, processes and roles in a single text for all parties, in addition to incorporating CSDF policy reforms discussion.
Respondents largely agreed this was critical to prevent CSDF misuse and facilitate decentralization.
If recent legislative processes such as the Land Rights Act and Local Government Act are any guide, however, developing and passing comprehensive CSDF law could require several years at a minimum.
Speaking on the issue, Harold Aidoo, Executive Director of IREDD said this will basically address accountability, give and remove the centralization of the CSDF funds from consolidated Account.
“As it stands right now, all public funds or monies are required to be deposited or kept in the consolidated funds account,” he added.
Despite the longer time frame required for a CSDF law to pass, it could generate greater public awareness and better pressure legislators to make needed reform they may not otherwise support.
Augustus Zayzay, NRM Specialist for LAVI noted there are lots of issues that prevent citizens from participating in the management of CSDF and developing a stand-alone law would greatly change the situation.
Zayzay named delays in disbursement, lack of proper monitoring of CSDF projects, selection of projects not assigned to national/county development plans as some of the major challenges with CSDF management.
Mohammed Boakai, senior partnership advisor for USAID, LAVI, said the stand-alone CSDF law would take the legislature pouts of the management of the CSDF and turn it over to citizens.
“If you are passing a law to include citizens in the management of the CSDF, a key aspect of that law should include the chair of the agenda setting for development of the county. If a chair is presided over by a county superintendent or local official that shows that the development agenda is on its way of being controlled by the people at the local level, not legislators,” Boakai said.
Accordingly, many citizens are calling for Split in the county development fund (CDF) and that of the social development fund (SDF)
These respondents think the CSDF should be re-divided into CDF and SDF (with SDF managed locally and CDF by the legislature) in order to separate decision-making, improve fund management, and enable better safeguards and traceability via audits.
Several thought that accountability would improve with locally decentralized SDF management and noted that management would improve as the different funds, sources and goals required different treatments.
Though some saw this as an advantage to impact counties promised concession funds, others argued that the county as a whole should benefit from larger projects possible with merged funds, not just small projects for certain districts or communities.
Moreover, they argued that splitting funds would create too much administrative paperwork and bank charges for small impacts. Such respondents also thought splitting funds alone wouldn’t improve monitoring, management or fund disbursement, and noted that if the SDF came straight to the county it could be captured by a clique of actors (e.g. superintendent, PMC, PMT, DDC).
Based on the general consensus of respondents’ view, splitting the SDF and CDF would have both advantages and disadvantages, and does not seem to be a top priority in itself at this point.
However, a split, most in the funds is likely occur by function of other more important changes as described in other sections) that are more likely to improve fund governance and long-term outcomes for Liberia’s counties. If split, most likely the GOL would continue to manage the CDF, and the SDF could go in a separate escrow account with options for its management.
The 54th National Legislature Approved and passed into Law five changes in the 2018/2019 Budget Law that seeks to improve accountability and give citizens greater say in the management of the county, Social Development Fund (CSDF).
The amendment to section 9 of the Budget Law governing The CSDF were among 17 proposed by the Natural Resource Management (NRM), a coalition of eight civil society organizations that have been working for over a year on CSDF and budget reforms. The coalition is being supported by USAID and LAVI.