Liberia: Finance Minister Samuel Tweah Admits to Implementing Harmonization Policy, Cutting 9,000 Civil Servants’ Salary
Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah has admitted that the Executive has begun implementing the salary harmonization exercise in order to reduce the government’s wage bill.
Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]
According to Minister Tweah, through the measure, the salaries of 9,000 civil servants who were “overpaid” are being cut, while 15,000 civil servants experience an increase in their salary. In addition, he said 55,000 government workers’ pay remains constant.
He said: “Fifty Thousand civil servants are not affected by this harmonization, 15,000 of those almost are going up and 9,000 are coming down who were paid high. Absolutely teachers are not affected here. Security people are benefitting. Doctors are benefitting. The 54th Legislature, along with the President raised doctors’ salary.”
The Finance & Development Planning Minister made the assertions before the plenary of the House of Representatives on Thursday, August 29. He had been invited by the august body to clarify whether civil servants’ wages are being cut and whether the Executive, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) was now implementing the salary harmonization measure.
Under the advice of the International Monetary Fund, the government embarked on a wide range of macroeconomic reforms affecting both monetary and fiscal policies.
The harmonization of the wage bill is one of the measures that is being introduced by the George Weah-led administration. Under this measure, civil servants are expected to receive one salary and the issue of discretionary allowances will be cancelled.
Additionally, the government said its harmonization process is expected to increase civil servants’ salaries of the health and security sectors who had been grossly underpaid.
There have been tense negotiations between the Executive and the Legislature for the full implementation of the measure.
Political observers and economic experts said the passage of the fiscal year 2019/2020 budget will pave the way for the implementation of the measure.
But just as the Joint Budgetary Committee began hearing the expenditure component of the draft FY 2019/2020 budget, the lawmakers began receiving complaints from dozens of civil servants within their constituents that their salaries are being cut by the government.
“Fifty Thousand civil servants are not affected by this harmonization, 15,000 of those almost are going up and 9,000 are coming down who were paid high. Absolutely teachers are not affected here. Security people are benefitting. Doctors are benefitting. The 54th Legislature, along with the President raised doctors’ salary.”– Samuel Tweah, Minister of Finance & Development Planning
This prompted plenary, based on the advice of several lawmakers who grew furious over the alleged decision, to inform the MFDP to halt the harmonization exercise if at all it is being implemented.
Appearing before the plenary, Minister Tweah affirmed that the wage bill harmonization is being implemented but civil servants in the security, education and health sectors are being protected.
He revealed that the government has decided to offer a single salary to civil servants in both Liberian dollars (35 percent) and United States dollars (65 percent).
He said civil servants who are complaining that their salaries are being slashed are those that have only received 35 percent of their money in their Liberian dollars accounts, and their balance 65 percent are being withheld because they are yet to open United States dollar accounts.
Upon the establishment of the US dollars accounts, Minister Tweah noted their money will be disbursed.
Speaking further, he cautioned the lawmakers that the country stands to lose US$60 million of external support from the government’s partners including the International Monetary Fund if the harmonization does not take effect in order to reduce the wage bill.
“If we are not able to achieve the harmonization as a pre-condition we will miss the programs. If we miss the program, we stand to lose US$60 million.”
“Disrespectful and Reckless”
“If the wage bill is high and the International Monetary Fund wants it to reduce, you can either do it one of two ways: you lay off people or you cut across the board. If you reduce those overpaid and increase those underpaid, you would result in the same or higher wage bill.”– Member of the House of Representatives
Meanwhile, some lawmakers have condemned the decision of MFDP to implement the salary harmonization measure without the acquiescence of the Legislature.
Amid a heated debate in Plenary, the lawmakers voted in favor of a motion proffered by Rep. Edward Kafia (Bong County, District #5) to continue negotiating with the MFDP in committee rooms in order to find an amicable solution.
But some lawmakers including Reps. Ben Fofana (Margibi County District #4) and Ivar Jones (Margibi County District #2) called for the MFDP to be placed on record of illegally implementing the fiscal measures and cutting civil servants salary, but the movant, Rep. Karfia denied their amendments.
Speaking to a group of reporters shortly after plenary adjourned, Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis (Montserrado County District #4) termed the MFDP’s decision as disrespectful and reckless.
“I was shocked to know that he (Minister Samuel Tweah) has already implemented the harmonization salary without the consent of the Legislature. And I think it is a complete disrespect to the Legislature. It is reckless and does not reference the rule of law,” Rep. Dennis debunked.
Speaking further, Rep Dennis called on Minister Tweah to apologize to the dozens civil servants who are being affected and revert to status quo until the Executive and Legislature can conclude on the austerity measures that are being introduced by the government.
Responding to Minister Tweah’s warning of government losing US$60 million if the harmonization does not take effect, she said it is a shame for government to reduce civil servants’ salary instead of augmenting it.
She suggested that the drafted budget for FY 2019/2020 needs to be scrutinized properly in order to increase the revenue-generating sectors.
Also commenting on Minister Tweah’s harmonization measure, a lawmaker who called for anonymity noted cutting a group of workers’ salary and increasing another group will not reduce the wage bill.
“If the wage bill is high and the International Monetary Fund wants it to reduce, you can either do it one of two ways: you lay off people or you cut across the board. If you reduce those overpaid and increase those underpaid, you would result in the same or higher wage bill,” said the lawmaker.
For his part, Rep. Larry Younquoi (Nimba County District #8) termed the MFDP decision as wrong and illegal.
Citing Article 34 of the Constitution of Liberia, Rep. Younquoi noted that only the Legislature has the authority to decide economic matters including salary of civil servants.
“It only points to the lawlessness of the Executive Branch. And we can count ten of them since this current administration took over. It is wrong and illegal,” Rep. Younquoi noted.