Monrovia – In an attempt to prove his ability to afford a first-class ticket on an Emirates Airbus, Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel D. Tweah, fibbed on the annual salary he earned while working for the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
He served as Senior Advisor to the Board of Directors of the AfDB from 2012 to 2016.
Ironically, the Minister admitted that he has never purchased a first-class ticket before prior to his ascendancy to that portfolio but boasted of making US$500,000 yearly which he said solidifies his finances to afford him a first-class ticket at any time.
His assertion which FrontPageAfrica finds erroneous comes in the wake of an investigative report by this newspaper revealing how he upgraded from business class to first class on the government’s recent trip to Beijing for the Forum on China-Africa Corporation (FOCAC) Summit.
“I’m entitled to travel on business class and the cost of my ticket was US$12,700, so let’s get that fact clear… I paid the upgrade difference. If I don’t have US$4,000 to sit in a first class – it’s unfortunate. I worked in this country for the past seven years as a consultant for the Ministry of Finance, after that I went to the African Development Bank where my salary exceeds US$500,000 a year,” he told journalists at a press briefing on Tuesday, September 11.
He insinuated that first-class plane fares for officials of government do not in any way affect the abundance of resources that government has, adding that it’s too infinitesimal to be an issue of national concern.
The Real Facts
An AfDB source knowledgeable of the financial records at the Bank hinted this paper that Min. Tweah was paid US$5,000 monthly until the Millennium Challenge Corporation stepped in 2015 which gave him a raise to US$7,500.
Tweah’s position as Senior Advisor at the AfDB is graded PL3 which means contrary to his inflated US$500,000 per annum, the last possible salary he could have earned (December 2016) was UA85,832. UA is the official currency of the AfDB. As at December 2016, the official conversion rate from UA to USD was 1.4. By this rate, contrary to his claim, Tweah’s actual annual salary was US$120,164 per annum.
Maximum pay rate for the most experienced professionals in US Government – the most senior professionals is US$210,000 per annum in the United States.
At the World Bank only six persons, including the President and Managing directors earn between US$310,000 to US$419,000 per annum.
Highest pay at IMF (B05) is US$400,000 a year.
Asian Development Bank maximum is US$367,000 annually at the most senior level.
Violating Travel Ordinance
Contrary to his bluff entitlement to the business class, the Government of Liberia Revised Travel Ordinance 2016/2017 is clear on the specifics entitled to government employees on official trips.
Rule 19 states: The President shall travel First Class. The Vice President, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate shall travel by Business Class. If these dignitaries are traveling as State guests and taking their spouses along with them, then their spouses shall also be entitled to travel by First Class and half the applicable per diem rates.
Rule 20 adds: With the exception of those listed in Rule 16, all other officials, civil servants, employees and heads of SOEs shall travel by economy class.
It is not clear which Travel Ordinance the Finance Minister was referring to when he said he is entitled to Business Class, but the current version of the revised ordinance available to the public forbids officials of government either than the ones specified from riding first or business class.
But the Minister who insists he has done no wrong said at the press conference: “The money we save when we don’t fly business class as a country is infinitesimal.” He added, “Is it ministers sitting in an economy class that would lead to the transformation of Liberia? Is that the debate? Are we reducing the fundamental leadership challenge in this country to air ticket?”
His assertions, however, contradicts government’s proclamation that the economy is broken and the country is broke. At the beginning of the administration, President Weah told members of the Legislature, “The state of the economy that my administration inherited leaves a lot to do and to be decided.” His statement was apparently aimed at lowering high expectations following his election victory at the end of last year to replace Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Our economy is broken; our government is broke. Our currency is in free fall; inflation is rising. Unemployment is at an unprecedented high and our foreign reserves are at an all-time low”.
In that address, he announced a reduction of his salary by 25 percent pledging the savings to the development of Liberia.
Subsequently, cabinet reached a decision to fix a salary ceiling of US$7,500 plus a 10 percent salary reduction for all cabinet members.
Critics are finding it ironic that in the midst of abject poverty as proclaimed by the President, his administration continues to undertake extravagant travel spending and massive personal projects.
In recent years, a number of Africa’s leaders have been singled out with praise for flying economy class. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was recently spotted aboard an economy-class Safair flight to Durban and Tanzania President John Magufuli was recently featured sitting at the economy section of a plane.
Upgrade Not US$12k, It’s US$16k
According to Emirates’ official fares, Business Class fares on Emirates run between $6,000 to $8,000 while First Class fares on Emirates run between $10,000 to $12,000 depending on the time of purchase. Upgrades on either service at departure could run up to US$16,000 for First Class between Accra and Beijing. In comparison, First Class fares from New York to Beijing run close to US$19,000.
The Need for Asset Declaration
Tweah, a leading proponent of the government’s pro-poor agenda, recently stressed the importance of transparency and accountability. “This is what our democracy calls for. We fought for this democracy today. So that public policy can be amenable to the people of this country. People died in this country, great men died. Tonia Richardson, for the first time since he died I just saw his son today. Tonia Richardson might be my greatest inspiration, he died in this war. Their bloods were shed so that today you can criticize any President; so that you can hold truth to power, to the extent that your truth is true.”
However, like many government officials, he is yet to declare his assets to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).
President Under Scrutiny Over Assets
Critics have taken President Weah himself to task over his failure to declare his assets and make them public. As a result several of his officials have not yet declared their assets.
The President himself came under fire over the construction of several personal projects since taking office in January.
President Weah’s 2005 declaration put his overall income per annum at US$335,000.00 on properties in Liberia and the United States.
According to the declaration, he earned US$60,000 from his supermarket in Florida, USA; US$250,000 from real estate in the USA and US$25,000 from his real estate in Liberia.
President Weah in 2005 declared that his combined assets both in Liberia and the USA were more US$2.8 million. His residence in Florida, USA was said to worth US$1.5 million, while his Supermarket in Miami, Florida was said to worth US$1.2 million.
Documents obtained by FrontPageAfrica indicate that the Florida supermarket – Flavors West Indian Supermarket and Restaurant – which is registered in his wife’s name had been inactive.
His two residences in Liberia were said to be valued US$250,000, with the one in which he currently resides in the ELWA Rehab Road community in Paynesville being put at US$100,000.
The demolished residence on 9th Street in Sinkor, Monrovia was valued in 2005 at US$150,000. He, however, failed to state his bank balances in the declared assets.
Several years later, Weah in 2014 won the Senatorial elections and became Senator of Montserrado for three years until his election as President in December 2017, earning a monthly income of somewhere around US$15,000. His total worth as Senator for the three years is estimated to be US$540,000.