Liberia: House of Representatives Summons Finance Minister Samuel Tweah over Illegal Civil Servants’ Salary Deduction
Capitol Hill, Monrovia – Plenary of the House of Representatives was engulfed in a heated debate in its Thursday, August 22 sitting over whether to hold the Minister of Finance & Development Planning, Samuel Tweah in contempt for effecting the salary harmonization plan without the Legislature’s authorization as mandated by law.
Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]
Several members of the House of Representatives including Reps. Clarence Massaquoi (Lofa Co. Dist. #3), Francis S. Dopoh, II (River Gee Co. Dist. #3), Vincent S. Willie (Grand Bassa Co. Dist. #4), Thomas Goshua, II (Grand Bassa Co. Dist. #5) and Hanson S. Kiazolu (Montserrado Co. Dist. #17), in two separate communications, called on the plenary to halt the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning (MFDP) planned salary harmonization with immediate effect.
According to the lawmakers, they have received series of complaints and tangible evidence from civil servants within their constituents that the MFDP is deducting ‘significant’ portion of their salaries as part of the salary harmonization process.
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 reform measures that is being introduced by the George Weah-led administration. Under this measure, civil servants are expected receive one salary and the issue of discretionary allowances would be cancelled.
Additionally, the Government harmonization process is expected to increase salaries of civil servants of the health and security sectors who had been grossly underpaid.
According to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), those getting increases include the Armed Forces of Liberia, the Liberian National Police, Correction Officers and the Immigration Service, among others.
However, to take effect, these changes have to be approved by an act of Legislation.
In one of the communications signed by four lawmakers including Reps. Dopoh, Willie, Goshua, and Kiazolu, the decision of MFDP was in gross violations of Article 34 of the Constitution of Liberia and the Public Financial Management Act of 2009.
Article 34 of the Liberian Constitution gives the Legislature the authority to enact law, while section 17 of the Public Financial Management Law provides that if the Legislature is unable to approve the national budget before the start of a new fiscal year, the Executive can begin the execution of the proposed budget by using one-twelfth of the previous budget, taking into consideration the same salary used.
Taking the flow following the reading and adoption of the communications for discussion, Rep. Dopoh argued that the Legislature has not failed to approve the budget as it is still under scrutiny.
He blamed the Executive for the delay in submitting the proposed budget. On deduction of salary, Rep. Dopoh noted that the Civil service Standing Order gives the Civil Service Agency the authority to provide salary and the MFDP to do payment.
For his part, Rep. Massaquoi, called for a communication to be sent to Minister Tweah to discontinue the payment and the Minister should be invited to explain to plenary who give him the authority. He warned: “To use the authority that has not been given to you is contemptuous.”
As the debate continues, Rep. Thomas Fallah, (Montserrado Co. Dist. No. #5) stated that it was unaccepted for the Executive, through the MFDP to unilaterally begin implementing the salary harmonization process while consultations are still being held between the Executive and the Legislature.
Speaking in his capacity as the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance & Development Planning and Public Accounts & Expenditure of the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate that is supervising the ongoing budget hearing, Rep. Fallah said: “I would like to give a strait jacket instruction in line with the authority that we have, that this House of Representatives, invoking those provisions that are available to us informing the authority of the Ministry of Finance to put an immediate halt if at all it is happening. To invite the Minister will cause delay.”
But, the Co-Chairman of the Committee on Ways, Means, Finance & Development Planning, Rep. Jeremiah Koung (Nimba Co. Dist. No. 1) called on his colleagues to show restrained in dealing with the problem.
According to him, Plenary should accord due diligence by inviting Minister Tweah and his team, along with Comptrollers of the Ministries of Health and Defense, the Liberia National Police, Liberia Immigration Service and the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization to verify whether the plan is being taken into effect.
Several lawmakers including Reps. Francis Nyumalin (Lofa Dist #1), Ivar K. Jones, (Margibi Co. Dist. #2) and Thomas Goshua called for contempt charges to be levied against Minister Tweah and he should appear before plenary to explain why he should not be held in contempt.
Amid a heated argument, the Presiding Officer, Deputy Speaker Prince Moye called for calm, and plenary voted in favor of a motion ordering the MFDP to continue payment using the same figure for the 2018/2019 budget. Plenary also invited Minister Tweah to an executive session next Tuesday, August 27, 2019 to answer to the allegations.